LGBT+ students share stories of queerphobia at uni

‘A guy threw drinks at me in the club while I was kissing my girlfriend’

There’s this weird misconception that Generation Z has grown out of homophobia. Like, we no longer need shows like Glee or adverts starring Hillary Duff to hamfistedly tell us that it’s not okay to call people f*ggots or to describe things we don’t like as “gay” because we’re all on a similar level of woke these days. Sadly that isn’t really the case. Even at uni, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and many more manifestations of anti-LGBT+ hatred still exist and queer students are still putting up with it.

We spoke to dozens of LGBT+ students from as many different unis about their encounters with queerphobia. Pleasingly many of them pointed out they’ve had an overall positive experience, showing things are improving, but others had undoubtedly borne the brunt of bigoted views and grim behaviour. This is their reality:

CW: Homophobic abuse

“My friend told people I was only bisexual for attention”

The worst incident at university was a girl who I thought was my friend. She had been telling people that she reckoned I was saying I was bisexual purely for attention. I was pretty hurt that she assumed to know my sexuality better than I do! While this seems like a relatively small thing, it’s had an impact since, I’m always second guessing myself about my own sexuality. I have to reassure myself that I know myself better than anyone.

 – Natalie, Aberdeen

“I’ve had comments about how lesbians were always ‘one masculine one and one feminine one’, but it’s just ignorance”

To be honest, all the people that I have been confronted by were all really open. I do not think I have been confronted by any hate or any bad behaviour towards my sexuality. I had one or two comments from people not educated in that matter about how lesbians were always “one really masculine one and one feminine one” and other comments like there needs to be a “male” part and a “female” part, but it was not ill-intended, just ignorance. I have seen a lot of people wearing rainbow-coloured lanyards and from what I have seen, no one ever said anything about it.

 – Hestia, Exeter

“Toilet cleaners ask me if I’m a boy or a girl”

There have obviously been stares and people laughing. I can feel excluded on SU nights. Mostly because I know what kind of treatment queer people receive, mostly by straight white men. I’ve once been asked ‘boy or girl?’ when trying to go the toilet by a cleaner, and then after explaining that I was trans she just told me to go and use the disabled one instead.

 – Jenny, Birmingham

“I’ll get stares if I dress too queer”

I’ve not noticed anything specific to uni, just general society stuff like knowing not to dress too queer or I’ll get stares.

 – Oliver, Manchester

“I know friends who’ve had slurs thrown at them. Equality is a long way away”

I’ve actually felt really free at uni, as everybody I’ve met has been incredibly accepting. I grew up in a very conservative family and culture so moving to an environment where I could be a more authentic version of myself did wonders for my self esteem. I’m conscious that queerphobia is rampant both explicitly as well as behind closed doors, and as a cis guy I’ve been quite privileged not to have experienced anything negative so far. I do know friends who’ve had slurs shouted at them. It’s obvious that equality is a long way away. Overall, though, I’ve been very fortunate – a big shoutout to the Exeter LGBT+ society as well for providing so many fantastic events and being such a welcoming and supportive group.

 – Julian, Exeter

“There have been microaggressions in drinking games”

Image may contain: Alexander Northwood, glasses

I go to Sussex in Brighton so in all honestly, I can’t say I’ve received many significant examples of queerphobia as Brighton is obviously known for being a diverse city. There have been a few microaggressions, especially in first-year playing drinking games. I was asked on one of my first few days at uni whether I was a top or a bottom by a straight person in front of a large group of strangers. It used to happen a lot and used to really bother me at the time because it was so ignorant. If I answered I felt judged for my answer and if I didn’t I felt judged for not being fun. I do know people who’ve been called slurs walking around town when they’re dressed up for a night out. On the whole, any queerphobia I’ve experienced in Brighton isn’t something I would take seriously. More of an irritant than something harmful. It’s a massive shame that can’t be said of all universities.

 – Alexander, Sussex

“I walked into a pre-drinks and one of the lads asked ‘what’s this puff doing here’?”

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In my first-year halls, a friend from a neighbouring flat texted me to come over to their kitchen for pre-drinks, so I got ready and was dressed quite flamboyantly as I felt comfortable to do so at uni. I walked into my friend’s kitchen to find her nowhere to be seen as it turns out she was still getting ready, but there was a group of lads I’d never met before in there – presumably friends of someone else who lived in the flat. I tried to say hi and ask if they’d seen my mate but was pretty much immediately shut down when one of the guys looked straight at me and asked his mates “what’s this puff doing in here?” They all laughed and carried on talking amongst themselves so I quickly left and didn’t end up going out that night.

 – Charlie, Liverpool

“If I’m open about sexual experiences feminists will target me for sexualising queerness”

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I think queerphobia, especially for women at least, has moved into the ‘we don’t mind you being queer but like you can’t be sexual’ phase. I sometimes get flack about being open about sexual experiences with women and other genders that aren’t cis-men. As someone who is intimate with men, women and everyone in-between, it feels like being caught between a rock and a hard place: if I’m open about sexual experiences with men then some will call me a slut while feminists might praise me but if I’m open about sexual experiences with anyone else then feminists will target me for sexualising queerness while others fetishise it. The same joke isn’t in the mainstream so much for queer sex as it is for straight sex and that can be so isolating when I have great stories to tell as a student, I don’t notice that as much (my flatmates and friends are accepting and generally don’t care, so long as I don’t abandon them on a night out for a hook-up) but it becomes very telling when I write articles as a queer writer.

 – Beth, Lancaster

“Guys threw drinks at me for kissing my girlfriend”

In 2019 I was in a club with my girlfriend at the time. We were just dancing very close to each other and, sharing the odd kiss. A group of around about 10 guys saw us and started to throw drinks and shout things like ‘that’s disgusting’ or ‘it’d be better if one of us were in the middle of you’, to which we had to leave due to feeling extremely uncomfortable and unsafe in that environment.

 – Emily, York

“Constant stories of doom and gloom are depressing. I’ve had a very positive experience”

Honestly, I’ve had a very positive experience at uni, with the experience of basically no homophobia apart from the occasional comment. I’ve managed to find a group of friends and societies that are really welcoming and non-judgmental I’ve managed to make my way all the way up to being the president of rowing at Exeter with my sexuality never being an issue. I understand that this isn’t the case for many students and my heart goes out to them, but I find constant stories of doom and gloom a bit depressing sometimes so a positive light on how things can be is, I think, a good thing.

 – Josh, Exeter

“Someone went on a rant at me saying my sexuality was made-up”

The most common experience is people being dubious of my sexuality, assuming it doesn’t exist or is ‘just a made-up word’ as if all words aren’t made up. Even when people don’t say anything you sometimes notice an eye roll or a not-so-subtle change in tone. The only really bad incident I’ve had at uni was someone going on a short rant at me, calling my sexuality made up and telling me it’s just a fancy word for bisexual, and that I’m just a bisexual person who wants to feel special. I called them out on it, hoping to just be able to explain exactly what I mean by pansexual and why they were wrong, but they ignored me and doubled down on it, saying they don’t care if it’s panphobic because ‘it’s not a real thing’.

The worst part of it was that they ended up being a part of my wider friend group and I was too nervous to say anything, so I was spending a lot of time around this person, who fortunately never said anything about it again. I started to assume it was just because they were drunk at the time. Towards the end of the year, it all came out when I brought it up again (mostly because I was drunk). They denied it ever happened, so I kept pushing, and eventually they stormed off. I didn’t feel great about how it happened, but what I didn’t expect was that several of my friends essentially took their side and told me I should apologise. I refused, and some people took that to mean I was an aggressive or argumentative person and I actually lost a few friends over it.

 – Paul, Lancaster

“My friends tried to out me by asking if I wanted to be in a relationship with one of them”

In my first year at Uni, before being out, some casual friends actually decided to out me. Think they had some feeling I was gay. So they sent me messages asking me if I wanted a relationship with one of them (all seemed so genuine). After trying to get that out of me, they mocked me a bit and threatened to expose me. Thankfully I shut them down so I could come out on my own terms. Having been a member of a sports club at uni, I’ve definitely been exposed to all that locker room, casual homophobia that made me uncomfortable with being out. I think the majority of people involved weren’t homophobic, but sadly that toxic culture still exists in sports teams.

The first people I came out to were in the same club as me, and I think it was definitely in the right direction, but sometimes, the ‘culture’ kicks in, and people don’t realise the damage they could be doing. Certainly, an area sports teams could work on.

 – Christopher, Lancaster

“I’ve been called faggot when I’m out with my boyfriend”

I would say it’s pretty much all positive, my parents didn’t particularly want me to come out at uni, but I did anyway and my friends were all really supportive. There is some casual homophobia buy nothing serious, they might make certain comments that make me feel a bit uncomfortable, but nothing I take too seriously as I know that they are still my friends. Going out and about in town I have had a bit of homophobia, I have been called faggot and had some stuff shouted at me when I have been out with my boyfriend, or I had someone in a cinema point at me and boyfriend and laugh and make a few comments when they saw us hold hands. but to be honest, I don’t really care. I grew up in a pretty homophobic country so I am glad I was able to live in a country where I could be open. It might not mean much to other people, but it genuinely made me happy when I saw the Pride flag at Trent during Pride my first year here. I was in a place that actually supported me and I could be open, whereas right now, where I live I have to pretty much go back in the closet as it’s illegal to be gay here.

 – Adam, Nottingham

“People have said bisexuality is impure”

People being uncomfortable with bisexuality as a whole, it’s a phase, it’s a reason to cheat, a reason to be broken up with because it’s ‘impure.’

 – Lillie, Warwick

“This creepy guy stared at me and a girl I was seeing”

Image may contain: Sophie Butcher, selfie, close-up and indoor

I remember being on a night out in first year and this creepy guy just staring at me and this girl I was seeing. I’d had a few drinks and eventually told him to do one but it was a very unpleasant experience I definitely wouldn’t have had this if it was a guy.

 – Sophie, Edinburgh

“I forget some people have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ attitude”

Generally okay, but I noticed that people reacted weirdly to it compared to my hometown mates. Had a couple of friends talk about how they have ‘no issue’ with gay people but don’t think ‘they shouldn’t be in your face with it’. All my home mates are gay/bi so it’s never been an issue, I forget that some people still have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ attitude

 – Olivia, London

“I’ve always been called a dyke, even at school, just because I played rugby”

Internally in the rugby club, there is such a large mix of girls with all sorts of backgrounds, sexual preferences and identities. It’s truly a place for everyone and I love it. A lot of the homophobia I’ve had always been from men in clubs. Several times I’ve been called a dyke when I’ve walked past men holding my girlfriend’s hand. One major experience I had, while in the queue at the bar. One boy from a sports team was trying to push past me, my girlfriend and the large group of rugby girls. I said there’s no need to push, just be patient and he said: ‘I love it when dykes pipe up, move the fuck out my way’. I told him there was no need to be like that, he started getting aggressive and it ended with him throwing his drink at my girlfriend, nearly pushing me over and bouncers dragging him out.

I’ve always had comments like “dyke”, even at school just because I played rugby. The main form of homophobia that is faced is by the girls in the club who aren’t actually LGBT+. Due that stereotype surrounding female rugby players, that we all must be gay (when that’s so far from the truth, there are definitely gay players however it isn’t the point). Many of the girls have had to justify their sexuality to men and have had extremely horrible comments. There’s a lot of stigma for those girls and that is what I feared when I came out, that I just add into that stereotype.

 – Jess, Exeter

If you are struggling with your sexuality and want to speak to someone, a comprehensive list of UK LGBT+ helplines and websites can be found here.

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I’m out at university, but at home I’m in the closet

21 uses of *that* Chromatica transition that prove it’s the gift that keeps on giving

‘I’m finally living and being myself’: LGBT+ students on life after coming out

Featured image by Jason Leung on Unsplash