The Saints LGBT committee in Buchanan Lecture Theatre with invited speaker Panti Bliss. Photo: Thad Hall
The Saints LGBT committee in Buchanan Lecture Theatre with invited speaker Panti Bliss.
Photo: Thad Hall

To many, the University’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transperson Group, more commonly known as Saints LGBT, has a purpose that is self-explanatory. However, there is more to this group than meets the eye.

LGBT President Fallon Sheffeild said, “Saints LGBT is a social and welfare group that caters to not only the LGBT people in St Andrews but also any of their allies or people that are just interested in being accepted for who they are. It’s a group that doesn’t have any judgement.”

Fallon continued, “Mostly we’re there to make sure that the Union and the Students’ Association are doing everything they can to protect LGBT people and also to provide places and events where they feel comfortable that they don’t have to pay for.”

Saints LGBT holds events weekly. These events include pub socials, Halloween parties, clubbing trips to Glasgow and Edinburgh, bonfires, comedy shows, tea parties and a karaoke night known as Queeraoke.

Nicole Cortini attends many LGBT events and is impressed with the work the society does. “They put a lot of effort into their events, and they have so many of them… Every single one is good,” she said. “And also I’ve met some of my closest friends at the [Saints] LGBT events because, of course, they’re people that I have a lot in common with. So it’s nice to go somewhere where you know all your friends are going to be.”

Occasionally, Saints LGBT holds special events, such as last week’s Queer Fest, which ran from Sunday 8th to Saturday 14th of February. Queer Fest consisted of seven consecutive days of events, including dRAG Walk, a queer art exhibition, a speech by LGBT and human rights activist and drag queen Panti Bliss and a comedy and cabaret performance by Mark Bunyan, an alumnus of the University.

Another highlight of the Saints LGBT social calendar is Glitterball, which will be held in March this year. “If you’re a guy and you want to wear a dress, then screw it. Come to Glitterball in a dress,” Fallon said. “I think it’s one of the only balls where that’s totally acceptable and nobody would even look twice. And the same if a girl wants to come in a suit.”

Fallon is excited about the events LGBT puts on. “I’d say that all of our events are a mixture of social and welfare,” she said. “You should be able to have fun at them all. It’s just [that at] some, you learn more.”

Some of the more informative events planned by the society include the LGBTed Talks, where both student and external speakers discuss issues of gender and identity. Past guest speakers include representatives from the Terrence Higgins Trust, a charity that helps raise awareness about HIV and AIDS and provides services for those affected by the disease and their families and promotes sexual health.

Saints LGBT also functions as an informal advice forum. According to Fallon, there are times at various events when someone in attendance mentions that they are struggling with something, and the people who happen to be around them discuss it, express their support and share their own experiences.

“Advice can come when you don’t even know it’s happening, and I think that that’s quite nice,” she said. “We try and target our advice to literally everyone, and that way, even if someone doesn’t want to ask for it, it’s there.”

Saints LGBT also receives and replies to many emails from people seeking advice. In response to increasing demand, the society is currently in the process of establishing an anonymous email service. The addresses of both the sender and responder will be encrypted, ensuring that those who wish to remain anonymous can still access the advice they need.

In the case of more serious issues, many of the Saints LGBT committee members are also trained in Mental Health First Aid. An intensive two-day course gives attendees skills needed to spot signs of mental health issues, to talk to those who might be suffering from these issues and to get professional help if necessary. This is of particular importance as the LGBT community has high rates of mental health issues, mental illness and suicide.

According to a report compiled by LGBT Youth Scotland in 2012, 40 per cent of LGBT young people consider themselves to have mental health issues. The overall Scottish figure is much lower at 25 per cent.

“We are among a group of people that are highly susceptible to mental health [issues] just because of society and how society works,” Fallon said. “I think that it’s really important that we [the Saints LGBT committee] are all trained to deal with it. It’s not all about what we do. But it’s obviously a service we provide if it’s needed.”

Saints LGBT is also concerned with the welfare of the LGBT+ community outside of the University. Most of the Saints LGBT events do not charge an entrance fee and for those that do, profits go to various charities. These include Broken Rainbow, a charity that deals with domestic violence in LGBT relationships, and the Albert Kennedy Trust, a charity that helps homeless LGBT youth, especially those who have been kicked out of their homes after coming out, as well as the Terrence Higgins Trust.

Though Saints LGBT is obviously focused on the University’s LGBT population, everyone is welcome to join the group and to attend their events. In fact, because Saints LGBT is a subcommittee of the Students’ Association, all students at the University are automatically members of the society.

“People see it as a distant thing that [they’re] not allowed to be part of, and they [the society] are open enough to show people that it’s an accepting environment,” Nicole said.

Fallon hopes that “if people aren’t aware of what LGBT is, that they would come to an event.” She went on to say, “The amount of times someone has come to an event and has gone ‘What does LGBT stand for?’ shocks me…. But I mean it’s good, because it means that someone walked away now knowing what that acronym stands for.”

Moreover, Saints LGBT aims to provide a safe environment for everyone who attends their events. “I think everybody… always wants to be a little bit different or has something that they hide because of society. And I think that if anything, [Saints] LGBT’s the place where people can kind of let that go,” Fallon said. “You can totally be yourself and that’s absolutely fine,”

To find out more about Saints LGBT, join their Facebook group (www.facebook.com/groups/saintslgbt) or their mailing list by emailing lgbtsocmail@st-andrews.ac.uk (recipients of Saints LGBT emails are anonymous).

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