Coming to a foreign country, a new university and a completely unexplored environment is already one of the biggest milestones in someone’s life. However, if you’re a member of the LGBT+ community your journey doesn’t stop there. Whether you’ve been out in your home country or not, you will have to go through the whole process of coming out again and again when you move to a new place. Well, that’s assuming you want to be recognised as an LGBT+ individual and I understand that not everybody does, but I want to share my story of why I came out in the UK and why I believe it is still important to celebrate the LGBT+ history month even in this day and age.
I am from a small Baltic country, Lithuania. The population of the country is of a mere 2.8 million. And for anybody who doesn’t know anything about Lithuania, it is a post-soviet country, which reclaimed its independence only in the 1990s. However, the western values that we fought for didn’t change the communist ones that were established over the years of oppression. And whilst I’m not trying to excuse why Lithuanian people find it hard to wrap their heads around the fact that being gay is normal, I want to provide some context for the way they feel. I believe that the situation is getting better with every year and especially younger generations, however, it will take time to get rid of homophobia as the remains of Soviet Union ideology.
With all of this in mind, my experience with coming out back home was not an easy one. To this day my parents don’t feel comfortable with my sexuality and I don’t think my grandparents will ever get to meet my future partner, because they just wouldn’t understand how I could love someone of the same sex. I recently went through my diary from when I was 15 and at that point, I already knew that I wasn’t straight. Yet the whole passage of me trying to accept my sexuality was so shame ridden, simply because of the environment that I was living in. And nonetheless, I felt quite comfortable opening up to my close group of friends and they were the ones who helped me come to terms with my sexuality. However, I could have never imagined talking about being gay with people I didn’t know or had just met. It is still considered a taboo topic that only gets talked about with other members of the LGBT+ community or your close friends. In most high schools and universities back at home there is no support network, no societies for LGBT+ students so even meeting other gay people is difficult when nobody wants to talk about their sexuality openly.
When I came to university in the UK, I didn’t expect the situation to change. I thought that I would maybe open up to my friends and that was it. I remember going to one of my first house parties and getting to know new people and one of the girls I just met asked me a question that stuck with me: ‘So, do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend?’ And it was this simple acknowledgment that gay people exist, that positively surprised and shocked me. I started coming to the realisation that identifying as bisexual is a completely normal thing. Only now I understand how much internalised homophobia I had towards LGBT+ spaces and other LGBT+ people who were proudly showing their sexuality. There were so many LGBT+ events and spaces that I missed out on my first term of university just because I didn’t want other people to know that I was gay. But somehow, by taking little steps such as joining the feminist society, or coming to unofficially organised LGBT+ nights out, I ended up being surrounded by mostly gay people. I think even now in my circle of friends most people don’t identify as straight. And I believe that because of that, my outlook on confining gender norms, and sexuality changed drastically over the last year.
I then decided to run for a committee role in the LGBT+ society. It was my first time exposing myself to everyone by writing a manifesto from a queer individual’s perspective. I definitely had doubts about it, I was worried about people judging me. Would people like my course mates think differently of me if they knew I was gay? I felt very vulnerable by putting myself out there. But now looking back into last year, I am so glad that I decided to run for the society. Not only had I made amazing connections, met so many bright people with the same interests and learned so much about acceptance, diversity, and inclusivity. But also, I helped organise events and create spaces for other fellow LGBT+ people. I think that events such as coffee hour that I was thinking so negatively about last year actually was one of my favourite parts of being on the committee. Seeing people meet and form connections in such a simple setting as your everyday lunchtime is quite powerful. I understand that in the UK homophobia is not nearly as bad as in other countries. And still, I think that having a support network that would be able to relate to a situation that you’re in and would have your back no matter what is extremely important. Even though in the university environment diversity is being embraced and everyone is very open-minded. I still think that every LGBT+ history month is a reminder of how far we’ve come and how much more work could be done to move forward.
As a way to celebrate LGBT+ history month, I with LUU Global Community team have put up a workshop for International LGBT+ students. Whether you have struggled with your identity after coming to the UK or just want to meet other International LGBT+ students and share your experiences, come along. It’s happening on the 25th of February 6–7 pm in LUU Room 5 and everyone is welcome.