The Student contacted LGBT+ Liberation candidate Sam regarding their campaign and manifesto. To read Sam’s manifesto, click here.
What motivated you to run for this position?
I’ve started many projects in my time at university. Some of them have been part of the work PrideSoc are doing, like supporting the Staff Pride Network with their personal tutor training and LGBTQ+ Advocacy Scheme, as well as bringing rapid HIV testing to campus. Others have been things I have done by myself that are very close to my heart. The LGBTQ+ Peer Mentoring scheme I set up and run with backing from the department of Peer Learning and Support is a good example of this. There is so much scope to do so much good with this project alongside the others in my manifesto. I feel the LGBT+ Liberation Officer position offers the perfect framework to really make these projects the best they can be and help the most people. My ultimate goal is improving the lives of LGBT+ students at the university and in the wider Edinburgh community, and I believe LGBT+ Liberation Officer is the best platform for me to do this.
What are your thoughts on the mandatory interruptions policy?
This is an extremely dangerous and ill-thought-out policy. The evidence suggests that rather than opening up a dialogue about mental health at university it will shut it down. Students may become unwilling to disclose mental health conditions for fear of being separated from the support networks they rely on. This will disproportionately affect LGBTQ+ students as they may not be comfortable with returning home and the suspension of maintenance loan money may mean that they would be forced to leave Edinburgh, in turn making their mental health problems more prominent and painful than if they had been allowed to remain at the university.
What is the most ambitious point on your manifesto and how do you plan to tackle it?
Getting LGBTQ+ training available to all personal tutors, student support staff and counselling service staff is my most ambitious goal. I am very aware that this is a massive undertaking so I’m going to have to tackle it in sections. The first task is fully developing the content and delivery of the training. For this, I think it is really important to talk to students and open a dialogue about what exactly they want staff to be aware of when they interact with LGBTQ+ students. I can’t speak for all the identities that fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella and I can’t speak for all possible intersecting backgrounds but I can listen and learn. The next stage is delivery, for again it’s important that students are involved as, from experience, the messages delivered in this sort of training are so much more powerful coming from the voices of students themselves. It is not feasible for this training to be universally delivered in person so working with students and the university I would turn the content of the training into a series of videos which could be distributed to all staff. Whilst we cannot be sure that all staff will fully engage with this, hopefully many will and over time a cultural change in the way LGBTQIA+ issues are dealt with at the university will take place.
Antisemitic graffiti was found in the toilets of the Old Medical School on Thursday. Transphobic graffiti has also been found in university bathrooms. How should the university be tackling hate crime and does our university have a hate problem?
I think the problem here is a few very vocal people are spreading hate and attracting all of the media coverage and are being sensationalised. This is exactly what they want, and it means they are setting the agenda for discussion on these topics. What the university needs to be doing is frequent sweeps of university property to remove these stickers and graffiti. It needs to take the onus off students for reporting and removing it. The university needs to work with the local council to remove hate from lampposts and bins, not just university owned signs and bathrooms. Most importantly, we need a stronger response from the university condemning these actions. In emails from the Principal, he talks about a zero-tolerance for discrimination and hate speech. Simply removing it isn’t enough, the university needs to publicly condemn it.
How would you go about ensuring that lecturers understand the importance of using inclusive language rather than it just be another dictate from the university?
In developing the pilot if the LGBTQ+ Advocacy scheme with the Staff Pride Network I spoke to many students about instances where a member of staff had made them uncomfortable due to their lack of understanding of LGBTQ+ identities. In many cases, this was due to the language used in lectures. Including these student voices in any guidelines would be very important. I believe lecturers are not using inclusive language due to a lack of knowledge about how much a small choice of words can dramatically impact the comfort and sense of safety of LGBTQ+ students. If I present this as a way of making your students more comfortable rather then an anonymous set of rules, I am hopeful that lecturers will be more likely to listen. This ties in very strongly to the staff training that I’m hoping to implement; it’s all about helping staff realise that things they may see as insignificant can make the biggest difference to LGBTQ+ students.
You mention workshops on coming out. What sorts of topics would this cover?
Coming out is still a frightening and difficult time for many LGBTQ+ people. Having a chance to talk about other people’s experiences can be invaluable. I know from my own experience how helpful it was to talk to people who’d been in my situation and how this eased some of the anxiety. This is an area where intersecting identities play a really important role so it is important that these workshops are collaborations and discussions, bringing together people from a whole range of intersectional backgrounds and helping each other find the courage to take this huge step in their life. I have started working on developing these workshops with LGBTQ+ charities across Edinburgh such as SX Scotland and LGBT Health and Wellbeing, as I am very aware that I have very little formal welfare training beyond that offered to all Peer Mentoring schemes.
Finally, is there anything in particular about your manifesto/campaign that you want to draw students’ attention to? What is your favourite policy?
The policy closest to my heart is developing the LGBTQ+ Peer Mentoring Scheme. I really could have done with talking to someone whilst I was discovering my Queer identity and I am really passionate that no student has to feel like there is no one for them to talk to. People need somewhere to talk about the big things like gender, identity, mental health, relationships and sex. We’re not all able to, or comfortable with, talking to friends and family about this stuff. This is why it’s so important to make space where people do feel comfortable sharing and supporting each other.
The following is a transcription of Sam’s responses during the Liberation Candidate’s Question Time which took place on Friday 1 March 2019.
Some answers may have been edited for clarity.
Hi, my name’s Sam, I use they/them pronouns, I’m queer, non-binary and bisexual. Over the past two years I’ve been a committee member and then recently President of PrideSoc which has given me the opportunity to start projects that I am really passionate about. I want to keep up this momentum and keep making the University of Edinburgh a better place for students.
I want to focus on is better LGBTQ+ training for personal tutors, student support staff and the counselling service. I know I’ve had a lot of problems accessing these. I want to bring full STI testing to campus, and start a peer and mentoring scheme across campus. A few of these things are things I’ve already started working on in the past. For instance, I helped deliver training to personal tutors in the law school as part of their Pride Network. This training exists, we just need to make it available across the university.
I’ve worked to bring rapid testing to campus. But we can go further. We can bring full STI testing to campus because I think that’s still a problem. For instance, for non-binary and trans people accessing testing in a place like Chalmers is very intimidating. I’ve started a LGBT Peer Mentoring scheme, but there’s a lot of scope to do more with it: to develop workshops to help people come out and come to terms with their trans identity or skillharing things like makeup and hairstyling. I think these things are really important, so I’m really passionate about these projects, and as your LGBT Liberation Officer and with your backing I think I will have the support I need to realise these projects and to improve the LGBT experience at the University of Edinburgh
How do you plan to engage students who haven’t been involved in the LGBT campaign before, including those who are new to the university?
So I think that the problem is that there are a lot of LGBT students out there who are not engaged in the community for whatever reason, and it may be that they don’t need that, but there are also a lot of people who are looking for it and not finding it. I think that we need to a really big presence in Freshers’ Week. We need to be collaborating with societies as much as we can and we need to be keeping up the momentum and keep events and socials, alongside the campaigning throughout the year, and advertise that really widely. Things like the Peer Mentoring scheme are helping. There are a lot of students who are unsure about their identity and where they fit into the LGBT+ spectrum and we need to help them and realise they are welcome and that they do have a place here
How do you see yourself working alongside the other Liberation Officers to ensure that students who experience intersecting oppressions feel welcome in the LGBT+ campaign?
I think that there are a lot of campaigns where as much as possible we can present a unified front and that working together we’re going to get a better result. There are things like staff training, that can cover a lot…when we set up that platform of a training session, we can put in as much content as we want, content from all across the Liberation Campaigns. It’s about holding joint events. There are going to be people who don’t feel like they fit into one of the campaigns, but a joint event is a joint event. During panels and discussions, it is really important to ensure that we do give a space for people of marginalised identities and that we preserve that an make sure that they have a chance to speak.
Coordinating LGBT+ plus history month is a big part of the role. What events would you like to see in 2020?
Something I’ve started doing is looking at the history of activism and representation at the university, which I’ve done by looking at the history of PrideSoc which is really long and interesting. I think it’d be cool to have an event where we have artists respond to this research people are doing. There are a lot really exciting alumni of the society and university generally, people who have worked here who have gone on to have careers in activism, like Tim Hopkins who started the Equality Network. There are loads of people who are working at LGBT+ Scotland who used to be in the society. It’d be great to bring these people back to the university to talk about where they started in their activism. I think it’d also be really nice to start documenting some of the current history that’s going on. People are doing really amazing things, we could be collecting photos and memories of their time at university now instead of digging it up later.
How do you plan to work with societies and student groups to get more people involved in the LGBT+ campaign?
I think there are a lot of people out there who feel like they are very detached from the wider LGBT+ community, so collaboration on events is important. In the past there has been lots of work with PrideSoc, Amnesty and Sexpresion, but I think we need to do more to reach people who feel more detached: who go to sports clubs and game clubs and who don’t feel like they have the networks of support that people who go to PrideSoc do. I think we can do more with PrideSoc. I think it’d be great to get people involved with campaigns and keep people up to date. Invite more people to the campaign. I want people to feel involved and that their opinions are being heard and that we’re listening to them.
What do you see as the biggest political issues affecting LGBT+ students on campus and beyond?
I think that currently, the biggest thing that is going on is the transphobia in media making LGBT+, specifically trans and non-binary students feel uncomfortable on campus. The sticker campaign, the debate in Scottish Parliament on whether the census will record non-binary people, this is the biggest thing, the hot topic at the moment, and it’s about making the university feel safe again, because I know for a lot of trans and nonbinary students I’ve spoken to, they don’t feel safe. They don’t feel comfortable. I mean, they’re allowed to use changing rooms that align with the gender they identify as, but they don’t feel comfortable, and there aren’t changing rooms in King’s Building, so that’s what I want to work on, the changing rooms in King’s.
This is the first year LGBT+ Officer will be working alongside the Trans and Non-binary officer. In that new context, how do you intend to work together to support the trans and non-binary campaign while also respecting their autonomy?
I do identify as non-binary. It should the Trans Officer taking the lead and deciding what campaigns and what fights are most important. These could be fought at the time, and I’d do everything I can to support their decision. I will obviously have my own experience to lend to that, but it would be down to the Trans Officer to decide the direction of their campaigning. That being said, some of the points on my manifesto would benefit trans and non-binary students but it was not my intention to take some of the roles of the Trans and Non-binary Officer.
What more should the university be doing to help estranged students and those with limited family support?
I’m not an estranged student, so I can’t speak too much about that, but what I really rely on is support networks of friends and family. There are a lot of people who don’t have links with their family and aren’t engaged with the community that much. The LGBT+ Peer Mentoring is really important to allow students to talk about their identity freely, where they might not feel comfortable with their friends, whereas with this one to one peer mentor they can find a someone who’s had a similar experience to them and share ideas, talk about their experiences. They could set up workshops and networks of people that can talk to each other about what they’re going through at the time, from coming out to unreceptive families or coming to terms with your identity.
Image: Sam Teale