Not only “butch lesbians” and “limp-wristed gays”
"When did you know? What did your parents say? How many people have you been to bed with?" Prejudices and piquant questions can make it difficult to come out while studying. Which is why the AU student association DiverseCity works to create a community for – and break down prejudices about – gays, bisexuals, lesbians, transpersons and others with a different gender identity or sexuality than the norm.
When Line Fogh Sørensen, a ninth semester history student and the front person of DiverseCity, took over responsibility for DiverseCity together with three other students eighteen months ago, the goal was to get more than ten people to show up at their events. Today, between twenty and thirty people gather twice a month, and the association has grown too large for the charming location at Folkestedet, which has housed the association until now. But why is there even a need for a student association only for LGBT+ people (homosexuals, bisexuals, transpersons and other sexual and gender minorities, ed.)?
"A lot of people come out as gay when they leave home, or when they move to a new, large city and try something new. That’s is when it’s really good to have the association as a starting point, as it can be difficult to manage this alone," says Line.
Partly because there are thoughts which can be difficult to discuss with family and friends, and partly because there are a lot of questions that you are not yet ready to answer, she says.
"But the worst thing is when you run into suspicion or scepticism: ‘Is that really true? You look so normal.’ That can make you feel uncertain and alone. And its therefore important to have a community, where you can meet like-minded people," she explains.
- The association was founded in 2010 by students from AU and Aarhus School of Architecture.
- The association is formally intended for LGBT+ people, but you can also join if you are an 'ally’, i.e. someone who supports LGBT+ people.
- The association is officially under AU’s auspices, but it is for students from all higher education degree programmes in Aarhus.
- DiverseCity is independent, exists only in Aarhus, and receives no support from LGBT Denmark.
- All communication on Facebook and the association's website takes place in English. If international students come to its meetings, these also take place in English.
- The association holds two meetings a month. One with coffee, cake and a cosy atmosphere; and another with a cultural element such as dancing, bowling or ice skating.
- There are similar associations in Copenhagen (BLUS) and Odense (Spectrum).
- LGBT is the international abbreviation of 'lesbian, gay, bisexual and transpersons', while the ' +' represents all other sexual and gender minorities. Read more here.
- Link to DiverseCity’s website.
She has experienced the need for such a community herself after coming out as lesbian while studying.
"Suddenly, it was the focal point of what I and my fellow students ended up talking about. ‘When did you know? What did your parents say? How many people have you been to bed with?’ All those kind of questions. Also about sexual positions and techniques. My sexuality became my label, and because of that it also became very controlling," she says and continues:
"We always had to talk about my sexuality and not what I was otherwise as a person. I study history, I'm from southern Jutland, I think that Parks and Recreation is the funniest thing in the world. Let's start by talking about those subjects. Then maybe we could become friends and talk about other things afterwards."
She believes that LGBT+ people are more likely to be faced with what are normally considered taboo questions than others, because many people find asking about LGBT particularly interesting, even though they do not know the person particularly well.
"I have mixed feelings about this," she says and continues:
"On the one hand, I want to help spread understanding of the fact that being lesbian is just as normal as everything else. But at the same time, I want to have a private life as well. I’m happy to give a little, but I won’t give too much. How many people I’ve been to bed with is no one else’s business."
A community like any other
It is therefore good to have somewhere to go where sexual orientation and gender identity is completely immaterial and not something that people talk about, but rather simply something that they have in common. And to find a corresponding study environment, separation from the rest of the students is needed, explains Line.
"It creates a space for us that is totally equivalent with the ordinary study environments. Somewhere where you can just be a normal student and talk about all sorts of other things," she says.
Separation and prejudices
Don’t you think there is a risk of making it more difficult for the other students to find a normal relation to LGBT+ people when you have a club for yourself?
“No, on the contrary. By standing together, the other students can see that we’re a much larger group than they think," says Line.
She also thinks that having a student association for LGBT+ people means that this group of students become more visible. And that they therefore are more palpably not the stereotypes that many imagine:
“There aren’t just ‘butch lesbians’ and ‘limp-wristed gays’. We’re a motley group just like all other students, and we’re just as different as they are."
Nevertheless, Line does not view the association as a political organisation, which also helps distinguish them from LGBT Youth, who get involved in the public debate in an attempt to create change through politics and legislative changes.
"In DiverseCity we are what we are, and we stand by that. We don’t go public and discuss it or make political proposals. We’re a coffee club that tries to create a social location within the LGBT community in Aarhus," explains Line.
DiverseCity participates in Aarhus Pride each year, but for the association the event is a festive day and not a political manifestation: "As an association, we don’t go around with placards demanding 'Trans-rights now!', even though that’s something we support. We use the day to celebrate our diversity and community," she says.
We don’t ask about your sexuality at the door
Because many people find it hard to come out, the association has no register of members. This means people can participate in the association anonymously, and there is also room for people to come to meetings if they are unsure about where they belong.
"We don’t ask at the door; you just come as you are. In the rest of society, you aren’t constantly asked whether you’re hetero," says Line.