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Lancaster University’s LGBTQ+ Association describes itself as an organisation “aiming to represent the variety of gender- and sexuality-based identities on campus, as well as promote equality in Lancaster and beyond”. This is a noble ideal, and promoting equality on campus is something to be encouraged. But within this definition of the organisation, is there not something missing? Something like a sense of fun?
I remember when I first came to Lancaster University in 2012, LGBTQ+ (or as it was known, LGBTQ*) was a very different group to what it is now. I may be a sufferer of rose-tinted retrospective vision, but it’s obvious that the association is not representing its members as well as it could be, and perhaps adopting some of the traits of its previous incarnation may improve it. The association used to place an emphasis upon weekly social events and struck an inclusive balance of alcoholic and non-alcoholic gatherings. There was still a political edge to the society (as well as it providing other services, such as welfare support and managing sexuality workshops) but it never felt like the primary concern of the society. Now however, LGBTQ+ has adopted a very political stance, and as can be seen by its self-definition above, there is apparently little room for fun in not being heterosexual or cisgender at Lancaster University.
LGBTQ+ consists of two core strands at Lancaster University: the political and the social. Whilst these two aspects appear disjointed, they can be combined to form an incredibly powerful and successful organisation, where the two feed into one another. Socials attract “casual” LGBTQ+ members who can later be educated on queer issues (should they choose to), while campaigns attract the more “hardcore” LGBTQ+ goers, who are looking to meet like-minded people to tackle oppression in society. When these two strands are interwoven to form a tight link between socials and politics, members can benefit from the society to the level which they wish. It is my hope that the organisation recognises that socials are vital to maintaining interest, as some people want to celebrate being out without being pressured to engage in political queer issues.
Despite my seemingly endless gripes, I need to make it clear that I don’t think the society has gone bad or declined over the last three years. What I think is that if the organisation desires to pursue a political route, then it should do so without neglecting social events, seeing as the majority of members have a need for social spaces. When the social events are neglected, it takes itself far too seriously and begins to alienate its own members. This was seen in the disappointing Gaystrav, purposefully devoid of gay icons on its playlist such as Cher or Britney to avoid stereotyping the gay community; this was truly a case of political correctness gone mad. Furthermore, a lack of interest in socials has caused the repeated cancellation of the termly Canal Street trip. Not enough people wanted to go, and while it’s easy to blame a lack of interest on poor timing within the term, it is important to question why the members of the group didn’t try to make the time.
If the organisation continues to relegate socials to the abyss in favour of “safe spaces” (which is a wholly political term in itself), then could it at least consider rebranding itself? LGBTQ+ is a mouthful, and as the spectrum of sexuality continues to expand as self-definition diversifies, then adding new letters and symbols to the core LGBT framework seems like trying to fix a broken system. Let’s assume that LGBTQ+ seeks to represent its members without offending or leaving anyone out: then why has it not simply changed its name to The Association of Gender and Sexual Minorities, or GSM? Yes, this sounds more clinical, but think about it – literally everyone is who needs to be represented, is. Lesbians, gay men, pansexuals, transgender persons, asexuals, gender-fluid persons, bisexuals… the list goes on. Would it not make sense to acquire this name to align itself with its political intentions? Shouldn’t it also associate itself with local organisations such as Out in the Bay to increase its political strength? The political aspirations of the society are being undermined by its inability to maintain membership and engage with the community outside the university, in favour of furthering individual members’ political careers.
Needless to say, this year will be interesting for the organisation and it will be fascinating to see which path LGBTQ+ intends to follow. I would encourage both freshers and more seasoned students to join the group, and to not be put off by this rant. Without its students, the organisation would have no-one to represent. You could be the people who shape the gay agenda at Lancaster University, whether it be in favour of fun socials or political endeavours.