LGBT+ students feel they still need to hide their identity at university, study warns

Photo: iSTOCK / praetorianphoto
Photo: iSTOCK / praetorianphoto

More than two in five LGBT+ students choose to hide their identity due to fear of discrimination.

That's according to a report released this morning by UK LGBT+ charity Stonewall in collaboration with YouGov, which paints a picture of isolation.

When this feared harassment does happen, many don't feel comfortable reporting it: 22 per cent of LGB (lesbian, gay or bisexual) students stated they wouldn't feel comfortable reporting identity-based bullying to staff, whereas a surprising seven per cent revealed that they had actually been subjected to negative comments by staff members over the last year.

The severity of the problem increases when the study gets trans-specific. Not only did 20 per cent of trans respondents describe being encouraged to disguise their gender identity by staff, three in five trans students reported harassment from other students, and more than a third (36 per cent) reported negative comments or conduct from university staff.

Speaking of his own specific experiences, 23-year-old Michael recalls:

I was walking to the university library when a group of people started yelling things like "oh, look at this dyke," "you look like a man... wait, is that the point, you tranny?" at me as I walked past.

Results also revealed that these altercations can escalate into physical violence: seven per cent of trans students surveyed said that they had been physically beaten by either fellow students or staff because of their gender identity.

Disabled LGBT+ students also face disproportionate rates of bullying, with almost half (47 per cent) claiming they had been subjected to negative comments from other students.

Furthermore, one in four non-binary students and one in six trans students reported feeling unable to wear clothing which represented their gender expression.

One student, 21-year-old Lisa, reveals the ways in which clothing is used to police her identity:

In the university, people have refused to refer to me with the proper pronouns because they "don't see me as a woman" despite me fully presenting myself as such.

I have not worn a dress once for the last couple of months due to the weather and, as such, I have been seen as "not trans enough". I have been told that I'm undermining the image of women by a number of students, and it has caused me to feel unable to socialise with my peers.

Her words also point to a problem with misgendering - in other words, using the wrong pronouns to refer to someone, often despite being told otherwise. Almost a quarter of trans students reported experiencing this, with one particular respondent - 22-year-old Alex - highlighting the difficulty of officially registering a name change:

The university email system will not use my preferred name unless I change it by deed poll, an option currently unavailable to me for complex reasons.

[Because of this], I am forced to see my dead name attached to every email and computer document I produce, even on my own software.

The comprehensive study also reveals that POC (people of colour) students were more likely to experience exclusion, as were students of faith.

There are, however, some positives; more than two thirds of students say that their university has policies in place to protect LGBT+ students on campus, while 50 per cent of respondents stated that their university had trans-specific protections. These small changes can make a huge difference, as 23-year-old student Melanie confirms:

My university has made great leaps and bounds in welcoming all students. One facet that greatly pleased me was the introduction of gender-neutral bathrooms.

It's an optimistic end to a necessary study which shows that more still needs to be done to ensure the safety and comfort of LGBT+ students across the country.

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