The hate mail recently sent to the University’s LGBT society, described as “shocking” and “impossible to not take personally [as a member of the LGBT society]”, has given rise to concerns about how welcoming a place St Andrews is towards homosexual and transsexual people.
Dylan Lindo, President of the University LGBT society believes it was in response to a recent event hosted by the society, “Talk and Debate: The Biblical Evidence that Jesus was Gay”. He admits that the title (not chosen by the society but by the speaker, Dr. Keith Sharpe) was a controversial one. However, this was done to grab attention and to encourage as many people with different views regarding the topic to come along and engage in an open debate.
I asked whether abuse was a normal part of being openly gay or transsexual in St Andrews. Lindo says that the email was “very unusual”. He explains that the society does have a welfare officer to offer support to students having problems or issues relating to their sexuality, which would include such matters, but that this does not constitute the bulk of the society’s work.
The society tries to help everyone here, with measures such as sexual health advice and outreach to the general community. This, Lindo says, is made difficult by the fact that St Andrews is a small town and not always the easiest place to get to: having speakers and other LGBT resources, Stonewall for instance, come visit can be very expensive.
Another member of the LGBT society, “L”, said that her sexuality did not normally come up but when it did that there are generally “no problems”. She has only met “one or two” people in St Andrews that had negative views on homosexuality. She added that she is “aware of the possibility” of abuse due to her sexual orientation but says that in St Andrews she does not feel frightened or threatened, despite the hate mail incident.
Both she and Lindo emphasise how “open-minded” the students of St Andrews are, and Lindo is very pleased with the fact he has “a lot of straight members this year”. He believes that students come to St Andrews “for what the University can provide academically”, not for a particular social scene. People “L” has told about the hate mail have been “very supportive”. Lindo calls the support of the University and the local police regarding the incident “very positive”. The police, at time of writing, are investigating it as a hate crime, and the University’s police liaison officer offered additional security at Dr. Sharpe’s talk. Sam Fowles, Director of Representation, tweeted in support of the LGBT society.
“L”, however, does raise a more insidious problem: this year, for the first time, she has been trying to find a one-bedroom house with her girlfriend. She has found it “extremely tough”. Many landlords are confused by and unprepared for such a request, she says. She suspects they “tend to privilege straight couples over us”. The evidence for this is slim; “L” herself admits “there is no way to prove it”. She has spoken to a former employee of a letting agency who resigned because of the prejudice of his employers towards homosexual couples. Given the challenging nature of finding student accommodation in St Andrews, any possibility of an extra disadvantage for homosexual couples is very serious.
Both “L” and Lindo paint a picture of St Andrews as a welcoming and diverse place in most instances. The LGBT society, under Lindo’s energetic leadership, is moving towards becoming a resource for all students. To me, all this gives hope that one day soon an individual’s sexual orientation will be a non-issue in St Andrews, even when trying to find a house.