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Supporting LGBTQ+ students at National Student Pride

13 April 2022

Unite Students was proud to be a Gold Sponsor of National Student Pride, the UK’s biggest LGBT+ student event, last weekend (8-10th April). Here’s what we did at the event, why we did it, and what we’re doing to support LGBTQ+ students and employees here at Unite.

University can be an important space for LGBTQ+ students to get to know themselves, whether that’s through being able to express themselves authentically for the first time, meeting other LGBTQ+ young people, or having a safe space in which to explore their sexuality or gender identity. A report published last September by UCAS in collaboration with Stonewall found that more than 1 in 13 university applicants identifies as LGBT+ and that, ahead of starting their studies, 82% were confident about the prospect of being more open about their sexuality and/or gender identity at university – up from 64% who felt confident about this at school.

One opportunity for LGBTQ+ students to connect is at National Student Pride. Founded in 2005 by Oxford Brookes University student Tom Guy, National Student Pride is the UK’s largest LGBTQ+ student event, with students in attendance from more than 150 Higher Education institutions. Held over a weekend that includes late-night events at some of London’s best known LGBTQ+ nightclubs, the main event – which is free to attend – includes a careers fair, awards show, and panel discussions on hot topics such as body image and media representation of trans people.

This year’s event, held at the University of Westminster, was the first to be sponsored by Unite Students as part of our sustainability commitments of ‘providing opportunities for all’ and ‘leading the student housing sector’.

Sam Kingsley, Senior EDI and Wellbeing Manager at Unite Students, explains: “We know that for many students moving away from home marks the start of a journey of self-discovery. As home to 74,000 students, many of whom identify as LGBTQ+, it’s important that we ensure that when students come to live with Unite Students they are accepted and supported. National Student Pride was an opportunity to demonstrate that inclusion is for everyone, our employees, our students and the communities we operate in.”

The Unite Students volunteer team at National Student Pride 2022

What we offered at National Student Pride

At the main event, Unite Students offered three services to students throughout the day. The first was a stall at the careers fair, which featured the opportunity for students to win 45-minute career development sessions with senior figures at the company, including CEO Richard Smith. On the banner accompanying our stand, we featured the flags of 19 different communities within the LGBTQ+ umbrella; during the afternoon, one student thanked us for being only stall to feature the bisexual pride flag (pink, purple and blue).

Then in the main hall, where the panel discussions were hosted, we had a ‘wishing tree’: students wrote their hopes, wishes and affirmations on ribbons in the colours of the Pride (rainbow) and trans (blue, pink and white) flags, then tied these to the tree’s branches. Many of the sentiments expressed across the 62 ribbons affirmed support for the trans community, or wished for a world in which LGBTQ+ people could express themselves authentically. Others offered advice to those who were starting their journey of self-acceptance: “Coming out is an extraordinary act of courage – be proud of your strength, or listen well and feel privileged that someone shared themselves with you.”

Finally, we partnered with Student Minds to provide a safe space at the event where students could come for a discreet chat, or just take the opportunity to relax away from the bustling halls and thoroughfares.

Additionally, National Student Pride had shared that students from low-income backgrounds required more support with the cost of travel, and so we put on a free return coach from Manchester going via Warwick.

The Unite Students 'wishing tree' at National Student Pride

Supporting LGBTQ+ students and employees at Unite Students

12 employees from Unite Students volunteered at this year’s event, while the Unite Foundation – of which Unite Students is the principal supporter and accommodation partner – was also in attendance. The Unite Foundation’s unique accommodation scholarship for estranged and care-experienced students supports a number of LGBTQ+ students: family estrangement is understood to be more common amongst LGBTQ+ communities [1].

Our sponsorship of National Student Pride is just one strand of our efforts to do more to support LGBTQ+ students and employees. Students may choose a ‘preferred name’ when booking with us, and can self-identify their gender. In November, we introduced pronouns into email signatures to enable employees to express themselves authentically at work and signal to the students that live with us that we are an LGBTQ+ inclusive place to live.

Feedback has additionally shown that staff visibly wearing Pride symbols helps students to feel like our buildings truly make room for everyone, and so we have introduced lanyards across our city and support functions which feature the Progress Pride flag.

Our plans to shape a more inclusive business in the coming years will be outlined in our forthcoming Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging and Wellbeing Strategy.

You can read more about National Student Pride in our interview with founder Tom Guy and media chair Celine Bagtas here, and more about Unite Students’ Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategy here.

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