LGBT+ in St Andrews: is this what I came out for?

Thomas Campbell tells of his experiences with the LGBT+ society in St Andrews, and how the community has let him down.

Starting university is a time filled with mixed emotions for young LGBT+ people. Often, they are in the process of coming to terms with their sexuality, feeling anxious and diffident. Almost always, they are hopeful that their university experience will provide them with a safe, accepting environment they have yet to encounter. One of my defining memories of this period in my time here was an LGBT+ coffee morning I attended. I chatted awkwardly to the two acquaintances I had turned up with, in a fairly empty room, as the committee stood huddled by the biscuits. In its aim to provide an engaging, fulfilling LGBT+ experience, some might say St Andrews is not good enough.

One cannot escape the fact that our university experience here is unique; not least because of the size of the town we inhabit. This of course, severely restricts the ‘dating pool’, whatever you may be looking for. They say you leave this town ready to marry, or an alcoholic – I would be interested to hear the breakdown of this for our LGBT+ students. The small size of our town limits what it can offer to LGBT+ students. St Andrews boasts no permanent LGBT+ safe-space, nor a specific LGBT+ nightlife. Strip away the university, and St Andrews, in fact, has nothing to offer, particularly in terms of an accepting environment; I have unfortunately borne witness to homophobia from locals, which young queer people would hope not to encounter in this new chapter of their lives. Sadly, there’s no option to enjoy a gay night out at somewhere like the Polo Lounge whenever we feel like it in this town, and while we can live with this, we don’t live for it. It’s hard not to ask yourself, as an LGBT+ St Andrean, “what am I missing out on?” Comparing St Andrews to big cities’ gay scenes, there were certainly more electrifying and engaging options on offer. 

Photo: Hanscom Air Force Base

The issue is compounded by the lack of high-quality events that are provided in the town. You cannot detract from the fact that Saints LGBT+ is an active and visible society in St Andrews. Yet is one ‘Rainbow Bop’ a year really the best we can do in terms of LGBT+ nightlife? Some might argue that the SafeWord Bop is another option, but one cannot deny that, with a reputation as the ‘bondage’ or ‘kink bop’, this event may require a rebrand. Similarly, LGBT+ coffee mornings and bonfires tend to be somewhat awkward and fail to integrate freshers into a true ‘community’. The inclusion of Pride in the LGBT+ calendar, however, as well as Drag Walk, which brings possibly the most fun and vibrant part of LGBT+ culture to St Andrews are fantastic. Indeed, one cannot denigrate all the work Saints LGBT+ put into their events and their effort in providing a beacon to LGBT+ freshers. Yet it’s not uncommon to hear the society described as ‘cliquey’ (which I evidence in this article), and perhaps the social aspect – efforts to create a community – need a re-think.

Photo: Saints LGBT+

For any complaints, the University of St Andrews is a wonderful place to study and live, and the student body is extremely accepting. I certainly would not wish to discourage LGBT+ young people from coming to St Andrews, because sexuality and gender need not define you, and self-acceptance can be found in many places, whether it be from the people around you or how your time is spent. Yet between the undeniable small size of the community and the lack of a true ‘gay scene’, one cannot help feeling that, compared to larger university towns, the LGBT+ experience in St Andrews pales in comparison.

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