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Here and queer? A comprehensive guide for new LGBT+ students in Sheffield

Everything queer and questioning students need to know about starting life at one of the Sheffield universities.

A close-up photograph of the progress pride flag
Cecilie Johnsen

Going to university, especially if you leave home and start afresh in a new city, is an opportunity for a young person to reinvent themselves – or to step into the person they have never dared to be. Surrounded by people who didn’t witness all the embarrassing moments of your childhood, you can present yourself in a new and refreshing way.

For LGBT+ students just starting university, this is especially important. Perhaps you’re trans and want to introduce yourself as your true identity without people knowing the baggage of your past, or you’re a lesbian and want to fully embrace this now you’ve left home.

Of course, you’re still the same person you always were. But presenting yourself as the person you truly are, without people associating you with the person you seemed to be at 12 or 15, can be liberating.

A person holding up a whiteboard that reads "Hello my pronouns are" in rainbow colours
Sharon McCutcheon

Coming out

You may already be out and proud, in which case you will have dealt with conversations about your sexuality or gender identity several times already. Or perhaps you are only now starting to explore your feelings and want to use starting university as an opportunity to get to know yourself better.

There can be something freeing about coming out to people you’ve never met before because you have less invested in them reacting well. Of course you want them to be supportive, but it’s far less hurtful to get a negative reaction from somebody you’ve only known a few weeks than it is from your lifelong best friend.

Still, it’s a scary decision because the world isn’t yet fully accepting of queer folks. So, a few things to consider about coming out at university:

  1. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Every coming out experience is different and you can do it on your own terms
  2. You don’t have to do it. Even if you are sure about your identity, it is entirely up to you whether you tell people. You may want to, though, in which case…
  3. You can use whatever medium feels best for you. Sometimes that’s a face-to-face chat, other times it’s via WhatsApp, Zoom or letter
  4. You can take your time. You don’t have to tell everybody immediately. Perhaps test it out on a housemate who seems really nice before feeling you have to tell the world
  5. You can test the waters. If you’re not sure where somebody stands on equality issues, mention a news story or a TV programme featuring LGBTQI people and see how they react
  6. You will probably get questions. Some common questions newly out LGBT+ folks often get are “How long have you known?”, “Do you fancy anyone we know?” or “How did you know?”. It is entirely up to you if you want to answer these
  7. You may have to explain things to some people. When you’ve been immersed in queer culture, it’s hard to imagine that anybody doesn’t know what a pronoun is or what non-binary means, but it happens. It is not your job to teach people, but you may want to prepare a brief sentence or two that explains things to those who don’t get it
  8. Some people react badly. Even if it’s not an outright rejection, questions like “You don’t fancy me, do you?” and other critical responses can make you feel awful. Hope for good reactions but do be aware that not everybody is on board

It’s normal to feel panicky and worried about coming out to new university friends. There is no rush, you can do it in your own time – or not at all, if that’s what suits you best – but finding supportive allies or other queer people can really make your experience of university positive.

A photograph of the Hubs in Sheffield with a rainbow in the sky
commons.wikimedia.org

Mental health

If your anxiety about coming out feels unmanageable, or if getting your head round your gender identity or sexuality is really upsetting you, it may be time to get some additional support.

Negative reactions from family and friends to your sexual or gender identity, as well as immense pressure from the media and society to be cis and straight, can have a really detrimental effect on any LGBT+ person’s mental health. We can experience bullying and hate crime and even conversion therapy. So it is no wonder that this can manifest in mental distress.

According to Sheffield Mind:

A 2017 Government issued Public Health Matters article stated that '52% of young LGBT people reported self-harm either recently or in the past, compared to 25% of heterosexual non-trans young people. And 44% of young LGBT people have considered suicide, compared to 26% of heterosexual non-trans young people.' This suggests that young LGBT+ people are experiencing almost twice as many issues with their mental health as the general young population.

Getting support from others in the queer community can be invaluable, but if your struggles are getting in the way of you living your life, consider accessing more professional support. Both Sheffield universities have GPs and counselling services, which will be experienced in working with LGBTQIA students.

A photograph taken at Sheffield Pride
Philippa Willitts

Sexual health

If you are – or want to be – sexually active, it is important to take your sexual health seriously. While you can go to your university GP with sexual health concerns, there are also more specialised services that you might want to access.

Whether you want info on chemsex, or free contraception or condoms, or testing to see whether you have an STI or HIV, you can access a range of services from PrEP to HPV vaccines through Sexual Health Sheffield. Student union LGBT+ organisations and city nightclubs may also have free condoms and lube available.

Gender Identity Clinic

As with Gender Identity Clinics (GICs) across the country, waiting times for Sheffield’s GIC are substantial, but your university GP can refer you so you at least start the process. It may be valuable to get either professional support through counselling or social support through groups for trans and non-binary people in the meantime.

Union societies

Both Sheffield Hallam University and University of Sheffield have committees representing LGBTQIA students.

SHU’s LGBT+ Liberation Group “is here to provide all students who identify as a minority sexuality or gender identity a place to meet fellow LGBT+ students and take part in events/campaigns” and at Uni of, the LGBT+ Representative Committee “is here to represent all students of minority gender identities / sexual orientations within the Sheffield University Students Union. We aim to provide welfare support, social opportunities, and campaigning platforms for all LGBT+ students.”

A rainbow flag against a sunny blue sky
Kevin Wong

University accommodation

A few years ago, the University of Sheffield became the first university in the country to offer LGBT-only student accommodation. While they were accused of creating a ghetto, the result was a collection of flats, housing 32 people who could relax in the knowledge that if they brought home somebody of the same gender, or if they didn’t want to pretend to be cis all day long, they could do so without worry.

However, whether you are in LGBT-specific housing or not, you deserve to be respected within your new home. If you find that housemates are discriminatory or bigoted, there are steps you can take to get support.

If you experience discrimination

If you experience discrimination as an LGBTQI student, there is support available. You might want to start with your university’s LGBT+ committee and see what they can offer you. You also have access to the student unions' sabbatical officers, who can represent you. At Hallam, there is currently no LGBT+ Students Rep but other sabbatical officers are available. And at Uni Of, the Liberation Officer or the Welfare Officer could help.

The scene

This might be the first time you’ve lived in a city, so while we may not have an extensive scene like somewhere like Manchester, there are lots of places you can go to fully embrace queer life in Sheffield. The good folks at Andro & Eve have produced a really comprehensive guide to Sheffield’s LGBT+ scene, so head over there to have a look. In the meantime, if you need a haircut, we’ve produced a guide to trans-friendly hairdressers in Sheffield.

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