opinion

'It’s still so difficult to come out at work and university. Why isn’t that changing?'

Even after years of progress in UK law, rates of students and graduates coming out are not improving, writes Jamie Wareham.

2019-10-11

When National Student Pride began 15 years ago we knew that six in 10 graduates were either in, or would go back in, the closet when they left university to enter the world of work.

Today, on National Coming Out Day – those figures remain, disappointingly, exactly the same. 

It’s easy to think LGBTQ rights are moving forward, and that might be true in the UK when it comes to laws. 

But this research shows the lived experience of LGBTQ young people remains remarkably separate from legal progress.

And what its shows leaves me with no wonder why people struggle coming out.

 

The Out and Proud research put together by Clifford Chance, the University of York and Deutsche Bank in collaboration with National Student Pride shows:

  • Only four in ten LGBTQ people are out at work and university.
  • Six in ten of those who are out at university experience discrimination.
  • Four in ten LGBTQ people suffer depression.
  • One in seven LGBTQ people experience homelessness, however temporary, after coming out in some part due to family estrangement
  • LGBTQ people are 6% more likely to feel worse after joining university
  • LGBTQ people are nearly twice as likely to use drugs. 

The report says things have got better since previous Stonewall research which says 62% of graduates go back in the closet when they enter the job market. 

But this is based on the study showing 58% of LGBT+ graduates aren’t out by the time they get into employment. 

That, at its best, means only a shameful 4% increase.

This, alongside statistics that show LGBTQ people are twice as likely to use drugs, is also staggering. 

Particularly when one of the top reasons for this behaviour listed as to cope with both physical and mental pain – as well as day to day struggles.

Attitude’s Editor at Large, Matthew Todd spoke astutely at the Out and Proud launch event about the community’s “chronic issue with drugs”, pointing to recent research about the “epidemic” of ‘G’ and chemsex deaths.

But the one phrase that really jumped out – was one speaker referring to the use of “double identities.”

It’s a phrase that refers to LGBTQ people who live two lives; their queer one and their ‘straight’ one. 

And something so many of us think belongs in our past. 

Indeed, I haven’t heard someone describe this lived experience to me since speaking to older LGBTQ people on the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation in the UK. 

But clearly, it is a reality for so many LGBTQ people today. 

And in 50 years, young queer people still feel the need to go back into the closet – or worse not feel able to come out at all. 

What does that say to me?

It’s time we got angry again. Time to once more demand better from our employers and academic institutions. 

Young people are still looking for hope from LGBTQ people that are out, and we can all give it to them with small actions.

The Out and Proud research, which is the largest of its kind and polled over 4,000 students, was commissioned by Clifford Chance, Deutsche Bank, the University of York and National Student Pride to coincide with National Coming Out Day.