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11th February 2022 Holly Barker (2019, Modern Languages)

Acclaimed author and Exeter alumna Shon Faye gives talk at 2022 Exeter LGBTQ+ formal

Holly Barker reports on an uplifting evening at Exeter's annual LGBTQ+ formal dinner.

Shon Faye gives speech at the formal

Shon Faye delivers her speech at the LGBTQ+ Formal. Image: Faith Wong

LGBTQ+ members of the Exeter community came together in the Hall last week to celebrate community and belonging at the annual LGBTQ+ formal dinner. The formal is a much-anticipated highlight of the LGBTQ+ society’s calendar – an opportunity for queer students and alumni of all ages, backgrounds, and subjects to spend quality time together.

This year’s formal was organised by current JCR LGBTQ+ representatives, Sarita Williams (2020, English) and Sara Pelham (2020, English and Modern Languages). At the event, LGBTQ+ members of the JCR, MCR, SCR and alumni were able to gather in the Hall to enjoy a delicious meal prepared by catering staff, and catch up with some familiar faces, as well as to meet new ones after over two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Crucially, the formal was an opportunity for the community to spend time together outside of activism and to celebrate the beauty of being one’s true self whilst at university.

The highlight of the evening was a speech from guest of honour Shon Faye (2006, English). Shon is a journalist, activist, and acclaimed writer of the recent bestseller The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice, a paradigm-changing 2021 work that makes a convincing argument for the necessity of trans liberation. During her short speech to all present, Shon made sure to highlight how far Exeter has come, noting that she could not have even imagined such an event taking place whilst she was at Oxford. Considering that Shon graduated from Exeter less than 15 years ago, this was a sobering moment for me personally. It truly helped me appreciate how far the University has come regarding LGBTQ+ acceptance in such a short space of time.

Shon also acknowledged the many challenges an Oxford degree brings – particularly as an LGBTQ+ person. Though Oxford is generally an accepting place for LGBTQ+ students, we’re often at a higher risk for mental health problems, social issues, and a lack of support from family at home. Shon took the time to highlight the importance of reaching out for help to peers and tutors if you’re struggling. It’s events like the annual formal that help you realise that you’re not truly alone, and that you have an entire society of like-minded people who can support you.

This sense of appreciation for LGBTQ+ history at Exeter was particularly poignant given the formal was held at the beginning of February, which marks LGBTQ+ History Month in the UK. As February continues, the entire student body is looking forward to more social and educational events to help us appreciate how far we have come in both the UK and abroad in terms of LGBTQ+ liberation, and encourage us to keep working harder to achieve equal rights for all.

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