We asked students what it’s really like to be an LGBT+ student in Sheffield
A view from campus
It's 2018. There is absolutely no excuse for intolerance or prejudice in society – yet it still exists.
How this impacts students is unclear, however. University life is often thought to be more inclusive than other corners of society as students from across the UK, as well as other countries, come together to study, live, and drink copious amounts of VKs together.
In 2016-17, 168 homophobic hate crimes were reported to South Yorkshire Police, an increase of 49 per cent on the previous year. In 2014 it was reported that universities were not doing enough to combat hate crime and homophobia on campus, with Finn McGoldrick, an NUS LGBT Officer at the time, saying universities were "failing to take the problem seriously". Homophobia is clearly still an issue, and it's an issue that affects students.
But what do LGBT+ students on campus feel about their experiences at university? Lewie, an English Literature graduate from Sheffield Hallam, said of his experiences as an LGBT+ student: "I transferred from Northampton University, which is like a tiny little town, and there was like one gay bar and it was really shit. I never used to go.
"That's quite a big thing for young gay people, being able to go to those places and have a good time and express who you are with people who are like you and having a good time.
"In Sheffield there's a good option to do that because there's a couple of different places, like OMG, Dempsey's, Queer Junction. The fact that it has three places shows the city is an open place, it's a pretty liberal city anyway, which is one of the main reasons I moved here.
"A benefit of moving here is the fact it's so liberal and understanding and accepting."
It's true that Sheffield is expanding its options for those who identify as LGBT+. The recently opened Queer Junction is part of the expanding 'Gay Quarter' in the city, located at the bottom of the Moor shopping district.
"My partner used to live in Manchester, I used to be there every weekend and we'd go to Canal Street, obviously Sheffield is trying to get that going with its Gay Quarter. Manchester is huge though, I think in Sheffield in the gay clubs here sometimes you do have to maybe hold back a little because it is still Sheffield and, you know, you're at the bottom of the Moor, which is a bit of a shithole."
On the whole, he said: "I've definitely had a good experience, it's had its ups and downs, there are the exceptions that do ruin it for people, and its weird because the Sheffield gay scene is quite small and community-ish, so that is quite good for Sheffield, having that gay community spirit. It's very welcoming."
In contrast to this, Beth, an MA student at Sheffield Hallam, said: "Sheffield isn't as big or keeping up with the times as much as say Manchester and London. I would say there needs to be more LGBT places to visit, other than Pride and Dempsey's, because we also need places that aren’t sexualised or fuelled by alcohol, somewhere young people can go. An LGBT café would be great."
There was controversy surrounding Sheffield Pride this year after organisers suggested that it would be "a celebration, not a protest."
At the time, Sheffield Hallam Students' Union President Luke Renwick told The Tab: "The fact that Sheffield Pride are not only saying that Pride is not a protest, but are also 'not accepting applications by political groups' completely contradicts the foundations and fundamentals of where we are currently and what our queer family before us fought for." The Sheffield Pride Committee later resigned, stating that what they had done was "not appreciated".
Earlier this year, the University of Sheffield announced the introduction of LGBT+ accommodation, with SU Women's Officer Celeste Jones stating: "We strive to ensure that all University accommodation is LGBT+ inclusive; bullying and harassment is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
"However, LGBT+ students have felt that their experience in university accommodation would be improved by having the option to live in LGBT+ specific accommodation," she added.
This service later became oversubscribed, with 30 students signing up for one of 12 places.
I asked Lewie if the universities do enough to help struggling students, to which he said: "I think they still have some issues. I remember we went to an SU night and some people were shouting shit at us, we reported it to the uni, and it was proper like PR response. I feel like Hallam see being gay as a good excuse to find soundbites, and use it as something they can use to work on their PR and how they've perceived outside."
I asked both Sheffield Hallam and the University of Sheffield for comment on how they approach LGBT+ matters at university. A spokesperson from Sheffield Hallam University said: "Sheffield Hallam University is committed to ensuring that the University continues to be a safe and inclusive culture where diversity is valued and celebrated. We pride ourselves on the diversity of our student body and we are committed to providing an environment for all our students and staff that is free of harassment, bullying and victimisation, and where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.
"Student support services are available to all students. All our staff go through mandatory equality essentials and unconscious bias training, with many signing up as 'LGBT+ Allies' – to create a working environment where LGBT+ people feel welcomed and included.
All our students, whether LGBT+ or not, help to create a diverse, vibrant and positive environment in Sheffield and our region, and our staff, along with the Student Union, are here to ensure everyone enjoys their experience in the city."
The University of Sheffield did not comment, instead they sent a link to their website, which can be found here.
An anonymous student at the University of Sheffield said of their time as an LGBT+ student: "Good [experiences] mostly, I’ve not had any really negative experiences in Sheffield, as in direct homophobia. But I think I might of been lucky as I mostly stay in groups when going to LGBT things.
"The only thing which rubbed me the wrong way was when in freshers, if I got with a girl in a club, blokes would stand back and watch and like point and stuff which was weird. I also noticed this with my other lesbian friends if they got with anyone. [It] made me feel uncomfortable and like they were kinda fetishising us. This happened at the Uni's LGBT nights too which really sucked."
They added, "I remember there being some issues about Uni Of’s LGBT club night being mixed with a non-LGBT night and that was bad, I’d rather the Uni had a solely LGBT night, but I can't remember if they actually went through with it or not.
"I think it would be nice if there were more regular LGBT events. But there has been some good speakers come to the Uni and do good LGBT talks, so it could be better but it’s not bad."
They offered advice to new students of Sheffield, adding: "If it’s something your curious about I’d definitely encourage students to get involved in the LGBT community/events. A lot of the societies will have an inclusions officer so I would advise them not to let worries about homophobia stop you from being involved.
"Also the Uni has a really good advice centre which is really good for any worries. Mainly to just take advantage of what the Uni has to offer for LGBT students. A tip I know is that if you're trans and legally transition, so have your gender on a legal document like a passport changed, you can get a new corrected Ucard for free from SSiD which is nice."
Regarding advice for new students to Sheffield, Lewie said, "Find your friends and those you're comfortable with, it's a case of identifying those people you can be yourself around, and those who aren't as accepting and avoiding them. You'll meet hundreds of great people at uni, you don't have to be arsed about one sad twat who thinks it's wrong to be you."