Interview with Jo Reid, President of the GULGBTQ+ society

[By: Aike Jansen with thanks to Jo Reid]

If you were a queer student at Glasgow Uni before the 1970s, the only way to meet up with fellow LGBTQ students was having lunch together on a specific day in the Fraser Building. Then in the 70s, while homosexuality was still criminalised in Scotland, a lecturer set up the Glasgow University Gay Society, Gay Soc for short. One week, the society would meet in a QMU committee room to listen to a talk or chat, the next week they would socialize in a bar, ensuring that both closeted and out LGBTQ students could join. Now, GULGBTQ+ is among one of the biggest societies on campus, still ensuring there’s a great variety of things happening – from weekly coffee-meetups where one can hang out with others of a specific orientation or gender-identity, big Wednesday-night events, knitting groups, campaigns and ceilidhs. ‘The LGBTQ+ community is so big, you’ve got to make sure you’re trying to cater to as many people as possible’ says Jo Reid, current president of GULGBTQ+. ‘It can be challenging, taking care of all these different needs. You’ve got to balance being informative, and offering welfare, and campaigning while being a social society. At the end of the day, this is a volunteer society, people come here because they want to have fun! But if there’s something missing, we very much welcome our members to tell us what they’d like to see and we can try to make it happen.’

In her first year, Jo often attended the society’s events, before becoming first year ordinary member over the summer, until a new first year could be elected at the AGM. ‘That gave me a sense of how the society operated, and I realized this was such good fun – hanging out with great people, putting on events that make a difference and interacting with people.’ So in her third year, she became Events Officer, being responsible for all events around the year, including Queer Fest, the biggest event for LGBTQ history month. ‘I tried to make sure that all our events, as far as we could, were in accessible venues, not only in terms of gender neutral toilets but also wheelchair accessible, and ensured films would have subtitles. That made a big difference. It was stressful, it was very hard work, but it was so rewarding.’

In addition to organising events, GULGBTQ+ also does its fair share of campaigning and regularly attends meetings with the Equality & Diversity office team at the University. Their Pronoun Pledge, a workshop that covers trans issues, has been given to Freshers’ Helpers over the past couple of years, as well as societies that have asked for it. ‘This semester, we’ve started a campaign for inclusive haircuts,’ Jo tells me. ‘If you’re trans and you’re going for a haircut, you can be perceived as something you are not, and sometimes charged more.’ As the society has had a lot of questions of about respectful and inclusive hairdressers in the West End, they have emailed many of them to ask them to state their inclusivity. ‘It’s a small thing, but I really think we can make a difference on it, in our own space, which I think is really important. It’s the little things that do matter. Making sure people are aware these issues exist means that trans people don’t have to bring it up or make a big deal about it.’ Quite similar is the society’s effort to advise the Equality & Diversity team about gender neutral toilets. ‘We have recently gone around all toilets on campus to note down single toilets that can be made gender neutral just by changing a sign on the door’, explains Jo. ‘They [the Equality & Diversity team] have really helped us out with that and are going to take it forward with the building manager. I feel like they really listen to us, and want to help. It never feels like a token-effort. Basically I love them, they are all great.’

While Jo is very glad there are people willing to listen and help, she also doesn’t deny that there is still a lot to be done. Especially when it comes to mental health. While it is a ‘hot topic’ within the university as a whole, it is particularly important within the LGBTQ+ community. In a 2017 survey by LGBT Youth Scotland, 84% of LGBT and 96% of transgender young people who responded said they had at least one of the mental health problems and associated behaviours that were listed, with many having experienced anxiety, stress and suicidal thoughts or actions. ‘Stuff like that means we have to have a lot of support within the counselling service, and that counsellors should have training or at least knowledge about these issues. I also think it’s important the university puts the information it has to help LGBTQ students out there in a way that is accessible and easy to find. And there definitely needs to be wider education, for staff members as well as students. No one comes out of the womb knowing everything, so I think it’s important to help people learn. We don’t assume everyone is ignorant out of malicious attempts, but rather teach people as a society, if they are willing to listen.’

Finally, I ask Jo if she has seen queer culture change over the past four years she has been involved in the LGBTQ+ society. ‘From what I’ve seen, it’s definitely changed over the past four years. I would say people are more politically aware, there’s more willingness to engage with political issues and talk about them. I think there’s been a bigger focus on looking after people’s welfare as well. I also have noticed people coming to university already confident, aware, and out for a while. There’s so many people that have been out for longer than I have, at a younger age! It’s very exciting and really nice to see that people are able to do that, and also that they are engaged with the world around them beyond their own identity. They are looking at how what they do affects the world around them, and there’s this real sense of agency which I think is really important and super cool! I imagine that this sense of security and awareness, which I never had when I came to university, is the result of there being a lot more information available. Section 28 [enacted in 1988, it stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”] was dispelled in Scotland when I was in primary school [2000], the effect of that lingered well into high school. Now, it’s no longer seen as something you can’t talk about around children, and there are initiatives coming to teach young kids about LGBT identities and how it’s relative to their lives, such as the Time for Inclusive Education campaign. The world can sometimes feel hopeless, but it’s good to see things are definitely changing. It also shows how important it is to keep fighting for these things – imagine what it’s going to be like in 10 years!’

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