Every month we select one of our Partner Organisations to be our 'Featured Partner'. We have a great many of them, so it's good to hear what they're up to both working with us and elsewhere.
May's Featured Partner is the University of Gloucestershire's LGBT+ Society, and James Wood, the 2018/19 President, has let us in on what the group does and what their plans are...
Q: What are the overall ambitions for the LGBT+ Society at the University of Gloucestershire?
JAMES: We pride ourselves on being an open and accepting society, and we have worked hard to ensure that this is a safe space for the community, making it our mission to continue doing so!
This society is here for many reasons - whether it's about sharing experiences, having a safe space on your doorstep or exploring your individuality, there's a place for everyone.
Q: What's the thoughts behind the use of the '+' in your name?
JAMES: We want to be as inclusive as possible.
The LGBT+ community is made up of more identities than just Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, and we wanted to make sure that we were being mindful of this. We also wanted to make sure those students that are “part of the +” know that the LGBT+ Society welcomes them and that they can feel safe being a part of the society.
Q: What are some of the initiatives and concepts you've developed in recent times?
JAMES: This year we have really pushed the statement that “anyone (UoG Student) can join us, regardless of identity” this is related to our GSA agenda from the past, which we felt
(and still do) feel is a vital agenda.
We strive to portray ourselves as accepting, and this approach didn’t feel accepting enough for us. As a result, we have advertised that we welcome anyone to join us and come to our social, regardless of identity, as long as you respect us and have a good time! This agenda also served another purpose, and that revolved around identity itself. Many people come out at university, as they want to start again, or feel more comfortable now they may not be living at home.
As a result, we get many people questioning or worried about coming to our socials for fear they maybe found out before they are ready, but still want to explore the community, ask questions and figure out who they are. As a result, we felt that this very broad statement was an invitation for them to do so. And by making it very public on our website and on poster at Freshers' Fayre, if they were seen as interacting with the society, they could fall back on this statement, saying they were an ally or wanted to know more about what we did.
We have also been very active in campaigning this year [2018/19], including our Can I Come Out Now event. We have felt this was an important topic for us this year, to be loud and proud and make people aware of us and our community.
By putting on this event in the Regent Arcade, we are reaching out to the wider Cheltenham community, to educate them about our community and encourage them to be and Ally and help us fight for true LGBT+ equality.
Q: How well have these worked within the local community and the university, and what have you learnt from this?
JAMES: Our campaigns have been extremely successful for us this year. We had our biggest number of sign ups at Freshers’ Fayre, with the biggest conversion of members to date (and being one of the biggest societies!). We’ve also been recognised around the university for the work we are doing and have made an impact.
For the wider community, in tandem with the Partnership, we feel we have been really successful in engaging and educating the public.
Our Event Can I Come Out Now has been extremely successful. We have won 2 awards for it, 1st Place in the Sustainability Live Smart Team Community Challenge and Society Event of the Year at the SU awards. These awards are a fantastic achievement and, we think, shows our dedication and work to the community and the successes we have achieved. Successes that wouldn’t have been possible without the Partnership.
We have learnt that while this is all fantastic work and we will continue to keep doing so, we need to make sure we are listening to our members. Semester 2 [Jan - Jun 2019] saw a big drop in engagement for us, and we are beginning to look at why.
We feel that sometimes we forgot to ask our members what they wanted to do, due to our small and very busy committee. As such, we are taking steps to grow our committee so we can focus on all these things at once.
Q: What are some of the recurring themes or aspects of the LGBT+ community that you feel are a priority at this moment?
JAMES: Fight for equality.
One of the main things we have found this year is people assume the fight for LGBT+ equality is over now that we have Gay marriage.
This is far from the truth. Our trans siblings are facing huge amounts of persecution and hatred – look at what happened at London Pride last year and TERFS on social media. We will not stand for this.
We’re also finding that lesser known identities are facing similar discrimination, which we will not stand for either. Our goal is to, at least in our community of Cheltenham and Gloucester, fight and shout until we achieve this equality.
Q: What are your plans moving forward as a society?
JAMES: We will be supporting the Partnership at Cheltenham's Midsummer Fiesta, but after that we have no plans as yet.
3 out of 4 of our committee won’t be at university next year, which means we are on a massive recruitment drive for a new committee, with new ideas. The committee changes over in July and we have not made any firm commitments beyond July so that the new committee can make those decisions and decide on their priorities.
Q: How could people get in contact with you if they wanted more information?
You can also find out more the LGBT+ Society listed as our members here.