By Tiffany Frye
Charlie Griffin is a second year student at Exeter University, studying English literature. He spoke to me about what he sees as the function of LGBT university groups in the UK and how some groups are failing to fulfill that function.
Could you begin by giving me a description of the LGBT community at Exeter?
All Student Unions [in England]are mandated to provide an LGBT support service as part of their provisions for the students, and I think that at Exeter what that means is that our LGBT community is primarily support-focused or traditionally has been. It functions in a different way from other societies because it’s a support group. It’s run by students but it has support staff. There’s no membership, no president.
The problem with defining themselves as a support service is that not everyone wants to be supported.
I’m perfectly happy with my sexuality. If they set up a support group for people trying to find their feet, fit in and stuff, no one that’s comfortable with themselves would go.
What does your ideal LGBT university group look like?
I think that LGBT should not be aligned with support services, and I think that applies not just to universities but to everywhere. If an LGBT society provides support it should do it by providing a social environment.
I want to push Exeter to establish a separate support group which fits in with all of their other support services. I want it to be a service where you come in and chat with support members of staff and I think by removing that element it should allow the LGBT group to be an LGBT social group. It’s my aim to facilitate a gay community, to give a group identity to gay people at Exeter and to help people meet each other. And I want to do that by separating the support services from the immediate agenda.
How does the LGBT group at Exeter compare to groups at other universities?
I think maybe it’s at Oxford, they have the Gay Ball every year that’s just brilliant. It’s not just for gay people. The Exeter group would limit, if they could, the membership to just gay people. A fiercely exclusive environment is not a great environment for an LGBT group because someone who needs support may well be questioning their sexuality.
They may well be straight and just want to meet some gay guys and see “Well, is this me?” but a fiercely exclusive group can’t offer an environment that they would feel comfortable in. And that kind of attitude means it’s not a group I want to be a part of. And it means that there’s a real lack of LGBT community feel at Exeter because theres no common ground where you can just meet each other.
The whole point of an LGBT group should be to meet other LGBT people – that’s what it fundamentally should be – and if you’re not doing that, if you’re not getting the people to involve themselves in the group, it’s not working – it can’t deliver on any other function if it doesn’t have the membership.
When you graduate, how do you expect your experience with the LGBT community to effect how you interact with other LGBT groups? Will you seek out professional groups?
I’m actually a member of an LGBT group for gay service men and women. I’m an Army Bursar, so I’m going to [the Royal Military Academy]Sandhurst when I leave.
The Army guys when they get together, they get together as a social group for gay people and as part of that they’ll say ‘Okay, these issues need addressing’ and they’re the go-to guys for any sexuality issues in the Armed Forces, but primarily they meet as a social group, they don’t meet as an activist group or a group to promote gay interests. They meet because its nice to meet other gay people. They also have meetings with other LGBT professional groups, but when I say meetings, I mean they go to dinner.
So it’s really an opportunity to network and to socialize?
Exactly. And that’s what, in the real world, every group should be about – it’s an opportunity to meet other people.
Readers: What do you think? Are you a part of any community groups, and if so, what do you seek from them?