By NUS-USI LGBT Officer Conor Loughran
As September dawned, so too did nearly 5 weeks of touring the entirety of Northern Ireland, visiting around 40 campuses with the goal of meeting students and staff from all of our colleges and universities, as well as promoting our campaigns and inviting people to get involved in the wider social movements.
For all the Freshers I went to, I had an additional goal in mind – To meet LGBT students, let them know they are not alone. What I would discover in those 5 weeks changed my perception of this tiny country to a place I could truly say I was proud to live in – And that pride has nothing to do with our politics, our laws or legislation, it’s entirely due to the people out there who I met in those past 5 weeks.
Whether young, old, disabled, international or an ethnic minority, male, female, trans, non-binary or intersex, the vast majority of the people I met were incredibly diverse yet many people had one thing in common – they were LGBT.
The amount of conversations I had, learning about real stories from real people, their experiences, their hardships, the good tales of accepting families or the difficult ones of mental health struggles – It was more than I had expected, more than I had hoped for, yet if one thing came out of all of this it was that LGBT people are now more confident than they ever have been, are now more eager to get involved in the fight for their rights and are increasingly becoming brave enough to be themselves in the face of any adversity. For the first time in my life, what I witnessed were students, the future of our country, with the fire in them to bring about real, social revolution.
Of the many staff I met, not one was ignorant of the need to have services available for LGBT students. There exists a clear understanding that discrimination and inequality is an issue which isn’t political, but rather one which has such a profound and negative impact on the mental and educational wellbeing of students that it must be addressed, and LGBT rights must be protected.
At the end of our Freshers tour, I felt encouraged. Whether it was the fact that an massively disproportionate amount of students who expressed an active interest in our campaigns were LGBT or whether it is the encouraging attitudes of staff, or the many conversations I have had with individuals about supporting LGBT students in their own areas since September, I am feeling more confident than ever before.
From our amazing student bloc at Belfast Pride, to the overwhelming numbers of LGBT students at Freshers and beyond, with upcoming events with a focus on Trans students such as the Trans Student’s Social* and other wonderful future events, the future does look bright for LGBT students, and that future doesn’t look too far away either.
*Trans Students’ Social being held on Friday 20th October at 6pm at the Belfast Trans Resource Centre, hosted by NUS-USI LGBT Officer and GenderJam NI. All self-defining Trans* students welcome, refreshments provided.