As we’ve all heard, Sheffield Students’ Union has secured LGBT+ exclusive accommodation from this September onwards. This is a huge step in creating actual resources for LGBT+ students, rather than funnelling more funds into performative marketing. However, while many LGBT+ students (including myself) welcome this, others feel differently.
I think this accommodation is a triumph, the result of 15 months of hard work led by SU staff, ResLife, Accommodation and Commercial Services, (ACS), the Women’s and Welfare officers, and unpaid student activists. This accommodation will help the students who choose it feel safer coming to university in the knowledge that their homes will be spaces where they can freely express who they are, whether this means feeling comfortable dressing how they want, or introducing a partner of the same gender to their flatmates. It is not the duty of LGBT+ students to educate their straight flatmates in order for them to understand and accept them, and this accommodation will relieve at least some of the emotional labour that can otherwise be thrust upon LGBT+ students.
I’m personally totally disinterested in any criticism of this scheme coming from people outside of the LGBT+ community; this accommodation is not for you, and its existence doesn’t impact you in any way. If you’re not LGBT+, you should not expect your opinions on this to be considered relevant. It is the criticism from within our LGBT+ community which concerns me, and which I want to address here.
I have observed that some LGBT+ critics of this accommodation have been white, cisgender, gay men, and this is an important factor to account for. Largely, the criticism they have levelled at the policy includes the feeling that it will unwittingly act as a barrier to greater integration. Yet, in a predominantly left-wing university context, whilst this part of the LGBT+ community still faces homophobia, other groups within our community are less understood and accepted. For example, transgender people are disproportionately subjected to anti-LGBT+ violence, and trans people of colour face transphobia in all its forms at an even greater rate than white trans folk. It is simply ignorant to assume that, just because you are a member of the LGBT+ community, you can advocate for this accommodation to not exist for other members who likely need it more than you.
Some have said that an idea of ‘otherness’ will be perpetuated by this new accommodation. However, I believe this accommodation will actually reduce the sense of ‘otherness’ forced upon us by giving us a community within our homes; a place where we are more likely to have common experiences and understanding. Besides, it is homophobes and transphobes who make this ‘othering’ a negative experience. Within LGBT+ circles this otherness can be understood as something which has encouraged us to challenge damaging structures such as gender roles and, for many of us, as something that has made us more resilient, compassionate individuals.
‘Segregation’ is another term which has been thrown around within this debate, and it is completely misused. It shouldn’t be applied to people who are choosing to set themselves apart, in the very limited context of university housing, from a group of people who have historically discriminated against them in every sphere of their lives. What’s more, using segregation in this context demeans the trauma of people who have experienced this throughout history.
The LGBT+ accommodation exists not to seclude or hide LGBT+ people from heterosexuals, but to provide us with homes where it is less likely that we will be discriminated against for being who we are – something that must be seen and celebrated for what it is: a huge step forward.