Image Credit: Alex Holland
Followed so soon after the announcement of the new college on East Campus being named after Anne Lister, a renowned lesbian landowner/writer who would write her diaries in code to keep her sexuality and relationships a secret, it was great to hear that the new progressive road crossing outside the Spring Lane Building would be completed a week later, just in time for History Month.
This new crossing represents a sign of inclusivity for anyone and everyone who sees it; not only is the message itself one of inclusivity, showing that you are valid and welcomed here at York regardless of your gender, sexual orientation or skin colour, the refurbishment as a whole is more inclusive – new dropped curbs for better wheelchair accessibility, and improved tactile paving on both sides to aid those with visual impairments.
For many, coming to university is very freeing, people might be coming from intolerant or abusive households where they haven’t had the freedom to show their true selves and so it becomes a chance to explore and learn more about who you are than ever before. So if even just one person sees it and feels more welcome, and feels more free to be open with who they truly are, then it is worth it.
With that in mind, we went along for the photoshoot to celebrate it being finished, and in my heart I hoped it wouldn’t just slip by unnoticed… I don’t think I could have been any more wrong.
"This new crossing represents a sign of inclusivity for anyone and everyone who sees it"
On Twitter, more people have commented on the University’s one post about the crossing than all their other tweets this year combined.
People claimed the crossing was “illegal” and cited the wrong regulations to try and prove themselves right (they were inevitably proved wrong as it was designed and audited by an independent road safety engineer, and included the installation of new signs to clearly mark it as a crossing); along with others claiming it would confuse drivers and cause accidents.
Someone commented saying “zebra lives matter”, in tweets so baffling it almost seemed like intentional satire. Others brought up how horses would react to such a crossing, which seems odd considering the road only leads to a car park. Maybe the people reacting didn’t know where that road was?
It was gutting to see. In a time when we should all be looking out for each other, to see so much hate directed at a small crossing, on a 10mph road leading to just a car park was quite devastating. Matt (the other LGBTQ officer) and I got messages asking if we were OK afterwards and people offered their support, and to everyone who sent them: thank you, it really meant a lot.
At the end of the day, these reactions show the thinly-veiled prejudice that is still widespread in our society, and serves as clear proof that so much more needs to be done to raise awareness and educate others. We’re proud of the crossing, and we’re proud of what it represents.
It’s not all doom and gloom; there are plenty of others who genuinely appreciate the new crossing, saying that it adds a bit of colour to the campus, making it a more cheerful and unique place, saying how it was a nice move from the uni to show that they recognise the LGBTQ+ community; it certainly puts a smile on my face whenever I see it!
What do I want to emphasise though, is that there are genuine and valid criticisms that did come from this, the most prominent being concerns on mental health funding. With people who identify as LGBTQ+ being 50% more likely to suffer from mental health issues than those who don’t, and the current pandemic putting an even greater strain on people’s mental health, easy access to inclusive support is needed now more than ever.
The LGBTQ+ Network has been working to provide support links for students and have been working with The Last Taboo to help gather statistics on LGBTQ+ sexual violence (as currently none exist), as well as raising awareness of issues such as internalised biphobia and acephobia.
While the crossing is a positive sign from the University, without more meaningful action towards increased support for students it may become simply a hollow gesture. Fortunately, we have already seen some progress happening here, with the University nearly quadrupling the amount of funding available to Open Door & Disability Services to £2 million, compared to just over £500k in 2018/19, along with the hiring of a dedicated BAME mental health practitioner. This is definitely a step in the right direction, however more work is still needed to make sure that there is professional & comprehensive LGBTQ+ specific support available to those who need it.
The reactions show prejudice is far from gone, and that the university still needs to do a lot more to support students, but right now this is a very welcome step in the right direction.