Rosie Taylor is the new LGBT+ Liberation officer for Edinburgh University Students’ Association. Karolina Zieba, a writer and former Editor-in-Chief for The Student, sat down with Rosie for a chat about her new role and LGBT+ issues on campus.
Rosie Taylor is the incoming LGBT+Officer, leading the liberation campaign and representing queer students in the following year. The Student had the opportunity to discuss her ideas and beliefs.
We began our chat with a current and hot topic: pronouns. “My pronouns are she/her, and it’s very important to ask [people what their pronouns are]. I think if you don’t know the person, if you’re slightly unsure or don’t want to get it wrong, then ask. That microaggression of using the wrong pronoun constantly can be really damaging for people who are trans or non-binary, and that’s something cis people like me need to be aware of.” She added that she hasn’t always gotten it right. Believe it or not, no one came out of the womb with a sickle in one hand and a hammer in another: “I don’t want to speak for trans or non-binary people because I’m cis and I use the pronouns that align with the gender that I was assigned at birth.
“I’m privileged in that sense, and I can’t know how it feels to be on the receiving end of a mistake, but I do think that everyone gets it wrong, even people with the best intentions.
“I’ve gotten it wrong before: I think sometimes it just happens, as long as you’re clear in correcting yourself and making an effort to be better going forward. You need to show you’re willing to learn from it.”
Rosie has been involved in university activism around LGBT+ rights and mental health and wellbeing prior to getting elected: “The discussion I organised, Eat Fuck Love, was really good.”
“There was a reason that the panel was mostly queer: I wanted it to be about stuff that’s not really talked about at this university, in a raw way, and I wanted to look at it from the perspective of queer students who exist in a space of debate and activism when it comes to sexuality.”
She has also been involved with the Equality and Diversity committee and given talks about the importance of LGBT+ representation.
Educating people about the LGBT+ community is just one element of Rosie’s new role. “A lot of people don’t know what liberations officers do: A huge part of campaigning was explaining why it’s important to choose someone to represent you in university.
“Mostly it’s about allowing supportive communities to grow, representing the voices of those students as best as you can by listening to them and pushing for changes that they will find helpful.”
“One of my manifesto points was creating Queer Quorums. I felt like there should be more space in the campaigns for students to talk about the positive things that they are doing and to celebrate that as well. The quorums will be a space where queer students, particularly BME, disabled and trans queer students of colour get to highlight all the stuff that is going on, that they’re excited about. And networking and getting to know each other will be great: not all LGBT+ students engage with PrideSoc or the campaign, so it would be nice to have an opportunity to build connections.
I’ll be inviting along staff, allies and support services to come and just listen to feedback, and talk about how the university is working to be a more inclusive space.”
“Another thing that I really want to do is go out to schools and youth groups around Edinburgh. I want us to expand on the things that Sexpression and the Staff Pride Network already do, teaching young people about the LGBT+ community and LGBT+ history. When I was younger I didn’t really have that representation and I think that would have been very helpful to me in understanding and accepting my sexuality, and reducing the negative attitudes around me.
“I also really want to do some more creative and fun stuff that breaks barriers – like a non-gendered fashion show to build on the work from the queer arts collective. I would love to see more creative opportunities open to students from all schools and courses, and for the university to spotlight the amazing work LGBT+ students are doing.”
It is a widespread intracommunal conversation within the LGBT+ community that perhaps certain identities, due to their difference in oppression and experience, should not be included under the umbrella. Rosie is an inclusionist, meaning she believes people who identify as asexual, demisexual and intersex can decide for themselves if they fit in the umbrella: “I don’t think that exclusionism is acceptable, particularly the kind of attitudes that are perpetuated by transphobia around campus. Taking the ability to self-define away from people can be really dangerous and isolating, and it goes against what I believe are the core values of the LGBT+ communities we have here. Sexuality is such a personal thing, there’s always a lot of talk about bisexual, and pansexual and omnisexual identities for example; I think that sexual identity is completely up to the individual and we shouldn’t police that journey.”
“For me, asexuality and demisexuality definitely fall under the umbrella…I actually read a study a few days ago which said that being born with indeterminate sex at birth is actually just as common as being red-headed. I also understand that a lot of people who identify as asexual or demisexual or intersex don’t want to identify with the LGBT+ community, whether for more complex reasons or because they feel they aren’t being properly or fairly represented. Some people who identify as lesbian or gay also don’t want to associate themselves with the community in a social or political sense and that’s up to them. I think that hinders progression to an extent but it’s still an individual choice. Being less ‘visibly queer’ can sometimes protect you from a lot of ignorance and oppression because you ‘present’ as heterosexual or cis, but at the same time does that also isolate you from a lot of solidarity and support?”
The word ‘queer’ itself is often debated for its history and ambiguity. “I use it as a word to self-identify because it’s not just about what I’m sexually attracted to or who I’m romantically involved with, it’s about my core beliefs and values. There are so many takes on the word queer, and so many people have very personal definitions. I think that ‘to queer’, as a verb, is to shine a different light on something, to make it more diverse and recognising of LGBT+ identities. Queer can be such a useful term for some – I know that my own sexuality has always felt changeable and nuanced, depending on what I’m going through, and I think that word ‘queer’ communicates that without putting identity into a neat box. A lot of discomfort around the word comes from negative contexts of its use: when I was growing up I never heard it used as a derogatory term, but lots of people have been really hurt by that word, and there’s a reluctance to use it as an empowering term of affirmation. The more I’ve used it for myself the more I’ve felt like “queer seems right.” It also encompasses so many different identities that are considered to be moving away from the norm, creating a really big and diverse community. You can draw strength and support from that. To me, it’s about being part of a movement that’s accepting.”
Certainly, there are differences between different identities under the LGBT+ umbrella, however, there are also similarities. Perhaps it is the political aspect of queerness and attraction that bring LGBT+ people together. Rosie does agree that attraction is political to some extent: “I feel like yeah. Even when you look back at queer relationships in history and even like interracial relationships there’s always been a bridge between saying that love and attraction are natural things and that sometimes the communities we live in have places barriers and expectations on those and you have to transgress what’s accepted at the norm. Also though a lot of queer people and couples feel forced to play those relationships out in a political sphere. Even the fact that marriage is politically recognised and governed that means that if you’re going down that route in a relationship there’s a necessity for you to be political. Sometimes politicising attraction takes away from the emotional aspect of it and we shouldn’t be forcing queer people to be political just to be with the person they care about. I think it’s really important to question power and to question why we’re attracted to the people we’re attracted to.”
Attraction may be political, but it is certainly also emotional. Queer relationships often experience shame to a more extreme degree than heterosexual relationships. “I think that pride isn’t accessible to everyone, because not all LGBT+ people associate themselves with the community or with Queerness. If we’re looking at “queer” as transgressional to the norm, there is a lot that would be considered queer that used to be forbidden, used to be seen as a precursor to shame and sin. I think it’s really important to celebrate queerness and challenge the idea of ‘inherent’ shame that’s been projected onto lots of queer identities.”
Rosie is now an elected student representative to represent LGBT+ students. Many students who might identify into the campaign struggle to find ways of joining. Rosie wants to make the campaign more accessible: “You can join the Facebook group, the mailing list, or check out other details on the Edinburgh University Students’ Association website. Ideally, you will all turn up to the queer quorums that I will be running and say you want to get involved. I’d like to see a physical, safe and open space that people can come to. There is also Pride Soc, which has subgroups for a variety of different identities and hosts a lot of LGBT+ specific events and meetups. There’s the LGBT+ medics, which brings together students and staff in safe, supportive spaces. I think they’re really brilliant, especially for medics who have different schedules a lot of the time and deal with some unique pressures. There are also a lot of really LGBT+ friendly faith and interfaith communities in the university and around Edinburgh – look into those at the Chaplaincy. The Staff Pride Network pushes for inclusivity and education – they actually won the Stonewall Scotland Network of the Year award last year. I would definitely recommend pitching up to one of their coffee and cake events for an easy-going introduction.
“It’s really important to remember that LGBT+ people aren’t defined by being LGBT+, and that we take that identity into whatever we do – we never turn it off or put our queerness on standby. So something that’s really important to me is having LGBT+ friendly positions in all societies and clubs, especially in sports. It’s also important to look outside the university for support, for example LGBT+ Health and Wellbeing is local to Edinburgh – they do amazing community events and groups. It’s really good to connect to the outside community because the university can feel like such a bubble and it can be very isolating.”
Please note that a shortened version of this article was printed in The Student on 27 March 2019
Image: Hannah Robinson