Welcome to Queer Imperial

Imperial 600 – the LGBTQ+ staff and postgrad network – fly the flag for Imperial College London at Trans+ Pride 2023

Jacob Francis (he/him) and Theo Brook (he/him) from the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) committee at the Grantham Institute and Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet DTP, spotlight the experiences of LGBTQ+ postgraduate students. In these three interviews, they illustrate the importance of queer people’s contributions to the College and the steps needed to provide a safe and equal space for everyone.

Pride – with a capital P – is a very special occasion to the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and many other sexuality and gender identities) community. It embodies two important pillars of queer identity, history, and culture. Firstly, it highlights the crucial progress that has been made in the UK. This ranges from the equalisation of the age of consent for same-sex  couples in 2000 to the legalisation of same-sex marriage (2013 in England and Wales, 2014 in Scotland, and 2019 in Northern Ireland).

Secondly – and more importantly – Pride is a protest. Although this may sound cliché, it is, and always has been, the true purpose of Pride. The movement originated from the 1969 Stonewall riots, a protest following a police raid of a queer bar in Manhattan, New York City. This protest was fuelled by the anger of LGBTQ+ people across the city, who had been facing daily police raids, assaults, and arrests from the police for decades. The Pride events we now see across the world are derivative of this first protest. Many of those involved in 1969 and subsequent protests were queer (a term only recently reclaimed by the community) – often gender non-conforming or as we might now recognise transgender – people of colour, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

Despite the passage of time since the first Pride protest, it is important, now more than ever, to continue to fight for the rights of all LGBTQ+ people. This is particularly true for those of the transgender and non-binary community and queer people of colour, who face continued persecution from the media and the government, among others. The charity Stonewall found that in the UK “more than a third of trans university students have experienced negative comments or behaviour from staff in the last year”. Despite these aggressions by individuals, the public generally supports the rights of queer people, with 62 per cent believing that conversion ‘therapy’ targeted at trans people should be banned. For those unaware of the issues around conversion therapy see here. This highlights both the strong support for the LGBTQ+ community but also the work needed to improve conditions for queer people in the UK and beyond.

Much of the work required to progress the inclusivity of work and social spaces to LGBTQ+ people must come from outside the community – by allies. Educating yourself on the queer community, the issues they face, and what you can do to help them are crucial first steps. We all need to stand up for our queer colleagues and friends and stand behind those most in need of support, as true allies. You can find information on how to be a good ally here.

Julia Purrinos (she/they)

Please can you give us a short description of your area of work or study at Imperial?
I’m a second year biosciences student. I am particularly interested in molecular synthetic biology and would like to pursue a career in this later on.

What does your day-to-day life look like as a student at Imperial?
I’m usually in lab practicals or lectures most days. Outside of this I work on Royal College of Science Union events for natural sciences students at the College.

What is your experience of being an LGBTQ+ student or staff member at Imperial?
This year, I have managed to find a great group of close friends who are also part of the LGBTQ+ community. This has given me a sense of belonging as a queer student during my time at Imperial and has helped me discover more about my queer identity.

Julia with some of the friends she met at Imperial

Have you faced any challenges associated with being LGBTQ+ in Imperial or beyond?
The main challenge I have encountered has been from students not part of the LGBTQ+ community who don’t seem to understand LGBTQ+ culture and think that it is ‘weird’. This caused me to distance myself from these kind of friends and last year I lost quite a few of them unfortunately because of their ignorant attitudes.

What actions can be taken within and beyond the college to support the LGBTQ+ community?
I think more funding should be put towards organising LGBTQ+ outreach events in all departments at the College as I don’t think this is being done often enough at the moment. Beyond the College, a focus should be put on collaborating with other LGBTQ+ university societies to create a sense of community in London amongst LGBTQ+ students.

What does Pride Month mean to you? 
Pride Month is particularly important for me as a celebration of LGBTQ+ culture and its acceptance. As someone who came to terms with their sexuality quite late in life after I left school, it means a lot to me to have a month where we can celebrate who we are and not feel shame because of it. This is why I thought it was important to organise a massive club event with UCL to celebrate the end of Pride Month in the STEM community.

Anonymous mathematics PhD student (they/them)

Rainbow lanyard showing "They/Them" badge
Our interviewee’s rainbow lanyard displaying their ‘they/them’ pronoun badge

Unfortunately, it is not safe or comfortable for everyone to come out, reasons for this can be vary and as a community we should respect everyone’s decision. They don’t owe anybody their trust. We therefore thought it important to represent the perspectives of someone who needs to keep an important part of their true selves hidden. You can find out more on the process of coming out and the support available here.

Please can you give us a short description of your area of work or study at Imperial?
I’m a PhD student in the maths department working on Bayesian inference (I’m not out to my family… yet and probably not going to be anytime soon, so anonymity helps me feel safer).

What does your day-to-day life look like as a student at Imperial?
Reading a lot of papers, writing code, thinking about biology and meeting weekly and brainstorming with my supervisor and group members.

What is your experience of being an LGBTQ+ student at Imperial?
It’s fun! I love that I can wear my rainbow lanyard and pronoun badge without any side eye, the environment feels much more friendly than my previous institute.

Have you faced any challenges associated with being LGBTQ+ in Imperial or beyond?
I hate the lack of gender-neutral toilets. Also, I think bureaucracy could be [non-binary] friendlier in general, maybe we could do better with access to gender-affirming care via Imperial, it’s a long list to be honest…

Do you have an LGBTQ+ role model within your field/area of work?
Just being a part of queer collectives like Queer in AI and Indradhanu has helped me find friends who I love working with and look up to! Some people at Queer in AI especially were great mentorship figures and instrumental in my decision to do a PhD.

What does Pride Month mean to you?
Queer resistance, queer joy; celebrating queer history and how far we’ve come while continuing to fight for justice for all intersecting identities.

Jacob Francis (he/him)

Please can you give us a short description of your area of work or study at Imperial?
I’m a first year PhD student in the Mathematics department, working in optimal transport and its application to forecast verification. I did my undergrad here at Imperial and met some great people through my department and beyond.

What does your day-to-day life look like as a student at Imperial?
Starting and never finishing papers, LaTeXing my deepest thoughts and writing code that will inevitably break (but a few iterations later will work).

What is your experience of being an LGBTQ+ student at Imperial?
I’ve found some amazing friends who are also LGBTQ+ and I love being around them. I’m also aware of the networks around imperial for meeting other people in the community such as IQ and Imperial 600.

What actions can be done within and beyond the college to support the LGBTQ+ community?
More visibility to those outside the two college networks so that people know they’re there, and more advocacy for allyship from everyone, such as using pronoun badges and lecturers using stickers on their door.

What does Pride Month mean to you?
It’s a time where issues facing the community can be voiced and evaluated to make sure change is happening, but also a time to celebrate steps that have been made and appreciate the history and people who made it possible.

Rainbow balloons spelling PRIDE at Brighton Pride 2022, an event attended by one of the authors

As our interviewees have highlighted, there has been a lot of progress for LGBTQ+ rights and many aspects of life at Imperial are inclusive. This progress has allowed many LGBTQ+ students to have relatively normal university experiences. However, they also show that much work is needed to provide a safe space for all, especially for our trans and non-binary friends and colleagues. LGBTQ+ researchers are more likely to experience negative comments and are more likely to be excluded from academia, particularly the sciences. We therefore must act to preserve diversity across the academic pipeline! 

We encourage our non-LGBTQ+ audience to read about how they can be the best ally possible for their queer colleagues and to show support through attending events such as Trans+ Pride and Black Pride events! Allies  can also  show  their support by using language correctly. You can see Stonewall’s list of LGBTQ+ terms for more guidance on this

For further profiles on individuals at Imperial see the Faculty of Natural Science’s Pride profiles from the Physics, Chemistry, and Life Sciences Departments. 

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