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LU Pride: ‘It's great that there's a club where you don't feel different!'

Fifty years ago a group of students started the Leiden Student Working Group on LGBT. Today students can contact Leiden University Pride and for staff there is the LGBTQ+ Core Network. Five questions for Kirsten de Mare, student of linguistics and chair of LU Pride.

During the Dies Natalis on 8 February the rainbow flag will fly above the Academy Building to honour the foundation of the Leiden Student Working Group on LGBT in 1968. What do you think of that?

‘I think it's great that the University is paying attention to this issue. For students who feel uncertain on these grounds, this is an important signal: we accept you and are there for you.'  

The board of LU Pride, from left to right: Tiaan Westenberg, Mariya Shcherbinina, Kirsten Janson, Rhea Steensma, met onder: Kirsten de Mare en Luisa Bagnoli.

How important is LU Pride for the University?

‘There was already a similar club, the Leiden Ganymedes Borrel, that organised networking get-togethers and monthly lectures. But the name was confusing so it was changed in 2014 in LU Pride. Together with COC Leiden and the University's Diversity Office, the decision was taken to focus LU Pride specifically on students. In general, LHBTG people don't experience any problems within the University, but it's good to have a group where you don't feel different. We can also help build up the network. What we see is that international students in particular, many of whom come to our activities, are really relieved that they are accepted here and aren't prosecuted, as they often are in their home countries.' 

Do Dutch students find it easier to 'come out'?

‘It differs from person to person, and some spend their whole lives struggling with that question. In my first year I also didn't dare to say anything because I didn't want to put myself on the outside of the group. That was probably more down to me than the environment. But students all react very differently. One might not react at all if I talk about my girlfriend, while another might be surprised and say something like, 'Oh, I didn't realise', which can be a bit awkward. 

What kind of activities does LU Pride organise?

‘Every two weeks there is a drinks get-together on a Thursday evening at De Roze Beurs café on Oude Singel 128. There are usually about 20 to 40 students there, and it's always a surprise who will turn up. They are very relaxed and fun evenings, not rough or anything.  We don't actually have any club members, so there are no obligations. Students don't like having to register and this café is a much lower threshhold place for them than the COC, where a lot of the people are a bit older.' 

‘Besides the drinks get-togethers we also organise a symposium twice a year. Last time it was on discrimination within the LHBTG+ community because that certainly does happen; like white men who state in dating apps that they don't want to date coloured men. The next symposium, on 21 April, will highlight the positive aspects of sex, which deserve some attention, given the current emphasis on all the negative aspects.' 

LU Pride during the Grand Procession on 3 October with Kirsten de Mare in the cupboard

he ‘Leiden University LGBTQ+ Core Network’ was set up within the University at the end of 2017. What's the relationship between LU Pride and this network? 

‘This Diversity Office network mainly focuses on staff, so we complement one another well. It is good to share information on all kinds of topics, varying from gender-neutral toilets to how we reach students within all the faculties; students at the science faculties haven't really found us yet. We talk about our visibility within the University and the city.  On 3 October last year, LU Pride took part in the Grand Procession for the first time.  We wore rainbow jumpers and even had a cupboard that you could come out of. We were given a warm welcome and a lot of the public also 'came out of the cupboard'.  It was so cool.'

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