United in Pride: why Pride matters for London universities

Written by Ant Babajee (he/him), who was LGBT+ Network co-chair at Middlesex University between 2018 and 2023, where his day job is as a digital marketing manager. He is UNISON Branch LGBT+ Officer at Middlesex and a member of the Greater London Region LGBT+ Committee. He was awarded Change Maker of the Year by Stonewall in the 2023 Workplace Equality Index, and he is finalist in the 2024 Queer Student Awards alongside Middlesex University.


It is invaluable to be heard, be accepted and be supported in your studies and in the workplace.

I came out as gay at 19 in my first year at university, and in my final year at Oxford Brookes I became president of the LGBT+ Society. Having visible role models at university would have made such a difference to me and would have made my journey to self-acceptance easier.

No one forgets their first Pride march. Mine was on my exchange year at the University of Cologne. When I was back in Britain, this was followed up by marching with Stonewall in London Pride and in the fledging Oxford Pride to protest against the infamous Section 28. It was finally repealed in England and Wales in 2003.

Equal marriage – that my relationships would be recognised by the law and treated with the same validity as heterosexual relationships – was still a far-off hope and dream back then.

As a gay man, I am now protected against discrimination in the workplace and in accessing services by the Equality Act 2010. And a few years later, in 2013, came equal marriage.

As open as I had been at uni, once I entered the world of work, I largely went back into the closet for years – and sadly, my experience is not unusual.

Marching in unison

When you are not able to be your true authentic self, life can be exhausting. This is also true in our workplaces – and I am so incredibly thankful that I do not have to hide any parts of my identity from my colleagues at Middlesex University. I am accepted and included for who I am, and that is invaluable.

A lot of my LGBT+ activism and advocacy these past few years has been through UNISON – the UK’s largest trade union representing members across the public services, including higher education.

This year is UNISON’s Year of LGBT+ workers, and we are calling on our employers across London to challenge homophobia, transphobia and biphobia in our workplaces; to put in place trans equality policies; and to raise awareness around HIV and challenge the stigma that surrounds the virus.

For the past five years, universities across London have teamed up to march in Pride in London together – a great opportunity for our colleagues and students to feel they are part of a bigger movement, to make new friends, and to have fun.

Last year our LGBT+ Network at Middlesex helped to organise the first Barnet Pride, bringing visibility to the local community at and surrounding the university.

This year, after having led our group at Pride in London for a number of years, it was time for me to hand the baton on to my colleagues.

I will be marching with the gay men’s health advocacy group Impulse. One of the pillars for our events and campaigns is social justice, and we have have been having a lot of fun coming up with slogans to encourage participation in the general election.

My sexuality should not be a political football, but I know my hard-fought-for equal rights could be reversed in an instant.

Pride in progress

We have made amazing progress in this country in terms of LGBT+ rights. But over the past decade, the often-toxic rhetoric about LGBT+ people, in particular trans and non-binary members of our community, has meant that for many of us the UK is not happy or safe place for us to go about our daily lives. And, sadly, this can be felt keenly on our university campuses too.

We are calling on society at large to be accepting of difference, to be kinder and to listen.

For those of us working in HE, we can make efforts to do what we can to hear from LGBT+ people themselves about the barriers they face in our universities, in our communities and in society. And then crucially we can make efforts to tackle those barriers.

We can adopt policies and promote training to support LGBT+ people working and studying in higher education helping them not only be accepted and included, but be able to thrive.

If I were to write to my 19-year-old self when he was just about to come out at uni as gay, I would be able to write with all my heart: “It gets better – not just for you but for all of the LGBT+ community.”

No Pride for some of us without Liberation for all of us

Across the world, policies are being implemented that are homophobic or transphobic. We have fought and won so many battles here in the UK, but from a global perspective there is just so much that we still need to do – and so many hearts and minds we still need to win over.

And yet there is hope. In October 2023 the Mauritius Supreme Court declared a law that criminalised same-sex intimacy between men unconstitutional. It was a momentous victory for human rights, according to the Human Dignity Trust, who supported a local activist to take the case to the Mauritius Supreme Court.

In the judgement, the Mauritius Supreme Court judges underlined the constitutionally protected right to non-discrimination. This decision finally toppled 185 years of state-sanctioned stigma against LGBT+ people in Mauritius, and sent yet another important message to the remaining criminalising countries in Africa and beyond: these laws must go.

Middlesex University has a branch campus in Mauritius. My own dad is from Mauritius and moved to the UK in 1968 – shortly after Mauritius gained independence from the UK. I cannot begin to tell you how much joy this brings me, my colleagues, and our students in Mauritius. We don’t have to hide any longer.

That’s why we still need Pride and that’s why it’s important that we celebrate. But we should also reflect on the fact that Pride is actually a protest. We still need our voices to be heard, and they are heard most clearly when we stand united.