February was a time for celebrating love on the 14th, whether with your significant other or a box of Tesco Value wine, a time for realisation that Semester Two had actually started and that you should probably start some work, and of course, you had a bit more cash in your pocket, after loans dropping and Christmas being long forgotten about.
February was also LGBTQ+ History Month and there were lots of events marking and celebrating this across both Newcastle and Northumbria university campuses. This recognition within the student community was really important and it’s time to discuss why.
Education is important
Now yes, you may greet this with a degree of cynicism – “Well why do we need LGBTQ+ History Month, we have Marriage Equality so what more needs to be done?”. Well, whilst we have made strides over the past 50 years in the right direction of equality, there is still a lot more that needs to be addressed. The reality is, homophobia is still rife within many facets of society, politics and culture, but particularly in university culture and in education.
When was the last time you were in a lecture and you were taught about LGBTQ+ History? Or about Pride? Or how Pride came about? Yes, I’ll acknowledge I may be speaking more to BA students here than BSc students, but, if you were lucky enough to grow up in a more liberal part of the UK, then perhaps this was part and parcel of your Citizenship education in high school, and perhaps if you came out, there was no big deal. But for some people, myself included, we are not as privileged. Only within the past few days, we’ve seen the removal of same-sex relationship education following petitions from parents in a predominantly Muslim primary school in Birmingham and deeply disparaging comments from Labour MP, Shabana Mahmood.
Whilst such events are a true testament to how far we have come, the reality is that this is not the case across the country. The School Report 2017 reported that nearly half of LGBTQ+ students are being bullied or have been bullied merely for their sexuality or gender identity. You don’t need me to explain the harrowing disparates from this research, and when nothing is being done to address the issues impacting Queer students across the country, then of course this is going to transfer over to university culture.
The reasons we don’t see LGBTQ+ issues highlighted across the university syllabus draws back to our secondary school education – when were we taught about Queer history in school? Well, I’ll speak for myself and plenty of others when I say that we were not taught. One of the biggest social movements to take place, the Stonewall riots, laid the gauntlet for LGBTQ+ rights today as we know it, but we are not taught about it? But this is the same for Black History and Feminist History, key movements, reshaping the status quo, and we are not educated.
This is not only to heterosexual people, but to Queer people alike – read your history! Schools will not teach you, so therefore you must teach yourself. Yes, the Battle of Hastings and the French Revolution and both World Wars are crucial parts of the History syllabus, but we need more education to further normalise attitudes to the LGBTQ+ community in todays day and age, so that no misconceptions can be carried over from school, into university.
Language and mannerisms, although we may not think it, are detrimental into how comfortable your Queer friends are going to feel around you. Now lets go back a second here; Queer – I can’t say that? Well, most people can’t, but in the same way the Black community have reclaimed the ‘n’ word and transformed it from pejorative to positive, LGBTQ+ people are turning the ‘q’ word if you will into a positive, to show our resilience to overcome and overthrow homophobia. And whilst, you may have full support for our liberation and freedom, please refrain from using this word, as it’s kind of just for us. It’s topics such as these which are perhaps misunderstood and overlooked in a university setting.
That’s why LGBTQ+ History Month is so important. Events around campus lift the stigma surrounding discussions such as this.
Every summer, Queer people up and down the country alike march for our freedom, challenging the homophobia and transphobia we still see everyday. We only have to see within the past few weeks the sensationalist language used by tabloids, attacking the Transgender community as well as those who are HIV+. Surely, this is enough to see why we still need Pride – but what is Pride?
What is Pride?
In days gone by, Pride was a political march, a demand for freedom, a demand to be treated humanely. But Pride today has become a festival, capitalised by heterosexuality. Only in recent years, Britney Spears headlined Brighton Pride and this year Ariana Grande headlines Manchester Pride. Now, don’t get me wrong, two absolute QUEENS who I and many other Queer people adore. But, I ask you this: where is the political element which essentially shaped the first ever Pride marches? Now, Pride, like St. Patrick’s Day is just another day for people of all ages to throw on some face paints and not even know what we’re celebrating. Straight people come out, and they come out in their droves to Pride. It’s fantastic. I don’t speak for all Queer people, but you’re welcome. But remember where you are. Remember that it’s not okay for you to use the ‘Q’ word.
Remember that in Northern Ireland, Queer people still cannot get married, and whilst some may claim we have the most left-wing Conservative government to date, they are propped up by the viciously homophobic DUP, who have likened Queer people to pedophilia and perversion in the past.
It’s important to highlight to students and others alike, that it’s not okay for you to come to Pride, our celebration of our own identities, if you’re not going to fight for LGBTQ+ freedom and challenge perceptions all year round, just so you can wave around a Pride flag and sing God is a Woman out of tune.
For years, the LGBTQ+ community have faced prejudice and ostracisation. LGBTQ+ History Month celebrates that this ignorance and benevolence is not okay. Whilst once upon a time, this was customary practice in a world absorbed by religion and social conservatism, we cannot return to this. Through open dialogue, through participation with Queer community and History Month. Through showing your support, we will continue to normalise the conversation, and help us to never return to the days of immense oppression.
University campuses are a vital tool for the development of LGBTQ+ awareness and the fighting of rights.
First published on The Newcastle Tab.