Jamie Martin uses their experience as an LGBTQ+ student to criticise the University’s performative activism while barriers to inclusion prevail.
LGBTQ+ history month should be a time for remembrance and awareness. As a community, we take pride in ourselves for all that we have overcome, and we remember the battles our queer siblings fought for us. We mourn those who we have lost, and we reflect on the struggles that we still face to this day. We find here, at the University of Glasgow, collections depicting LGBTQ+ life woven into the Hunterian Art Gallery, talks about queer history in Scotland, as well as a ceremony raising the LGBTQ+ flag. Alas the University seems less keen on considering what it can do better as an institution. There has been little action on promoting the mental health of its LGBTQ+ students, for example. Much of the limited efforts commemorating LGBTQ+ history month stem from LGBTQ+ students themselves, representative councils and student societies. So, as a queer, transmasculine, nonbinary first-year student at the University, I am too frequently reminded of the age-old question: “If we don’t represent ourselves, who will?”
We must also remember that not all discrimination and prejudice is explicit. Homophobia extends deeper than yelling a slur at a gay person on the street, and transphobia extends deeper than proclaimed exclamations of believing we don’t basic human rights. Prejudice can be unconscious, and the things people don’t do are every bit as important as the things that they do do. Oppression is a chameleon: it changes to fit its surroundings, and often goes unnoticed. It is a silent killer, manifesting itself in bureaucracy, microaggressions, and implied assumptions or expectations. Indeed it is these small things that eventually build up into explicit manifestations of hatred.
As someone that has been out in a socially conservative town as gay since the age of 12, and as trans since the age of 13, I am no stranger to the microaggressions that constitute the building blocks of oppression. It is disappointing and surprising that I have encountered these same problems at the University of Glasgow, an institution which, on the outside, seemed like a bedrock of social justice and understanding to people like me. Where oppression is so deftly woven into the fabric of society, no truly safe haven can exist without hiding and forgoing your very identity. Indeed, the veil of performative activism that the University hides behind was pulled down in a haze of bureaucratic transphobia in August 2021, before I’d even stepped foot on campus. In my application I explicitly stated that I am non-binary, and legally have not been known by a name including my (female) middle name, or by the feminine title of “Ms” since I was sixteen, I was disappointed to find that the University had noted my gender down on the systems as “female” and had included this middle name. I then discovered that I did not have access to change my gender myself. Instead, I had to submit a politely-worded “request” and wait days for the IT team to solve a problem that should never have occurred in the first place. Given that I know my own gender a little better than the IT support employee that had the misfortune of being assigned my support form, surely it would be more logical and dignified for me to be able to rectify the mistake myself?
Unfortunately, my case is likely only one of many, exemplifying the extent to which microaggressions are not simply woven into the system, but represent the system itself. What use are gender neutral toilets if their occupants are automatically misgendered and shoved into inaccurate gender categories that they’ve spent years trying to escape? What use is a mental health training session at some random point in the year if there is no material support for queer and trans mental health? What can “woke” lecturers do if the very system they work within is one that was never designed for LGBTQ+ people in the first place, and takes basic autonomy over our identities away from us.
A case in point: upon walking through the university grounds in mid-February, only halfway through LGBTQ+ history month, the LGBTQ+ flag could no longer be spotted. Take from that what you will. The contradiction between shallow stage productions of allyship scrambled together by prestigious institutions, and the harsh reality underneath, means it is increasingly difficult to be LGBTQ+ and a University of Glasgow student. Allyship is not an adjective, it is a verb; it should represent an ongoing act of support from those privileged enough to not face our struggles. But we see time and time again that it falls to the oppressed to undo the work of their oppressors. It is not enough for the university to say it is an ally. This LGBTQ+ history month, it needs to do the work to prove it.