Starting at university can be every bit as daunting as it is exciting, particularly for lesbian, gay and bisexual students. The prospect of coming out for the first time or to lots of new people can be quite stressful.
Happily, more and more universities across Britain are taking steps to improve the experience of their gay students and staff, with plenty of support on offer. If you do encounter unfair treatment or discrimination because of your sexual orientation, it’s worth remembering that there are legal protections in place to ensure that you’re treated with the same fairness and respect as everyone else.
The law is there to protect you...
The public sector Equality Duty puts a responsibility on publicly-funded universities and colleges to think in advance about the needs of their gay students and staff and take steps to remove any barriers to equal treatment. Students and prospective students at universities and colleges are covered under the legislation. The protections apply to students’ unions, renting student accommodation, and services provided to you such as catering or security.
If you feel that you are the victim of discrimination you can raise it either to a tutor or a member of staff, including staff who deal with equality and diversity issues. Alternatively, you can get in touch with your students’ union for advice. If nothing is done you could contact the NUS LGBT team. If these actions fail, you have the option of either pursuing a legal solution or making a claim to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education.
For more info on how the law protects you visit www.stonewall.org.uk.
What about hate crime?
All crime is horrible, but hate crime is particularly so, because people are targeted for something about themselves that they cannot change (nor should they). Hate crimes and incidents range from verbal abuse and vandalism all the way to serious physical and sexual assaults.
There’s a small chance that whilst you’re studying you could experience it (although we hope not!), just as you could anywhere else, and there have been a few instances of students being attacked by non-students outside LGBT society nights.
If it does happen you should report it, whether you experience someone shouting at you in the street or something more serious. Police have a duty to stamp it out, but they can only do that if they know that it is happening locally. Even if you think there’s no chance of the perpetrators getting caught you should report it. Check out Stonewall's Gay Hate Guide to find out more.
If you experience a hate crime or incident on campus or from another student you should still report it to the police, but you should also tell your university and your students’ union. And don’t let them fob you off, you have a right to feel just as safe and secure on and around campus as everyone else.