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Supporting LGBT students studying overseas

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash


Against the background of increasing internationalism, there is a strong business case for universities to provide support for LGBT students studying overseas. Detailed policies and thorough planning can ensure that universities deliver better outcomes for LGBT students, show a commitment to LGBT communities, meet equality duties and their duty of care, and ensure that everything possible is done to safeguard students from harm.

When considering the global picture for LGBT students, international contexts vary, and both legal and cultural factors are important. Some study abroad programmes happen in contexts where students are safer and have stronger legal protections than in the UK. But, depending on the jurisdiction there can be varied levels of risk. Legal factors include criminalisation, lack of legal protection, recognition and legal rights, lack of healthcare or more extreme physical danger.

Recent research from Northumbria University (International Travel for LGBTQ+ Staff in Higher Education) used responses from a sector-wide Freedom of Information Request and found that there is a considerable gap in policy across UK higher education institutions on issues of international travel for both staff and students.

To fill this gap, universities can start by developing a global mobility policy, setting out key principles for how they support staff and students travelling abroad. This should set out core principles and can be used to communicate the university's support for LGBT equality. Universities should consult with LGBT students and societies, and staff networks when designing policies and guidance.

Universities can also support their staff to understand different LGBT identities and issues that can arise when travelling abroad. 

This will mean that frontline staff are best placed to support students before placement, to anticipate any issues, to be the point of contact when issues arise, and to seek feedback from students after placements.

Before a student goes on a placement, universities should provide information on the in-country situation for LGBT people and travellers, including the legal framework, rights and risks, and what type of support they can expect when they are away. Universities can provide guidance on safe use of social media, as well as practical guidance on key considerations for the student: accommodation, identity documents, or access to healthcare needs such as hormones.

An LGBT student may have concerns about it being unsafe for them to be out about their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

It is important for staff to be receptive and discuss these concerns with students. It is never appropriate to tell a student that they should or shouldn't be out in any context – but it is appropriate and important to share information about the context for LGBT people and communities on the ground.

It is also important to provide alternative placements and opportunities. There may be cases in which an LGBT student decides they cannot take up a specific study abroad opportunity because of their LGBT identity. Helping students find an alternative study abroad opportunity ensures equal opportunity regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

During placements it is important to keep in touch; ensuring that you are checking in on wellbeing as well as academic progress. Your policy should set out steps to ensure that students can return safely and have plans in place for speedy removal if the situation on the ground changes.

For further information, including specialist guidance for higher education institutions, and country briefings, visit Stonewall's Global Diversity Champion programme webpages.


Emma will be presenting via video link on Wednesday 11 March at UUK's Tackling violence, harassment and hate incidents event. For further information and to book your place, visit UUK Events

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