Jonny Winbow reflects on the impact of Covid-19 on the LGBTQIA+ community and what more needs to be done to support LGBTQIA+ young people at university.
When thinking about what my experiences during lockdown have been like, one word came to mind – lonely. Throughout this pandemic, loneliness has been a key factor in everyone’s experience, and I’m not going to pretend I’m alone in this struggle. As an LGBTQIA+ person, my experiences are no different to so many others within the community.
Loneliness used to be framed as someone which only the elderly could experience, or those who were separated from their family and friends. This pandemic has highlighted the fact that loneliness effects every single one of us – no matter what your living situation is. I live with housemates, and yet still experience loneliness on a daily basis; and I am sure this is the case with most people who live in similar situations. For loneliness is not just about being physically isolated from other people, but it’s about the mental fatigue that this pandemic has brought onto people. Isolation from friends through multiple lockdowns; the closure of community hubs such as nightclubs and theatres; and the ‘stay-at-home’ messages have all increased this sense of loneliness for so many young people. I am not saying that these measures weren’t necessary – this is not my argument. Instead, my point is that more support should have been given to young people who have lost so much in terms of a loss of a year of socializing due to the pandemic.
As an LGBTQIA+ person, our community has been directly impacted by the pandemic; and many have lost what they see as their outlet to being themselves. The closure of nightclubs in particular has disproportionately affected LGBTQIA+ people, as these clubs are not only a space where you can drink and dance, but also are a safe space for so many LGBTQIA+ people to feel supported and welcome as their true selves. For myself, the loss of access to Manchester Canal Street bars has meant that there is a loss of a safe and welcoming space in the city, where I can go and feel welcome and loved as myself – without any judgment. Of course, I am aware that the closure of nightclubs was necessary in order to combat the spread of COVID; however, nothing was put into their place to offer similar safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ people.
My experience is no different to so many other LGBTQIA+ people, who feel as though their support networks have been cut off due to the pandemic and the measures which were introduced to combat COVID. A Stonewall article in January 2021 discussed the impact of the pandemic on an LGBTQIA+ woman called Kate who stated that the pandemic has led her to feel ‘cut off from the queer community’. This is an experience that so many others within our community have faced and there has been a complete lack of support from the government on this issue.
As an LGBTQIA+ student at university, more needs to be done to support LGBTQIA+ young people at university. Students have been badly affected by the pandemic – and LGBTQIA+ students even more so. With the loss of LGBTQIA+ support networks, and with little or no replacement of them; LGBTQIA+ student have been abandoned by both the government and the university who have a duty of care over them. Universities should first introduce LGBTQIA+ networks for students to access and meet other LGBTQIA+ people from their community; and they should do so with the support of local LGBTQIA+ groups. This would be a start and would at least help some students feel less isolated during the pandemic. Whilst this measure would not solve all of the issues of loneliness within LGBTQIA+ students; it would certainly help those within the community find others to offer mutual support to one another.
Jonny is the Inclusions Officer of the University of Manchester’s Young Fabians Society and Co-Chair of the Young Fabians LGBTQIA+ Advocacy Group.