Stonewall’s 2014 “Gay By Degree” university guide has flagged up that UAL does not have a discrimination and harassment policy to protect LGBTQ students or conduct mandatory sexual orientation training for staff.
So Shades of Noir caught up with Filip Bigos, president of UAL’s LGBTQ society, to see what they are doing for LGBTQ students and how he thought the university faired.
Filip, who outside of his role as president is a second year Live Events and Television student at London College of Communication, said that LGBTQ students at UAL need greater visibility.
“There is not enough support but it is tricky, I mean, what support do LGBTQ students even expect? I wouldn’t say there is discrimination going on because UAL is a very open space, and the staff and students are very open minded, but what I do think is lacking is the representation of the community itself.”
This academic year has seen the society triple in size, with members continuing to join throughout the year, but Filip believes this is only representative of a small proportion of LGBTQ students.
“I don’t want to make any presumptions but I believe UAL’s LGBTQ population is much, much, much larger than our 56 members. I would also believe there are far more transgender students across the university who are open and this needs more visibility too. I’m not saying everyone has to be ‘loud and proud’ but I think a greater visibility across the 15 campuses is needed.”
Filip is keen for students across the university’s six colleges to come together, as demonstrated by the society’s latest art project “What is Love?”.
“We started off with a blank canvas at LCC in January which we then took to LCF, CSM, Wimbledon, Camberwell and finally Chelsea. So it spent a day at each college and students were invited to add something to it. It brought students together in answering the question ‘what is love?’ – as love is a universal concept no matter of your background, race, orientation, gender or age.”
“We exhibited it at CSM’s Platform Bar and we will also be taking it to National Student Pride later this month. Then I would love to find a permanent space for it at UAL because it is too good to be rolled up in a cupboard!”
The society in collaboration with the SU and Student Services are also about to launch LGBuddyTQ – a support scheme for students who are about to come out.
“It is important to optimise support schemes within UAL. Although the university is not a charity it has got a responsibility for students’ well being, and it is very important these schemes are accessible so students can get help when they need it.”
“At the beginning of the year, we had two LGBTQ students who were displaced by their parents due to their sexual orientation, basically kicked out of home because they were gay. One of them was sleeping on the streets until they were picked up by the university’s Accommodation Services and given emergency accommodation in halls.”
“That is why LGBuddyTQ is vital because if a similar situation was to come up it could be dealt within hours, whereas at the moment they might not know how to access support in the first place.”
Students have already signed up for the scheme, and Filip says he knows how valuable the support will be, having come out aged 16.
“It happens in stages, the first obviously being acceptance – the fact that you are gay. I came out to my mum fairly soon after the acceptance to myself. She took a couple of weeks, but after that she was very open and ever since I have moved to the UK she is all ‘so have you got a boyfriend now?’.”
“She didn’t want me to come out to my dad until I had finished high school, but in the end she told him within a couple of days. I know he is struggling with it, he kind of thinks I will ‘grow out of it’. It is a taboo, and we don’t really talk about it.”
Following on from his own experiences, Filip believes that attitudes will continue to change over the following generations.
“Gay bullying still goes on in schools because you are ‘different’ even though the students being targeted may not even acknowledge it themselves at that point. But slowly things are changing, like in Slovakia where I am from, in the cities people don’t care, but in the small towns or villages, you are still safer not to.”
“It is a different way of thinking and it is generational, which I think is the same with the UK. This is why I want to encourage straight people to join our society too, because it is not just about gay people, but a way of thinking.”
If you are a UAL student you can join the LGBTQ society by heading to the SUARTS website. The society’s next event is a film screening of “Before Stonewall” on March 3rd at High Holborn so you better step on it!