During Freshers’ Week, I found myself, along with what seemed like half of Cambridge, on Parker’s Piece for the Freshers’ Fair. Among the crowded stalls, with students from all manner of societies, from the disappointingly mundane to the unimaginably niche, a small rainbow-bedecked table caught my eye. Along with many others, I signed up for the LGBT+ parenting scheme, as well as the mailing list for the LGBT+ campaign. The family system, which matches second- and third-years to bewildered freshers to create a ‘family’ of sorts, operates in a fashion similar to the college parenting scheme, but on a University-wide scale. It was the only mailing list I didn’t subsequently regret subscribing to. Sorry, Fencing Society, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
The purpose of the scheme, which is led by CUSU LGBT+, is to put freshers ‘in touch with friendly people who can make them feel welcome and answer their questions’. For many LGBT+ freshers, who may be experiencing the heady rush of freedom that comes with the knowledge that you are now in a space where you will be accepted and welcomed by people who are just like you, the family scheme is a great way to meet a small subset of the LGBT+ community.
For those whose relatives may not be particularly accepting, it offers them the chance to build their own families, which is especially important during the harrowing first weeks of the Cambridge term. It is, after all, what LGBT+ people have already been doing for hundreds of years – finding others like ourselves in an effort to feel validated and part of a wider community.
Personally, I have found the scheme incredibly useful. My LGBT+ family is not only a set of smiling faces from different colleges, but also a link to the wider community through their other friends; our family has expanded beyond the nuclear-family of children and parents, and now includes grandparents, step-parents, and cousins. We may all get a headache when we attempt to work out just how we’re all ‘related’, but that is secondary to the fact that the family system has opened us up to a whole new group of people who we might not otherwise have known, being from different colleges, and having different interests. It has also been an easy way to get involved in the LGBT+ community, which can be overwhelming, particularly for those who have never previously been out and active.
When the time comes around, I will definitely sign up to be a ‘parent’. Although the scheme obviously has its imperfections, including the fact that it can be difficult to schedule a family meetup among pressing deadlines and hectic lives, the importance of being able to build your own family in a new place cannot be underestimated.