Queer individuals have been and are virtually present in every instance of society. Acknowledging their past and future contributions is fundamental firstly because they play a role in innovations and progress just like anyone else and because gender and sexual orientations only constitute a part of their identities.
Why did you choose to study Law at Queen Mary? Do you have a particular career path in mind? I decided to study Law after pursuing an economic and social science-oriented diploma in Paris. Not many people were looking at going abroad straight after high school and most of my peers wanted to join a business school. On my end, I've always known that I wanted to have a job where I could be an advocate and make a difference whether it was by working on major commercial deals or working on criminal or family matters. I wanted to keep this international exposure and broaden my possibilities. Joining Queen Mary and being in London was the perfect opportunity for that. Four years on, I am now looking forward to pursuing a career as a solicitor in an international commercial firm.
What aspects of your degree did you find most enjoyable? The most important experience was my year abroad as I got to undertake unique projects and diversify the modules I was studying while exploring Hong Kong. I got to learn a lot from my interactions with locals throughout the protests before being moved to Singapore and explore a completely different environment during the pandemic. When it comes to my years in London, I particularly enjoyed strengthening relationships with people I met within the first few weeks of living on campus and experiencing the university socials before the Covid-19 altered it. Now in final year, despite the situation, I'm enjoying the freedom of picking my subjects and moving away from the core traditional areas of law which help to shape my ambition to pursue a career in a particular area (pharmacology, regulation of financial markets...)
Can you talk about your work with Queer Lawyers of Tomorrow? I joined the network recently as the trans rep. My role as part of the diversity team is to ensure QLT represents individuals from across the LGBTQI+ spectrum both internally and through its events. As February is LGBTQI+ history month, this was the opportunity to start organising trans and non-binary focused career events. We will hopefully be able to launch Q&As on Instagram and a panel to enhance successful trans lawyers' visibility. My aim, and QLT's, is to provide an inclusive space where everyone feels comfortable asking questions and learn that they are never alone in their journeys. There is also a fantastic mentoring programme for students who want to connect with a professional from the industry and be able to learn from more senior lawyers' experience in the community.
As part of the community, you (un)consciously develop a fearlessness that cisgender and heterosexual counterparts cannot comprehend.
As part of the community, you (un)consciously develop a fearlessness that cisgender and heterosexual counterparts cannot comprehend.
What has been special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments? The sports teams' nights at Drapers bar were definitely iconic. Once a month we would meet there (I played football), play games and release the pressure for a night. Drapers was always the chance to meet all my friends around and it's definitely a missed experience since I went abroad and Covid hit.
More generally, just building strong relationships and being around my friends in the library has helped me to go through my degree and the heavy workload. Walking around campus was always a little special, especially now that I have been away for nearly two years with my year abroad. I'll always remember my first steps living in halls and discovering the university.
Do you think it is important to see LGBTQ+ representation in the curriculum and across the University more widely? For example, in academic staff and campaigns run by QMSU? It is fundamental especially during the socially-distanced time. For young students who just joined the university and all of those stranded across the world in households which do not necessarily let them express their own identity, its crucial to feel like they can have open conversations with their professors. This goes in hand with allowing students to feel included in the work undertaken by the SU, even from afar. Having this representation in the curriculum is also important within individual faculties. It ensures that students have access to the adequate support and visibility relating to their own experience and degree subjects, not just through SU campaigns for Pride.
What does LGBTQ+ History Month mean to you and why do you think it is important that we acknowledge the contributions of LGBTQ+ people throughout history and in present times? LGBTQI+ History Month is the opportunity to remember the figures that contributed to the advancement of our rights while keeping in mind that it is our duty to continue to push towards equality and anti-discrimination which are far from being guaranteed. Queer individuals have been and are virtually present in every instance of society. Acknowledging their past and future contributions is fundamental firstly because they play a role in innovations and progress just like anyone else and because gender and sexual orientations only constitute a part of their identities. The community's struggle for recognition is also a fundamental pillar which drove advocacy movements towards achieving an equal human rights protection. Democracy inherently carries the notion of universal rights and this implies recognising individuals for who they are
Are there any LGBTQ+ historical figures you wish more people knew about? Queer artists and their historical influence in relation to advancing LGBT+ rights and visibility is underestimated. Zanele Muholi is a good example. The South African non-binary visual activist uses photography to provide a powerful focus on corrective rapes, assaults, HIV/AIDS and hate crimes against LGBT+ individuals within the post-Apartheid South-African community. Its an extremely powerful message which also allows Muholi to move away from the boundaries of a stereotyped gender binary division.
Marsha P Johnson is also one of the key LGBT+ figures of the Stonewall Riots in New York, 1969, which has subsequently been commemorated through Pride(s) in June. With gay men's historically larger visibility, even people within the community often tend to forget the role played by drag queen and trans women of colour in driving changes for LGBT+/ civil rights. Marsha’s story is a reminder that Pride is not just a yearly parade but a memory of the struggles and sacrifices for equality. It also shows that trans people are party integrant to this fight and this community, outlining the irrationality of transphobic behaviour persisting amongst the community and certain recent debates questioning transgender individuals’ legitimacy in belonging to the community.
The theme for this LGBTQ+ History Month is ‘Body, Mind and Spirit’, how do you feel that these experiences differ between the LGBTQ+ community and the cisgender, heterosexual population? There is so much to discuss in this question and of course, I can only speak from my point of view… Even coming from a ‘privileged background’ (I.e. not overly homophobic), the pressure can still feel enormous. As part of the community, you (un)consciously develop a fearlessness that cisgender and heterosexual counterparts cannot comprehend. There is indeed both a physical and a mental notion. Physical because being yourself constantly exposes you to risk of being physically harmed independently of your control. The repression is still largely present across the world, from death penalty to religious pressures but the risk of assault is also very real is any society which already implemented things like same-sex marriage. As a trans man, I cannot ignore the differences when it comes to individual body experiences. Here again, no journey is the same, some trans or non-binary folks might experience body dysphoria while others do not want their bodies to change and just want to be recognised in society. In practice, transitioning medically necessarily implies that you have to overcome legal and discriminatory obstacles to complete formalities and have access to hormone therapy or surgery. This differs from cisgender individuals' experiences who rarely become conscious that their body is not just determined by the gender they were assigned to at birth and that daily-life activities are not necessarily accessible to everyone on an equal basis. The reality is, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, your experiences are different and shaped by those barriers, from family stories to discriminations at work to being denied fair and safe access to healthcare.
As to the mental element, mental health is one of the biggest concerns for members of the community, particularly young individuals and trans people who are amongst the most likely to attempt suicide. Our societies are gendered in literally every aspect and little is done to create a space for individuals who do not feel ok with the binary gendered division they were brought up into. When you step outside this distinction to explore, you have to build yourself and determine how you want to be perceived in society. It can be a very lonely journey but it’s also an opportunity to get to know yourself, understanding the incredibly complex way in which our identities are shaped by multiple layers and evolved throughout time. Above all, when it comes to Spirit, the first thing that comes to my mind is a fearless mindset. No matter your background, it takes courage to question what you have been taught and affirm who you are.
What resources and services are available to support the mental health and wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community? How do you think the ongoing effects of Covid and government responses such as lockdown has impacted people, both the general public and the LGBTQ+ community specifically? You can seek public health support in case of crisis (NHS counselling services...) or joint LGBT+ parole groups which regularly hold meetings designed to provide a safe space and allow people to see that they are far from being alone. I would also recommend joining LGBT+ friendly medical practices where possible (there are clinics like 51 Dean Street in SoHo) which support queer individuals with a lot of respect and awareness, particularly for sex workers and victims of sexual assaults. One of the most precious support is, of course, to meet peers who went through the same thing before (on social media…) and particularly to reach out to in case of mental health difficulties. I think that Covid and its effect on the retail, hospitality and travel industries have been dramatic despite the government’s furlough schemes. This places millions of lower-income workers in financially precarious situations within which there are an important proportion of LGBT+ individuals who do not have the necessary support networks to overcome a job loss over such an extensive period. This tends to increase the difficulties faced by members of the community, particularly because the attention is currently not on human rights protection and protecting vulnerable LGBT+ members from insecurities (increased aggression rates, domestic violence during lockdown…) The government implemented a free and confidential helpline for domestic abuses, do not hesitate to call the +0808 2000 247.
What do you feel like is the best thing about being part of the LGBTQ+ community? The pride to continuously overcome obstacles with the resilience built up. Being part of the community makes you acknowledge and appreciate how diverse our society and our relationships with each other are. It is far from being an easy journey but its one where you get to truly know yourself. Sometimes that means having to fight for who you are or losing people close to you but in most cases, people will surprise you and all of a sudden you realise how far you've come without even realising it. I feel that I've grown a lot and got to value the opportunity to develop a safe space. I also feel that I have gained more awareness as to the crucial importance of protecting my mental health and recognise when others are going through a crisis. You can only talk from the perspective of your own journey and being willing to learn from people's individual experiences as part of the community is fundamental to educate yourself and protect a culture of respect.
Based on your own time at university, is there anything you feel that Queen Mary can do to improve the student experience for LGBTQ+ students? First, as a general matter, I think that especially now that everything is online, much more should be done to ensure students feel protected and confident, joining a stronger LGBT+ network where they could share their narratives and connect with other students better. Second, a trans policy which takes into account the new challenges posed by a changing world, including the broader impacts of Covid-19, such as the increased importance of IT systems, and delays to legal documents. There is so much bureaucracy involved in transitioning, and universities should be institutions which can be relied upon for full support at every stage, rather than adding to that. The most important thing is to have policies and processes which make life easier for trans people, rather than more difficult.
Generally, what do you think still needs to be done to give greater equality and representation to the LGBTQ+ community? Many things. The entertainment industry has been evolving a lot in recent years to give more representation but it is still far from representing queer individuals from ethnic minorities, avoid to reproduce inaccurate stereotypes or give trans characters' roles to trans individuals. Not everyone wants to be an activist and it's ok. Nevertheless, in a social media era, we all have the power to advocate for change and provide support to those who face difficulties. When it comes to equality, marriage was only one element. Integrating LGBTQ+ issues within education is crucial to transform our future generations' mindsets and teach that difference should never be a ground for violence or exclusion infringing on others' liberty. it is also fundamental from a health perspective, to teach the young to have safe practices, moving away from an absent or heteronormative sex education. Allies play a key role in this. You should not be afraid to ask questions to educate yourself (as long as it is respectful and not intrusive). This will give you the tools to correct those around you who step out of line and make inappropriate comments and directly contribute to developing a culture of equality and inclusivity.
Individuals also ought to have the right to self-determine their gender without burdensome legal proceedings as Ireland already implemented. The Gender Recognition Act in England (which regulates trans people's access to hormone therapy) has been awaiting reforms for years. Individuals who are at risk of mental health difficulties are faced with a waiting list of over two and a half year to get an initial appointment and the entire healthcare support from the NHS depends on discretionary decisions made by (uneducated) GPs. The Government ought to act on such issues to grant trans individuals protection of their basic human rights.
Do you have any particular LGBTQ+ role models? As I mentioned previously, there are many important figures in the entertainment industry as visibility has begun to improve in recent years. Laverne Cox is the first trans woman of colour featured on the Time's cover and building a career in Hollywood at the time where it was rare and quite taboo to open up about gender in the industry.
There are also many YouTubers/ activists on social media who contribute to democratising queer visibility. Schuyler Bailar is a good example. He is the first trans athlete to swim for Harvard Men's team and became an activist raising awareness on Instagram (@pinkmantaray). He provides educational resources when it comes to transition and trans terminology which are very helpful if you want to learn how to be an ally or simply what it means to transition.
This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Hannah Dormor. If you would like to get in touch with Liam or engage him in your work, please contact Hannah at email@example.com.