It’s time to think about equal welfare

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Do you know what LGBTQ really stands for? It’s a shortened version of LGBTQPIAA+ – the ‘PIAA’ standing for pansexuals, intersex, asexuals, and the rather vague ‘allies’, with anyone left out of the full nine-letter acronym being lumped into the ‘+’. Now, that’s a tad too long for most people, so usually we shorten it down to ‘LGBTQ’, giving lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people precedence over those who fit into the categories of P, I, A, and ‘everyone else’. Those left out of ‘L’,’G’,’B’, or ‘T’, are fitted into the ‘Q’ for ‘Queer’ in the shortened form  – a weird way to include people, in that it removes their separate identities whilst seeming to denote that these identities are somehow abnormal.

Why do we give some sexualities preference over others by including or rejecting them in the ordered list of non-heteronormativity that is LGBTQ? More to the point, why do we make distinctions between them all when referring to them as a group? Surely there is a better umbrella term than LGBTQ?

In response to all these questions, last term my college became by a unanimous vote the first college to use a new umbrella term – by changing the name of our LGBTQ representative to the ‘Gender and Sexuality Representative’. A small yet significant change, which put all of those left in that pesky and patronising ‘Q’ in LGBTQ on an equal footing with everyone else in the community without needing to resort to dismissive gimmicks like a ‘+’ sign. Our JCR felt that the use of ‘Gender and Sexuality Rep’ rather than ‘LGBTQ rep’ would not only stop us from ranking people’s identities amongst the non-heterosexual community, but which would also bring all in college together regardless of sexuality or gender identity, by acknowledging that all of us – even binary-gendered heterosexuals – sometimes need welfare concerning our gender roles. This is not how it was seen by some students, who messaged me on Twitter to complain that Regent’s was taking a step backwards in the cause of LGBTQ rights. On the contrary, I replied – all colleges should follow our lead.

The change in terminology recognised that having a welfare officer charged solely with representing non-heteronormative issues in college created a lot of social and psychological stigma around getting welfare from that officer for heteronormative people. LGBTQ is, for all its faults, a convenient way to encompass a vast range of sexual and gender identities, yet its inclusion within a welfare system which also refers to ‘mens’ welfare’ and ‘womens’ welfare’ can seem from the outside – especially to new students who may never have encountered the term – to say that anyone deviating from a traditionally gendered or heterosexual norm belongs firmly in a different ‘gay camp’.

So by changing the name of the LGBTQ representative to something less ‘LGBTQ-specific’ we now have someone within college who is tasked with dealing with a much broader range of welfare questions. Now, not only do we have someone who people can talk to in confidence if they are questioning their sexuality, but we also have an individual nominated to deal with heteronormative gender and sexuality issues – issues which are usually left out of welfare support as people feel that there is no one to turn to chat about these things. We now have someone with an expanded remit to provide clearer welfare support to other previously excluded heterosexual identities – such as the uncomfortable participants in a gendered and masculine ‘lad culture’, women challenging gender constructions over female body hair, or those participating in the BDSM or fetish scene. These gender and sexuality issues are ones which many heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals alike confront unsupported in Oxford as too often there simply is not a clear welfare provision for them. By making such a small change in the name of the person most qualified to discuss these issues, and therefore taking a step towards removing the psychological stigma around going to see what has been sometimes colloquially called the ‘queer rep’, we have not only taken a great step forward in the cause of equality, but we have also been able to provide clearer avenues of support for heterosexual people grappling with these identity questions.

All colleges should follow our lead and cease the division between ‘queer’ welfare provision and welfare for heteronormative men and women. By expressing not the fundamental difference of the non-heterosexual community from ‘mainstream’ society, but by merging the vast variety of welfare issues that so many people have, no matter which gender they identify as or are attracted to, we at Regent’s believe that we have made a great step forwards in the cause of LGBTQ equality with heterosexual students. It’s a change all colleges should implement as a matter of priority – we all grapple with similar issues sometimes, and who you kiss in Park End shouldn’t dictate who supports you with them.

Edit: A previous version of this article contained a term considered by some to be offensive. We have now removed this term, and we apologise for any offense caused.

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