This weekend marked the 13th annual National Student Pride festival, hosted at the University of Westminster in London during the UK’s LGBTQ+ history month. With panels tackling issues such as LGBTQ+ homelessness, bisexuality and being beyond the gender binary, Student Pride centred the often under-represented letters of the LGBTQ acronym at the event — namely, the B and the T, as well as bringing the most invisible members of the community to the forefront.
The careers fair kicked off the day with stalls from event sponsors Clifford Chance, ASOS, Lloyds Banking Group, Santander, Google, Rolls Royce, the Royal Air Force and more. There were also stalls from Stonewall UK, LGBT Labour and Amnesty International, all with a focus on gathering support for trans rights campaigns.
The My Genderation #BeyondtheBinary talk featured an entirely trans and non-binary panel, including young politician Lily Madigan, former RAF pilot Ayla Holdom, student Maria Munir and comedian Lewis Hancox, and chaired by trans rights activist Fox Fisher. Fox kicked off the panel by asking “what’s all this non-binary stuff about?”, and recounted their experience on Channel 4’s 2011 documentary My Transsexual Summer. They explained how, during filming, they identified as ‘genderqueer’ but was told by producers that the audience would simply not understand and that they needed to simplify their experience.
The panel also discussed the issue of trans representation in the media, and showed a short film titled This Is What Non Binary Looks like. The film explored how being non-binary is still very misunderstood and misrepresented, and how gender identity and gender presentation are two different hings. Maria spoke about how they had been empowered by the hashtag #ThisIsWhatNonBinaryLooks like, and how they often feel excluded from the conversation around being non-binary because they present in a way that means they’re often mistaken to be a woman.
Speaking about implementing change, Lily said how important it was to encourage trans and non-binary people to go for positions of power, as currently there are no trans or non-binary people in the Houses of Parliament. “How are they supposed to adequately pass policies affecting trans and non-binary people,” she asks, “if they’re not at the table and contributing.”
You can watch the full #BeyondtheBinary panel discussion here.
I had such a pure time at @studentpride. I felt empowered as a non-binary person; they were super inclusive and I’ve never felt so visible and proud. Not enough words to describe the warm fuzzies I got ☺️🌈
— Jake Edwards 🌸 (@jakeftmagic) February 11, 2018
Over at the Gay Star Students stage, bisexual activist Lewis Oakley led a panel discussing bi erasure and representation, with journalist and sex educator Nichi Hodgson, bi activist Jen Yokney and parliamentary officer Liam Beattie. There’s a common theme across the panellists of having had a period of uncertainty in their lives before they came out as bi – many of them went through phases of people thinking (or thinking themselves) that they were gay, or straight and simply ‘going through a phase’. It appears that for many bisexual people, it’s a case of noticing early on but examining later in life. This is largely due to bi erasure in both mainstream society and also within LGBTQ communities.
Liam Beattie, parliamentary officer for Terrence Higgins Trust, a charity dedicated to the fight against HIV and improving the nation’s sexual health, described how he has found, in conversations around fighting HIV, the language used can often erase bi identities. “I was on a telephone conference with various activists across the country talking about the surge in the number of men who have sex with men applying for the PrEP trial (a course of HIV drugs taken before sex to reduce the risk of getting HIV), and the person on the phone said “Let’s be honest here, it’s for gay men isn’t it?” I felt that my identity had been completely stripped away at that point. I look back and really wish that I’d felt more empowered to challenge that person.”
Jen Yockney, who was the first person to receive an MBE for ‘services to the bisexual community’, discussed her work in highlighting the ‘B’ in LGBT history month. “Six or seven years ago, our local NHS trust got together with local trans organisations and lesbian and gay organisations, and put together a beautiful set of timelines… in twenty panels of text, the word ‘bisexual’ came up twice. Both in relation to HIV.” The experienced caused Jen to found @BisexualHistory, showcasing an event (nearly) every day of the year in bi history.
You can watch the full bisexuality panel discussion here.
The Albert Kennedy Trust and Attitude Magazine teamed up to host the LGBTQ+ homelessness panel, with founder of The Outside Project Carla Ecola, Matthew Walters of anti-LGBTQ+ violence charity Galop, and three LGBTQ+ students with experience of homelessness. With one in four young homeless identifying as LGBTQ+, it’s a serious and often unseen problem within the queer community.
Panelists spoke of their own experiences with homelessness, which often began because of the breakdown of family relationships as a result of coming out. The issue of ‘hidden homelessness’ was identified as the reason why many people might slip through the cracks in terms of being supported – many homeless queer youth will stay up all night at parties, often relying on drugs to keep themselves awake, or simply ride the tube all night to avoid sleeping on the streets. Fear of discrimination and even violence for being queer is a common reason why LGBTQ+ homeless people may not approach charities for support (which is why charities such as The Albert Kennedy Trust and The Outside Project are dedicated to helping LGBTQ+ people specifically).
You can watch the full LGBTQ+ homelessness panel here.
The panel was followed by a live recording of Student’s Pride’s #QueerAF podcast, where BBC newsnight presenter Evan Davis spoke to RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni and recent Celebrity Big Brother winner, Courtney Act. Covering Courtney’s time in the CBB house and how coming out as gender-queer freed her from manhood, the pair touched on many of the topics that had been brought to the nation by Courtney during her stint on Channel 5’s reality TV show.
“Every conversation I had with Ann Widdecombe, I felt really defeated,” said Courtney, “But what I didn’t realise was that everyone was watching it at home and hearing two parts of a conversation that needed to be heard.”
You can watch the full interview with Courtney Act here.
After a day of hard-hitting panels tacking important issues within the LGBTQ+ community, the main stage brought Courtney back on to present Queer Dates, a dating game show with a familiar format. Made in Chelsea star and founder of dating app Chappy, Ollie Locke, and journalist and sex educator Nichi Hodgson, both won dates with two lucky students and were whisked away to the Isle of Fernando (not really).
Following Queer Dates, Courtney Act came back on stage to treat the crowd to a performance of When Love Takes Over, complete with confetti canons. With not-so-subtle nods to the fact that Courtney would be making an appearance at Student Pride’s G-A-Y event later on that night, it was the perfect end to an insightful, entertaining and empowering day, and the perfect pre-party for the continued celebrations.