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7 LGBTQ+ friendly cities in the UK for international students

It’s LGBTQ+ history month in the UK, and at least a third of the students I work with every year to help apply for college or grad school in the UK identify as members of this community.


In the UK, a 2021 report published by UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) and Stonewall (the UK’s leading foundation by and for the LGBTQ+ community) showed that approximately one in 13 university applicants from the UK declared they are LGBTQ+.


Of the 3,000 UK LGBTQ+ applicants surveyed that year, there was a larger bias towards attending universities in the North-West and Scotland.


In fact, the universities that accepted the highest number of UK-based LGBTQ+ students were Manchester Metropolitan University, UWE Bristol, Nottingham Trent University, The University of Manchester and University of the Arts London.


The good news is that nearly 9 out of 10 UK LGBTQ+ students had a good or neutral experience in education so far.


This could be due to the fact that in recent years, the UK has made significant strides towards becoming a more inclusive and accepting society, with initiatives like more gender neutral restrooms, specific legislation and more.


All LGBTQ+ students in the UK -- both international and domestic -- are actually protected under the 2010 Equality Act.


In the meantime, a number of UK cities have emerged as beacons of tolerance, diversity and equality, whilst some have always been so.


Still, international LGBTQ+ students understandably have questions before embarking on their UK degrees, such as:


  • What UK cities are the most LGBTQ+ friendly?

  • Where will I have the freedom to be my true self?

  • Are there LGBTQ+ events, clubs, societies or sports teams?

  • Do UK university campuses have specific LGBTQ+ support?


Obviously, everyone's individual experiences will vary, but generally speaking, the below cities are some of the top LGBTQ-friendly cities for international students studying in the UK.


Brighton Pier

Brighton


Often regarded as the LGBTQ+ capital of the UK, Brighton is renowned for its lively, creative and accepting atmosphere.


Located on the south coast, the city hosts the iconic Brighton Pride festival, one of the largest LGBTQ+ events in the country, attracting people from all over. 


The vibrant Kemptown district is a hub for LGBTQ+ nightlife, featuring an array of bars, clubs, and LGBTQ+ owned businesses.


Its population is on the smaller side compared to others on this list; however, it does have two universities -- the University of Brighton and the University of Sussex.


Manchester


The University of Manchester
The University of Manchester

Known by some as the UK’s second capital after London, Manchester has a long history of supporting the LGBTQ+ community.


The Economist also named Manchester as the UK’s most livable city.


The annual Manchester Pride festival is a highlight, drawing thousands of people to celebrate diversity over a long weekend. 


The Gay Village, centered around Canal Street, is a focal point for LGBTQ+ life in the city, offering a range of LGBTQ+ friendly venues, cafes, and shops.


With a population of around 2.8 million in greater Manchester, there is also a high number of students, many of whom attend The University of Manchester, one of the UK’s leading universities and the largest UK campus.


London


London Eye

A melting pot of cultures and identities and the UK’s capital, London is a welcoming place for the LGBTQ+ community.


It was even crowned the fifth most LGBTQ-friendly city in the world.


Areas like Soho, Dalston and Vauxhall have established themselves as LGBTQ+ hubs, featuring an abundance of LGBTQ+ bars, clubs, and venues.


London Pride is a grand celebration that showcases the city's commitment to diversity and inclusion, and this was one event I was fortunate to attend last year to experience firsthand.


Bristol


Bristol UK

Crowned as the UK's top equal opportunities city and also ranking 4th in the European Equality Index, Bristol is a great option and one of my favorite cities overall.


Bristol's Old Market area is often referred to as the city's "Gay Village."


This district is home to LGBTQ+ friendly bars, clubs, and venues that contribute to the city's vibrant nightlife.


Bristol Pride is also a significant annual event that celebrates the LGBTQ+ community in the city and is a favorite amongst students at the city’s two universities: University of Bristol and UWE Bristol.


Cardiff


Cardiff UK

Wales as a country is on a mission to become the most LGBTQ+ friendly nation in Europe, and the home of this friendliness is the capital, Cardiff. 


The LGBTQ+ social science in Cardiff includes, cabaret bars, pubs, clubs, shops and sports clubs. 


Pride Cymru is the annual LGBTQ+ pride festival in Cardiff, taking place in the iconic Cardiff Castle, drawing visitors from across Wales and beyond.


Stonewall also named Cardiff University as one of the UK’s six best universities for LGBTQ+ students.


And while Wales is well known for its rugby, Cardiff is home to one of the UK’s many LGBTQ+ rugby teams, the Cardiff Lions


The Lions have been in existence for 20 years and have been recruiting and welcoming students of all abilities since its creation.


It plays across an LGBTQ+ league and also the Welsh Rugby Union cup tournament. 


Newcastle


Newcastle UK

The unofficial capital of the northeast of England, Newcastle is also considered an LGBTQ-friendly city, with one-sixth of its population of 300,000 being students during term time.


The primary hub for LGBTQ+ nightlife is centered around the city's 'Pink Triangle'.


And in fact, from 2011 to 2022, Nick Forbes, who is openly gay, was leader of the Newcastle City Council.


In 2020, Stonewall also declared Newcastle City Council as its LGBTQ+ employer of the year.


Newcastle University has a long history of striving to be inclusive, and it has a number of initiatives that includes electing a dedicated LGBTQ+ officer every year within the Student Union to serve as an advocate and leader.


Glasgow


Glasgow UK

Scotland’s largest city is considered Scotland’s most LGBTQ-friendly city.


Culturally and ethnically, it’s also the most diverse city in Scotland, and in 2021, Glasgow was named by Timeout as the friendliest city in the world.


It’s also worth highlighting that the University of Glasgow was also named on Stonewall’s list of the six best UK universities for LGBTQ+ students.


In a city known for its art and music scene, the Glasgay! Festival, held annually, highlights the city's dedication to celebrating LGBTQ+ arts and culture.


Summary: LGBTQ-friendly UK cities


While these cities are often celebrated for their LGBTQ+ friendliness, it's crucial for future international students considering studies in the UK to know that -- like most places -- progress is still ongoing, and there is still work to be done.


And although the 2021 UCAS and Stonewall report showed a larger bias towards attending universities in the North-West and Scotland, it's also not to say that the student experience in smaller UK cities would be unwelcoming, however.


UK university campuses tend to be more progressive and offer safe spaces, with resources dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ students, gender neutral restrooms and LGBTQ+ sports clubs and societies, which are open to anyone and are a great way to meet others.


Nevertheless, the vibrant LGBTQ+ communities in these seven UK cities demonstrate the positive impact of acceptance and celebration of diversity.


As the journey toward full inclusivity continues, these cities serve as inspiring examples for others to follow, fostering a society where everyone, including international LGBTQ+ students, can live authentically and proudly.


 

Interested in applying for college or grad school in the UK?


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G'day! My name is Sara, and I'm the founder of College Apps Abroad and a Certified Educational Planner (CEP), one of only 40 CEP's in California and 300 worldwide. I have more than 10 years of experience working in international recruitment and admissions, and I've studied and lived overseas myself in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Brazil for almost a decade. I've also worked for some of the world's top institutions, including The University of Edinburgh, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and The University of Western Australia (UWA)!

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