There is a sense in Oxford that sexuality is no longer an issue – a kind of lull of apathy. Whilst people would be reluctant to say as such, and many LGBT+ people’s experiences prior to Oxford are ones of clear disadvantage, no one can deny that we have it better here where people are so much more educated on LGBT+ rights than in areas where people are not fortunate enough to have an Oxbridge education.
One night out earlier this year, a trip out of the Oxford bubble and into the real Oxford on a “townies night” at The Bully reminded me of the kind of experience I had forgotten about, that are all too common to people who do not have the luxury of attending a university such as ours. Whilst waiting for the toilet I was questioned by three older women on my sexuality and gender identity. “Are you a man or just a d*ke?”. But what struck me was not so much what they said, or their homophobic intentions behind it, but how much less I had heard this kind of language since being in Oxford. There was a point in time when these words would have been far less striking – I was used to hearing them.
The ability to live freely and openly as a member of the LGBT+ community is a basic human right, and a basic human right that is not being afforded to working class people.
This serves as a poignant reminder that, whilst almost all LGBT+ people will suffer from some form of discrimination throughout their lives, there is a significant difference between the discrimination experienced by those in privileged positions, and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
And all of us in Oxford who have come from non-privileged backgrounds will know that this is not a fault of working class people; it is the fault of a flawed education system and a failing government which, for all its claims of the betterment of the rights of LGBT+ people, is yet to show this in areas of educational disadvantage. The fact is that the current government’s economic policy is not conducive to ensuring that people who go to underfunded and underprivileged state schools can at a minimum have the education to prevent intolerance. The ability to live freely and openly as a member of the LGBT+ community is a basic human right, and a basic human right that is not being afforded to working class people.
In working class areas, people are brought up around attitudes of gender conformity – men are told to act manly and woman to act womanly. It is no surprise then that, without a widespread and comprehensive education system that effectively challenges these stereotypes, LGBT+ people from poorer backgrounds are still suffering from such a significantly higher number of homophobic and transphobic incidents than those in wealthier areas.
Our task then, as Oxford students, as progressives and as the future, is to utilise our privilege and fight to tackle inequality – both economic and social – that still permeates throughout our society.
This starts at a local level. The local elections are just around the corner and this is our chance to hold our local politicians across the country, both in Oxford and at home, accountable for the level of inequality in our communities. Economic inequality is such an important issue to campaign on and one that can sometimes take a back seat to issues of social inequality, such as those surrounding being LGBT+. But what this ignores is the fact that economic inequality is a catalyst to social inequality, and if we really want to tackle homophobia and transphobia, we must create a fairer society with high quality education for all: free and comprehensive.