In February 2017, 1,500 students from 178 universities and colleges took part in the 13th National Student Pride event, held at the University of Westminster. The movement, though, began at Oxford Brookes and the spark that led to its formation came from an unexpected source – a Christian Union talk at the University.
In March 2005, second year Interior Architecture student Tom Guy ‘06 attended the talk entitled, ‘What Does the Bible Say About Homosexuality?’.
“It was very unchristian – inciting hatred in a way,” explains Tom, “Jesus was open to everyone but here was this trainee priest basically saying ‘Get out of my church’. I was brought up Catholic and three of my housemates were members of the Christian Union. So it was all quite close to home for me.”
Tom and other members of Brookes LGBT Society were so outraged by the talk that they decided to put on an event of their own to give the counter-argument: that it is perfectly possible to be LGBT and a Christian.
For many students… it’s a really big deal to mix with so many other young LGBT people for the first time.
Just two months later, 350 students from 15 universities came to the Helena Kennedy Centre for the first Student Pride.
“It was a day and night event,” recalls Tom. “We held a panel discussion, including the Reverend Richard Kirker who was the Chair of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, and there were stalls from various LGBT charities. Then we had a club night in the Student Union afterwards.”
It was a great success, although they had to make do without the Chief Executive of Stonewall, who refused to attend due to Oxford Brookes awarding an Honorary Degree to Jeremy Clarkson!
Since that first event, Student Pride has gone from strength-to-strength – moving on from the initial religious focus to address a range of key issues for LGBT students and providing a safe space for them to meet, share their stories and have a great time. Tom, now a partner in Guy Piper Architects, has remained a driving force in the organisation – specialising in gaining corporate support. The event now includes the longest diversity recruitment fair in the UK.
The work of Tom and the Student Pride team is now as vital as ever, “We’re much further on now than in 2005. But for many students, especially those who are just coming out, it’s a really big deal to mix with so many other young LGBT people for the first time and hear from the likes of BBC presenter Evan Davis. We’re helping people constantly and that feels very rewarding.”
UPDATE: On 21 February 2019, Tom received the Point of Light award in recognition of National Student Pride’s success. Prime Minister Theresa May wrote to Tom to say:
“The extraordinary success of ‘National Student Pride’ is a testament to your outstanding commitment to helping young LGBT people feel comfortable in their identity. By bringing together students from across the UK and internationally for an engaging weekend of performances, discussion and careers support, you have built a remarkable platform for young LGBT voices to be heard. I wish you the very best with this year’s event.”