I need to be honest here. As a critic of Free Pride’s old LGBT-only board policy, and a believer in equality, when I first heard that students across the country have been calling for the establishment of LGBT-only accommodation, I scoffed at the idea. Frankly, I thought it was ridiculous. How could this possibly help anyone? What good can further segregation achieve? Is this a cringe-worthy step for queer activism?
I had a good think about idealism and reality. Ideally there would be no unfair discrimination, meaning there would be no vulnerable groups or, therefore, special protections for them. Yet despite our society’s advances in equality, discrimination still lingers; and when it comes to accommodation, having as safe as a place as possible to sleep at night is – needless to say – of huge importance. In theory, then, when certain groups face disproportionate harassment, segregated living spaces may be a temporary option until larger issues are resolved.
But segregation comes at a cost. In this instance, I’m sure that plenty won’t care and that many will just roll their eyes and pass ‘gay halls’ as silly or benign. But for others, it may very well result in further frustration towards – and resentment of – LGBT people and their activism. Let’s face it, a good few queer movements are seen as self-absorbed by those both outwith and within the community (myself included). To the real homophobes and transphobes, this perceived pettiness is one of the things they despise most about us. As such, a move like making LGBT-only accommodation could worsen this image in their minds, most worryingly if they pose threats to safety and equality. Of course people shouldn’t react so irrationally, but unfortunately, irrationality is part of human nature and is all too influential in this world – we have to be careful and strategic in our planning.
Let’s say these plans went ahead. Surely, then, similar accommodation would have to be made for other minority groups? Be this by race, religion, sexuality, or otherwise, there’d be a lot of missed opportunities for integration (it’s amazing what you learn about the world when you live with people). When it comes to LGBT acceptance, this is a big issue for students who come from homophobic backgrounds and whose first opportunities for enlightenment come around when they go to university. More exclusive boarding means more buildings, or at least, a lot of reshuffling. When Scotland is one of the most equal countries in the world, would it be worth expending so many resources segregating people and risking alienation and a resurgence of discrimination?
With the progress that society is making, hopefully the case for segregated halls will become obsolete sooner than we think. But even when homophobia, transphobia and similarly prejudiced abuse become things of the past, the fact will remain that anyone can be a victim of violence. It is, sadly, a part of life. It makes sense to prioritise the most vulnerable but it makes no sense to ignore everyone else.
In the long term, what we need simply isn’t LGBT only university accommodation. What we need is a system whereby harassment can be easily reported, investigated, and dealt with, zero-tolerance for discrimination, and a culture in which we learn from one another. If we want equality, we can’t risk hindering progress because we haven’t considered our opponents’ irrationality, psychologies, and likely reactions. We can’t risk division among groups of people when we are still ignorant of one another. And we can’t learn from one another unless we interact with one another.
NB: The author has used “LGBT” as a shortened form of “LGBTQIA+” for convenience.