When I arrived at the University of Leeds from London in 2002, one of the first things I looked for was a society where I could feel comfortable to be myself so, when I saw there was a lesbian, gay and bisexual group, I was keen to see what that was all about.
I remember reading in the student handbook about a drop-in at the LGB office on Mondays and Wednesdays between 1pm and 2pm. I nervously wandered the maze that was the University Union before I came to a small locked room. It felt a little bit like the first time I’d gone to a gay bar, where I walked past two or three times, not necessarily wanting to knock. I was met then by Anna with a smile who asked if I was looking for the drop-in and invited me in. More people started to join and we sat in the cramped little room just hanging out. I met some of my best friends that year, many of whom I still keep in touch with, and that feeling inspired me to get more involved, so I decided to run for Social Secretary.
I and the new committee pledged to help increase the membership – which was small – and I promised to create events that would give people a reason to sign up and part with their £4. Our first decision was to create a safe and welcoming space for LGB people every day so, instead of having a twice-weekly drop-in we planned a new ‘Coffee Hour’, moving away from the clinical branding which we worried would turn people away, and having it for two hours every lunchtime so that everyone could come, regardless of their university schedule. We ensured at least two members of the committee were available every day and created a culture of welcoming everyone and the committee, making the tea and offering out the biscuits.
We were gutted to discover that the decision had been made to refurbish that area of the union into an IT lounge and meeting rooms, destroying our space. Nightline and the RAG office had been given another room, but the LGB had been ignored and we were left homeless. We made demands to the Student Exec that LGB people in the university needed a space to feel safe and they gave us the storage cupboard next to their office. They literally put the gays in the closet.
Freshers’ Week came and we sat our table, approaching people who nervously walked past our table, as I had done to the office the year before. We held our Coffee Hours in our cupboard and more and more people joined every day. We reached out to Leeds Metropolitan University, who had no LGB, at all and invited them to join us. More people came. We held the a scene tour where 62 people arrived at the Parkinson Steps, and together we paraded down to the Leeds gay scene – the biggest scene tour anyone could remember. (The year before we had been around 15 people.)
Our closet was no longer viable. We went to the Exec and they offered us a space in a meeting room every day from 12pm-2pm and so Coffee Hour finally had chance to breathe.
At the end of our tenure we installed the position of a Trans Officer and an International Officer, and voted to add the ‘T’ to our name. From then on, the society was known as the ‘LUU LGBT’.
We’d made some changes and fought for our rights, and I hope at least a small part of that legacy and that fight lives on.