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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

'We can make things better': In conversation with the LGBT+ Forum

LGBT+ Forum PR Officer Esme Houston chats with The Gaudie

By Sara A

Photo Credit: LGBT+ Forum

The LGBT+ Forum represents LGBT+ students in University of Aberdeen as a part of AUSA's Liberation Network.

The Gaudie interviewed the Forum’s Events and Public Relations Officer, Esme Houston, earlier this month to ask how the Forum is doing, what challenges they are facing and what improvements could be made on the University of Aberdeen campus.

What is the role of the LGBT+ Forum in the University of Aberdeen?

'Making sure that LGBT+ students know that they're not alone is definitely an important part of the forum. The forum provides support, events, networking and makes a presence for the LGBT+ students on campus. The biggest monthly event is the karaoke night with about 40 people attending. We have bi-weekly LGBTea events where we meet up to drink tea in the Student Union Building and a games afternoon at Four Pillars Aberdeen every Friday. People come up to us and talk about how much more welcome they've felt coming to know the forum exists and finding a community where they can feel like themselves and be safe. This year by coalescing many separate queer groups in Aberdeen together, Aberdeen has a queer scene for arguably the first time.'

Has the LGBT+ forum faced challenges on campus?

'The forum has been approached with issues where people have been going in and smashing menstrual products in the men's bathrooms making the products destroyed. The university has put up free menstrual products in both men's and women's bathrooms because there are some men who menstruate. There has also been issues people are having with a lack of gender neutral toilets on campus. The Sir Duncan Rice Library does have gender neutral toilets, but most older buildings don't have that option. The third big problem is the university’s IT systems when it comes to trying to change your legal name or your academic name. This has been an ongoing problem that the forum has been at war with the University for years now.'

What improvements would the forum like to see on campus?

'We would suggest solving the problems that were mentioned: making it easier to change your name, gender neutral toilets and having a more robust disciplinary procedure for hate crimes to take place on campus and in an online setting. If someone gets caught vandalising period products in the men's bathrooms, there should be disciplinary action for that. Even relatively superficial things would help a lot, like putting up more pride flags around campus and making a more visible queer presence. Wandering around campus, being ourselves as LGBT+ students is changing a lot of social attitudes at the university. I think a lot of homophobia and transphobia come from people who've never met a gay or trans person and meeting someone who is queer and finding out they're just a normal person with normal person problems can help to deprogram a lot of hatred.'

How has the forum reacted to the political discussion on transgender and LGBT+ rights in the UK and the US recently?

'The recent build up of opposition to trans people existing has shifted into a more of a violent direction. Since I moved to Aberdeen I have heard of half a dozen hate crimes happening among 100 people over two years. It is not huge in terms of safety of trans people in Aberdeen on a day-to-day basis but our legal rights are slowly being stripped away by the government in Westminster. In the UK, we saw the Section 35 order from Westminster that blocked the Scottish’s Government’s Gender Recognition Bill reform back in January 2023. We had sizable protests about that in Aberdeen with over 100 people attending including allies, people from various organisations and councillors from the Aberdeen City Council which was quite inspiring to see.

Everyone I've spoken to who is aware of what's going on in the US right now, the overwhelming reaction has been one of disgust about states potentially outlawing gender transition under the age of 18 or generally and banning LGBT+ education and books. What we need to be doing as the forum is turning a lot of people's attention to the fact that these issues need to be fought for. We're not going to back down and stop fighting anytime soon. We’re making sure that LGBT+ people are able to support each other to get through these problems. We can make things better for trans and queer people where we are: in the Aberdeen City Council and at the University.'


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