This year’s Queer Question Time, put on in collaboration with Saints LGBT+ and St Andrews Union Debating Society (UDS), brought together a wonderful panel of staff and students to discuss issues within the LGBT+ community both in St Andrews and beyond. Despite the fact that speakers were communicating over Zoom and the event was live-streamed over YouTube, the event still managed to foster an intimate energy thanks to the honesty of the speakers’ answers. UDS President Zaine Mansuralli along with Association LGBT+ Officer Georgina Beeby moderated the event and did a seamless job of asking the attendee submitted questions.
As a fresher, I learned lots about the LGBT+ scene here in St Andrews. For instance, former student Zelda Kotyk said “once I met a few [members of the LGBT+ community], I was like oh god there’s hundreds of us” which I thought well represented the general consensus from panelists that St Andrews has a solid LGBT+ community and is generally a safe space. However, PhD student Lenna Cumberbatch pointed out that the existing acceptance of LGBT+ people can create a sense of invisibility which is why she makes a point of being overtly visible, especially as a black queer woman. I thought this was incredibly insightful and spoke to the greater idea that sexuality isn’t only an identity but also a form of expression and performance.
Speaking from the perspective of a staff member, Dr. Chris Hooley brought up many points about his experiences as a gay man in the university setting. For instance, sitting around a table for a meeting seems like a normal thing to do for straight people, but for a gay man, the expectations and general culture that this gathering invokes creates a vastly different experience. For him, there exists a need to “de-heteronormativize spaces where actual decisions happen”. Moreover, Professor Paul Hibbert noted a transformation since the arrival of Principal Sally Mapstone as she’s been “very committed and serious about diversity and inclusion” but also stressed the fact that more work needs to be done in increasing visibility and conversations about inclusion in the spaces that exist within the university.
Inevitably, the conversation turned to the subject of COVID-19 and more specifically about the impact it’s had on the LGBT+ community. For young people stuck in unsafe home environments, increased isolation, disruptions in social and health services, and a shift in dating culture, the panel agreed that the pandemic has had serious impacts on the LGBT+ community. I personally think that we haven’t seen a lot of coverage about the pandemic from this angle.
As for the question of what students and societies can do to be more inclusive, Lenna highlighted the importance for societies to explicitly state that LGBT+ individuals are welcome in their spaces. Dr. Hooley added that students should take responsibility for educating themselves. For me, both pieces of advice highlight the fact that the fight against homophobia and bigotry requires straight people to check themselves, their privilege, and biases in order for change to happen. Sitting back simply won’t cut it.
Over an hour later, Queer Question Time drew to an end and I felt a sense of gratitude towards the speakers, organizers, and the event itself for having made me laugh as well as consider new questions and issues concerning the LGBT+ community. A recording of Queer Question Time is currently available on St Andrews Union Debating Society’s YouTube channel and I believe it is well worth the watch.