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National Student Pride 2016: Focus on Mental Health
The first weekend of February, British LGBT students gathered for the eleventh annual National Student Pride, a weekend festival featuring a number of LGBT-focused speakers and events that included a career fair, a screening at London’s historic Regent Street Cinema, and a panel discussion about coming out. The festival’s centerpiece, however, was a debate on LGBT mental health, a vitally important but rarely discussed topic within the LGBT community. Panelists discussed both the mental health issues affecting LGBT students and the British government’s failure to address the needs of LGBT youth.
National Student Pride, Since 2005
National Student Pride has been held every year since 2005, when LGBT students at Oxford Brookes University protested an event centered around biblical discussions about homosexuality. Since then, the event has grown to one of the largest and most visible LGBT community events in the United Kingdom, providing young LGBT individuals with opportunities to meet their peers and discuss topics that shape national conversations about LGBT rights and issues faced by the community. It’s not all serious discussion and debate, however: this year’s events also included a lip-syncing competition judged by a RuPaul’s Drag Race runner-up and several parties held by the G-A-Y nightclub.
National Student Pride | Debate on Mental Health
Mental health within the LGBT community was at the foreground leading up to this year’s National Student Pride festival and throughout the weekend. Both in the UK and beyond, mental health issues disproportionately affect the LGBT community: a recent survey found that nearly half of British transgender youth have attempted suicide, while struggling with self-identity and homophobia has caused many to contemplate self-harm or experience depression and isolation. Before and during the panel, participants discussed several difficult topics, including:
- Mental Health as a Taboo – Within the LGBT community, mental health is rarely discussed. This can be dangerous, since silence can lead to feelings of isolation or self harm, but is also a missed opportunity to discuss shared issues across the spectrum of the LGBT experience.
- Internalized Shame – LGBT youth growing up in repressive environments can feel ashamed of their sexuality well into adulthood. One of National Student Pride’s panelists, singer-songwriter Will Young, directly touched on this idea of growing up ashamed of his sexuality and how that led him to addiction and mental health issues.
- Lack of Government Response – Will Young also directly criticized British Secretary of Education Nicky Morgan for her lack of response to the mental health needs of LGBT youth, stating his concern that another generation of LGBT youth would continue to feel ostracized in school.
This panel provided an excellent opportunity to kickstart a wider conversation about mental health in the LGBT community, not just in the UK, but across the globe. By bringing mental health issues “out of the shadows,” LGBT youth can see that they are not alone in their experiences or feelings.
National Student Pride | R U Coming Out
National Student Pride’s “R U Coming Out” panel was another centerpiece of Saturday’s festival, in many ways echoing and overlapping the topics discussed at the mental health debate. It’s no surprise that coming out is closely related to mental health for LGBT youth, since keeping quiet about sexuality can cause significant stress and mental anguish. Many of the event’s panelists discussed this connection:
- Authenticity and Being True to Yourself – Coming out is an admission of who you really are, and it can be a long and difficult process. But one of the panelists, Evan Davis, BBC presenter on Newsnight, spoke of coming out as an action that reduces stress and allows LGBT youth to be their most authentic selves.
- Coming Out to the Public – A number of panelists also highlighted the pressure to remain in the closet when you work with the public. BBC Radio 1 DJ Adele Roberts spoke of the pressure of not being out on-air, and how that can affect work and mental health, while Jaymi Hensley, another recording artist, admitted to being pressured not to come out.
- Changing Attitudes Toward Coming Out – A common theme in the panel discussion was shifting public attitudes and opinions about coming out. It’s become much more common to see entertainment personalities publicly come out, which can have a major impact on young LGBT viewers and listeners, and help them with their own struggle.
While the panelists came from a variety of backgrounds and industries, they all agreed on the inextricable link between coming out and mental well-being. Creating a more supportive environment for LGBT youth to come out means that fewer students will experience depression and anguish as they share their sexuality with friends and family.
Looking Forward to National Student Pride 2017
With the success of National Student Pride 2016, organizers have already begun to look ahead to next year’s festival. Hopefully, the focus on mental health at this year’s event will promote further discussion of mental health issues and inform next year’s panels and conversations.
Did you attend this year’s National Student Pride festival? We’d love to hear from you, especially if you attended the National Student Pride panels and heard these important discussions of mental health and coming out!