Profile: Beth Lythgoe

This week, we had a chat with Beth Lythgoe - a third year Animal Behaviour student and member of the LGBTQ+ society - about LGBT History Month, standing up to hatred, and how we can work to make our campus a more inclusive and welcoming place.

To start off, can you tell us a bit about you? What made you decide to study in Cornwall?

I’m not really a city person, so coming to uni in the middle of nowhere was pretty appealing, and having the campus twinned with Falmouth University works really well. It’s a really broad, diverse place with lots of different people, whereas studying biosciences at a lot of other unis, you might only end up interacting with people on similar courses and with similar interests to you.

What does being a part of the LGBTQA+ society on campus mean to you?

There’s a real sense of community. No matter how lovely your straight friends are, there are always going to be certain aspects of being LGBT that they will never understand, so it’s great to have a group of people around you where there aren’t any barriers. There’s something about having shared experiences that bring people closer, even if you wouldn’t necessarily have been friends outside of that unit.

What challenges do you think LGBT+ identifying students face in Falmouth?

It’s largely a really accepting place. I know some trans students have had issues with lecturers and peers using incorrect pronouns, and having to use outdated forms of ID. There’s also occasionally some harassment on the streets in Falmouth – I had a guy try to film me and my girlfriend in Club I once – and recently there have been some more serious issues, and we’ve been trying to stay on top of them and report them.  There’s also the inclusive bathroom thing, how people wouldn’t think to put sanitary bins in the guy’s loos, or even just waste bins.

In terms of the spaces that LGBT students can go to, being in a small town is maybe a bit limiting. We’ve now got a gay night at MONO, but there aren’t any specific gay bars in Falmouth, and there is one in Truro but transport there at night is pretty bad. But, honestly, for a town that’s largely made up of old people, it’s really accepting.

How can we work to make our campus a more diverse, welcoming and inclusive environment for LGBTQA+ identifying people?

Having accessible, inclusive bathrooms would take the focus off of having to really obviously present as a certain gender and would reduce the risk of being harassed, because there’d be no qualifying factor you’d need to get into the bathroom. We’re working on that at the moment, with our Community and Welfare President Alexa and Don’t DisAbility.

Another big thing is getting people to pay attention to the language they’re using. You don’t hear it so much here at uni, but it’s important to get people to stop using “gay” as a derivative, things like “stop being so gay!”, and also equating gender to genitals.

Also, it’s important to normalise asking people their pronouns, especially if you’re uncertain, and it means that people don’t have to correct you if you assume someone’s gender and mess up. It would really make the situation so much more comfortable for everybody if, when you introduce yourself you can say “Hi, I’m Beth, and I use she/her pronouns.” There are people now who don’t have the confidence to speak up when someone uses the wrong pronouns to address them, so they wilfully let themselves be misgendered. If we normalise asking people about their pronouns, we can stop this happening.

It’s a difficult time to be a minority right now. What can we do in the face of all the hatred and persecution that exists around the world right now to stand up for LGBTQA+ rights?

I think educating your friends and family is a good place to start, if you’re in a place where it’s safe to do that, because a lot of the time, we’re dealing with ignorance rather than hatred. Talk to your LGBT friends about what they want you to do, whether they’re like “If someone says something to me, stand up for me”, or “If I share something on Facebook, can you share it too?” Be careful not to speak for LGBT people, but accentuate what LGBT people are saying, and raise up their voices.

If there are any protests or rallies, going along to them is another great place to start; being a part of a big group of people makes you feel like you’re doing more. Do the best you can to use your voice to drown out the bigots and the hatred.

February is LGBT History Month; why is it important that we celebrate this?

We study history in school and LGBT people have been there the whole time, but we don’t always recognise that.  We study and talk about a lot of famous figures, but we don’t talk about their sexuality, and LGBT History Month gives us the chance to do that. It can give us hope for the future to see that even in times where things were awful, gay people existed and were doing things and taking action. Also, it gives us the chance to celebrate people who maybe weren’t accepted or celebrated at the time. We need to recognise that the way the LGBT community is now is built on a foundation of struggles throughout history.

Does the LGBTQA+ society have anything planned?

We’ve got a film screening of a World War Two film, Coming Out Under Fire, in DDM Lecture Theatre A on the 16th. We’ve also got a historical night out, where people can dress up in period costume, and an LGBT History Quiz on the 22nd in the Palacio Lounge.

And just to finish up, what advice would you give to any students who are struggling with their sexuality, and might be too intimidated or afraid to come along to LGBTQA+ society meetings?

We’re always accessible by email and on Facebook, so if you feel too intimidated to just turn up to our events, you can just send us a message, and maybe talking to us online will ease your mind a bit before you come along. If you’ve got some friends – they don’t have to be gay! - who want to come to our coffee mornings or nights out, drag them along with you.

This profile was arranged with the help of our Women's Student Officer, Mackinlay Ingham