After a close run, Adam Duce won the election for the LGBT+ Officer position for 2013-14. As the hard work begins, Thomas Leeming met up with him to find out more.
“I was worried I would disappoint my family,” Adam tells me as we sit down. “I was concerned about telling them. My family is quite conservative and my parents naturally thought I would turn out to be straight. I felt uncomfortable with the whole situation.”
On the 5th March 2013, after having dressed up as a ten- nis player for his campaign, Adam Duce won the election for LGBT+ Officer. An English Language student, currently in his second year, Adam hopes to raise awareness of LGBT+ issues across the university.
“My parents are very supportive of me,” he says. “I never envisaged it would be this way. I wanted to run for the role because I felt that I would be a good advocate for the LGBT+ community and I feel that I’m an approachable person. I just want to act as a friend and create greater tolerance and understanding.”
There is an air of confidence in Adam; he is very accepting and open about his sexuality. Yet, it hasn’t always been like this. He grew up in Exeter and found life difficult when he realised he was gay. He went to a small school and struggled to accept who he was.
“It was very lonely and I had to constantly put up barriers. I went to a private school where being gay wasn’t accepted. There wasn’t help or support in that regard and I felt pressure to be like everyone else; I remember thinking that I should be feeling something, that I should be straight. Instead, I liked a guy in my class and I had to crush all those emotions. But you know what it’s like when you’re enraptured by that other person,” Adam laughs, “it was one of the influences that made me go to school!”
It wasn’t until sixth form that he began to open up to people. He only told his closest friends at first and, after a gap year working with his mother, it wasn’t until December of his first year at university that he opened up to his parents. Next on the list were other close family members.
“My grandmother, in particular, has been unbelievably ac- cepting, especially coming from a Catholic background.” It is clear to see Adam is much happier now that people know. “It’s why I made my coming out story part of my manifesto,” he explains. “It makes it personal and allows for a closer relationship. I don’t want people to have to go through what I had to.”
Certainly, Adam’s manifesto aims at making life better for all LGBT+ students. “My main objective is to create a more integrated student population. I find it very important that non-LGBT+ students are aware of the issues that the LGBT+ community face. Their involvement within the association is extremely valued. I want to make sure that LGBT+ awareness training is in place for Halls of Residence staff and wardens, offer information packs to freshers and continue Jack Oakley’s (the current LGBT+ Officer) plans to ensure that course reps have the relevant LGBT+ awareness so that they can help on the relevant staff student panels if a student is faced with prejudice.”
“I also want to offer a confidential service similar to a lecturer’s office hours where LGBT+ students can approach me on a 1-to-1 basis to discuss any issues ranging from very personal through to school-related problems,” he adds. “Groups can also be set up so students have the opportunity to talk about their concerns with like-minded individuals in an informal environment. I will then raise these issues on the relative committees at Union level and create initiatives and policies to resolve these.”
I ask Adam what he thinks of the LGBT+ Society. “I believe that there needs to be a focus on the LGBT+ community as a whole, rather than just focusing on the Society. I think that the Society needs to open up more and look to the many other students who are part of the LGBT+ community and see what it can do in terms of appealing to a wider membership.” Indeed, his manifesto states that he wants to “enable close connections between the LGBT+ Society, its members and the Union.”
However, Adam had not previously been part of the Society. Following his election, he has now joined and wants to get more involved. “I’ve only now come to fully appreciate the Society for what it is. It’s so many different things to people and I want to make sure members of LGBT+ community don’t feel alienated from it or insecure about joining it; I want to make people see it can benefit them.”
Because he had not joined the Society previously, there has been some controversy over his win, with some claiming that he isn’t qualified for the job. “It’s disheartening to hear those comments. I’m happy to have been elected and I want to reassure members that I am a suitable candidate for the position. There are no bad feelings on my part and I’m not going to hold it against them. I want us to work well together.”
Did he think there would be some negativity when he chose to run? “It wasn’t really a factor. I just thought about the community as a whole,” he says. “I think that the fact that a large number of heterosexual people voted for me proves that through campaigning over just a three day period has already raised awareness. I feel that LGBT+ students outside the Society are seen as not existing, which is ridiculous. There should be far more involvement from everyone.”
“I want challenges thrown against me and the Society has that chance – everyone should have that right. I want to create a strong support system for all LGBT+ students and be that supportive friend that I was lucky to have when starting university. I’m going to need co-operation from everyone and hostility will get us nowhere.”
Supportive friends is something Adam certainly has. This is one of the reasons he didn’t become a member of the Society before because he didn’t feel the need to: he had friends and was happy with the way things were. “Not everyone has such an easy transition and I hope to be able to provide this.”
However, friends alone weren’t quite enough for him. “In my first year, I was single,” he says. “Amazing as it was to be myself, I did feel quite lonely. I was concerned when I would meet someone.” And meet someone he did. His boyfriend of six months is also on next year’s committee: Ollie Wannell, the new Education Officer. Adam laughs happily, “I’m going to his Nan’s 70th birthday party this weekend actually. I never thought I would be integrated into his family like I have. My flatmates used to say that I deserved to be with someone. But I had never been in a relationship – I thought I was being too picky and I wondered whether I was going to be married to my career.”
Adam also appears to be integrated into life in Cardiff, too. “It’s a lot more metropolitan than Exeter,” he describes. “Even though it’s becoming much more liberal, it’s still quite a rural region. I had a job in Boots where my colleagues would question my sexuality and everything was based on stereotypes.” He explains how it was rare to see a same-sex couple holding hands. Although slightly tentative here in Cardiff, he is happy to hold Ollie’s hand. “We’ve only had two minor incidents,” he recalls, “one a raised eyebrow and the other a kid saying something. Quite a lot of people smile actually.” He seems content, “We are making progress.”
Meeting Ollie has definitely changed him. He describes how they are both very driven and will stand up for what they think is right. “I’ll still have a successful career (he wants to be a teacher), but now I can share it all with someone.” He stops to reflect, then continues, “I’ve always been very independent. The idea of sharing your life with someone, opening yourself up and have someone know everything about you was always slightly scary.” He pauses, “I’m pleased I have been proved wrong.”
Over the next few months, Adam will begin the handover from the previous officer. He’s very aware of the task he has taken on and is looking forward to the experience. He talks of his future colleagues with excitement: Cari Davies, the new President, Helen Dent, Welfare Officer and Edore Evuarherhe, Sports and AU Officer, to name a few. “It’s enjoyable and fun,” he says cheerfully. “I do hope people will embrace me.”
We say goodbye and Adam walks away confidently. With his election being criticised and homophobia still unfortunately apparent in the Union, he has undertaken a difficult role. Yet, it’s clear to see that he will do the best job he can. With his determination and strength strongly evident, there’s no doubt that he will certainly fight for an equal score.
Game, set and match.