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  • Anna McDonald

LGBT+ Life at Reading University

- Safe spaces, socialising and society activities - I sat down with the President of the uni’s LGBT+ Society, Issy Small, to talk about what it’s doing to provide these things. Coming to any society for the first time can be scary, especially an LGBT+ society, if you haven’t had a safe space before. Having met our friend group in first year through this, Issy and I had a conversation about what it means to have a space curated for LGBT+ people so that anyone hesitant to take the step and come can understand a bit more about what the society is like.

- University, for many people, is their first time away from home and, for some, their first time living without an unsupportive home environment. Issy expressed the significance of having an LGBT+ society to welcome anyone wanting to explore this freedom.

Issy: I think it’s important, like, when you come to university - everyone’s so different. Everyone is from such different backgrounds and different places. We come to uni and it’s the first time away from home and for some people that’s their first time they’re away from a household [at] which they’re not supported, so they can freely access their support and independence at university. With the LGBT Society, it’s kind of just a space to hang out and feel like I’m not the only person - actually there’s a bunch of us.

- Unfortunately, many LGBT+ people such as Issy and myself have felt limited by our identities in day to day life. Having an LGBT+ society provides people with a pocket from the outside world, and an opportunity to freely express yourself among others who can often relate to the struggles you’ve faced.

Issy: Compared to growing up, I didn’t have any safe spaces because there were just no spaces to be queer. So it’s nice to be here and actually just not have to defend yourself - not have to out yourself all the time. Like, you meet people and you don’t have to have conversations where, you know, when someone asks you and you feel really awkward because you’re like - do I out myself or do I lie? I feel like out in the real world, when you’re surrounded by other people, sometimes you have to be so defensive about your own identity because people won’t believe it or people will have opinions about it. So having a safe space where you don’t have to do that, you just get to chill and it’s safe, and can forget that we are the minority is quite nice.

- Not having to defend your own identity is a massive benefit of having a space for LGBT+ people. And, although you can meet people who have had similar experiences to you, you can also learn so much. Issy and I have often talked about how diverse even the LGBT+ Society is. Outside of people having this shared identity, the community itself is so varied.

Issy: I think it’s a good thing for people to come to the society and realise people are very different. People don’t tell you, but it’s very interesting to see how many different backgrounds, different opinions people are coming from and then to learn from it. You have that similarity, but also you might have differences and that’s fine. The LGBT Society was a place for me to come and learn because, of course, as a cis person there’s some stuff that I don’t know about. And others have struggles that I won’t go through, but being surrounded by it I’ve actually learned so much.

Anna: Yeah, every LGBT person is so different so it’s so nice that you can continue to learn from people. Like, everyone has such diverse experiences and even if you have that thing in common it doesn’t mean you’re going to be similar in every way.

Issy: Like, when I say to people, they’re shocked that I don’t like drag. It’s just because I’m not a fan of makeup and I’m not a fan of fashion.

Anna: When I said I’d never seen RuPaul’s ‘Drag Race’ the room was silent. When I was a part of the society, it was nice to see that even within the community [that] people are not the same. Just because you’re queer, just because you’re trans, that doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to be like this or you’re going to be like that.

- From being a part of the LGBT+ Society, we’ve both learned that your identity does not have to define who you are - it can just be a part of you. The community is so diverse and vibrant. And, although you may not be expressing yourself in the same way, you can express yourself so completely and celebrate both your similarities and differences.

Anna: So, obviously, we met through the society, but what made you join [it]?

Issy: I just thought it would be quite fun. During my foundation, not at this university, in my artwork I was looking at LGBT spaces because the thing is, like, I’m not only just queer but I’m actually very interested in LGBT as a topic and a conversation. So it’s something that I do a lot of research into and love very much. I think there’s such an amazing culture around LGBT people and they can do absolutely phenomenal things. So when I came here, I was just like - of course I want to be surrounded by this.

- As an LGBT+ society, inclusivity is at the forefront of its ethos. Issy expressed how creating a variety of events and ensuring that there were inclusive options was crucial.

Issy: We’re a free society and we run all year round, so you don’t have to join all year round because, you know, not everyone comes out in September so just pop along when you feel like it. But we do just try to create LGBT safe spaces so you can just come and chill. There are also educational talks and extra drinking, and non-drinking socials, just so there’s a little bit of everything for everyone. I would also say that if you’re not LGBT but you still want to know about it, to understand a bit more, you can also come because, for the educational talks, that’s educational to everyone.

Anna: Any final takeaways for the Spark readers?

Issy: Come to Coffee Hour! Come and talk and say hello… Be gay, do crime. Don’t be homophobic, don’t be transphobic, critically read the news. Educate yourself. I don’t think every LGBT person is required to come to our society, but I think it’s important and quite special for people to be able to come. At the end of the day, if you’re like: I’m not surrounded by enough gay people…you can just turn up!

- The LGBT+ society is a space that holds a place in my heart, and although I am no longer a member of it, I have kept the friendships (with people like Issy) that I made. That’s the benefit of having a society so open - it can be whatever you choose it to be. For me, that was a way to surround myself with more queer people and for Issy it’s about fostering a place for others to live freely.


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