Recently, there has been a proposal from the nationwide student population for LGBT-only student halls of residence and it comes, I think quite bizarrely, from the LGBT community itself. Why would the LGBT community propose such an idea? Its intentions are laudable; the consequences, however, are perhaps more complex than one might initially think.
The proposal would allow students applying for university controlled halls of residence to specify that they would prefer to be placed in ‘LGBT-only accommodation’, which would house only students who identify as LGBT. Its proponents have said that it would provide a ‘safe space’ for students, completely out of reach from possible intimidation, offensive comments and abuse. I appreciate what the proponents are trying to achieve; a place where no student feels under threat from those who are, or identify, differently.
I must say, however, that I respectfully disagree with this proposal, not for its sincere intentions, but for the consequences of its implementation.
It seems to me that there are a number of negative consequences that would arise due to the implementation of such a proposal, stemming from the autonomous ‘segregation’ of students by their sexual orientation. I believe that such a ‘segregation’, despite being as well intentioned as it is, would lead to a greater divide between individuals who identify as LGBT and those who do not. I can speak from the personal experience of the social mole that I am, that it is very tempting to never leave one’s corridor. If one is entirely surrounded by fellow LGBT members for all hours of the day, it seems only logical that there would be a more visible division in the student population. I can think of no historical example of segregation, autonomous or otherwise, which has lead to greater unification and acceptance within the population. Encouraging the creation of LGBT-only halls would only build barriers between groups; barriers which, once created, would be harder to overcome than one might initially think.
The intention of the LGBT movement is to build a greater acceptance of the LGBT community in the ‘wider society’, and to oppose any discrimination on the basis of sexuality or self-identification. Quoting from the Saints-LGBT website, “It further commits itself to alleviating, and where possible eliminating, the effects of the existence of such prejudice.” It is clear to me that this proposal is an effort to eliminate the effects of a prejudice, however, I do feel that it is at the expense of an increase in future prejudice, for the benefit of a few individuals. Such an initiative may address the concerns of the few in the short term, but ensuring that people feel secure and free to be themselves is about fostering a campus-wide culture of acceptance and inclusivity.
I do not dispute that those individuals have a right to live in accommodation, be it university controlled or otherwise, free from abuse or discrimination. However, I do feel that offering LGBT-only accommodation may lead to an autonomous segregation, that I feel would lead only to more anguish for the community down the line.
I would therefore propose a system under which students, who felt they were at risk of discrimination or prejudice in the immediate future, may request to move to an ‘LGBT-only’ accommodation, which I feel would be a reasonable adjustment under the circumstances. The availability of LGBT-only halls under these circumstances should be widely known, but it should not be encouraged. I feel it would be best for the vast majority of students to live amongst LGBT members and non- members alike, and it would undoubtedly be better for the LGBT agenda.
It could be argued that the proposal of LGBT-only halls is an almost admission of failure, that the LGBT community is curtailing its vision of a university campus, as a safe place in itself. The whole university should be a safe space, and the creation of small ‘safe space’ zones could be seen as an admission of defeat in the fight against all forms of prejudice, wherever it occurs.
Furthermore, one could say that there already exists some tension within the LGBT community itself, with the existence of biphobia and transphobia being disturbingly present in the LGBT community countrywide. The existence of LGBT-only accommodation, therefore, would be at best ineffectual, and at worst, a further instigation of tension.
Holistically, however, I am glad that this proposal was raised, in order to prompt a discussion both inside and outside of the LGBT community, about the goals of society with regards to LGBT rights and acceptance; I think a more inclusive discussion is never a bad thing. Another interesting facet of this discussion could be explored by comparison with single-sex flats in university accommodation. What does it mean to have a single-sex flat in an era of openness about LGBT issues? If someone were willing to write their opinion on the matter for The Saint, I would be most eager to read it.