Diversity Digest

Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

Language Matters: no ‘special’ education, thanks.

To kick off our UK Disability History Month celebrations, Erk Gunce, MA Student and member of King’s staff has kindly offered to write a guest post for us which reflects on the Dialogues on Disability conference and the importance of language when it comes to talking about the experience of being disabled. 

We re also hosting a very special Language and Disability Workshop on the 3rd of December as part of our UK Disability History Month events which will also launch of King’s new Disability Peer Mentoring Fund, an exciting initiative to help students get involved in inclusive practices at King’s.


To all allies, hello!

I have just returned from Dialogues on Disability. The week-long disability awareness program took place in Humboldt University, Berlin.  Every year, the Disability Support team at King’s sends students to different countries to increase their disability awareness. This year, at Humboldt University, we spent hours discussing the barriers imposed on disabled people and ways of removing them.

As a linguist, I am intrigued by language. The words we use… are they biased?  In Berlin, I led a workshop on Language and Disability. With students from all over the world, we analysed the language used to talk about disabled people. We weren’t happy with what we found.

The words we use to talk about disabilities have a lot of subtle biases. Think about the word ‘special education’. By calling someone special, we alienate them. Wouldn’t it be better to normalise disability, instead of alienating it?

There is much debate around terminology. Some people call themselves ‘disabled person’, others prefer ‘person with a disability’. Emphasizing the word ‘person’ highlights that one is a person, before anything else. Emphasizing the word ‘disabled’ highlights that disabled people are objects of a disablement – it is society who disable them, by not creating an accessible society.

The Guardian has a style guide. Columnists are told to avoid certain words, like ‘wheelchair-bound’. The word ‘wheelchair-bound’ suggests that someone is forced to use a wheelchair, that the wheelchair is a burden, an obligation. Isn’t it ironic to call a wheelchair a burden? A wheelchair is a liberator: it is what enables wheelchair users to contribute to society.

Did you see the British Government’s guide on inclusive language use ? They argue that we should say ‘non-disabled’, instead of ‘able-bodied’. Arguably, the word ‘able-bodied’ neglects mental health disabilities. How, then, can our language be fully inclusive? Think about the word ‘disorder’. Does it imply sickness? Why say that someone has a ‘learning disorder’, instead of a ‘learning difference’? Need I mention ‘delicate’, ‘spastic’, ‘handicapped’?

What I find unbelievable is that language bias is universal. Disability in French is invalidité. In Italian, it’s invalidità. In Slovenian, it’s invalidnosti. Can you see the trend? And it doesn’t end there. Connotations can change from one culture to another. Saying ‘hearing impaired’ can be offensive in America, but in the UK, it’s considered neutral.

So, how do we talk about disability? And which words are inclusive? My advice is to think. Reflect on the words you use and their subtle meanings. My second advice is to ask. Every disabled person will use different words to describe their condition. Ask what words they use to describe themselves. Better to ask than assume.

Need more on language and oppression? Check out things not to say . For more debates on disability, stay tuned for Disability Awareness Month in November. If you want to participate, get in touch!

Have you heard the one about two parents, two teenagers, a preschooler and a toddler?

To launch the Parents & Carers Network at King’s, Sarah Guerra has republished an article she wrote with her husband, Jon, eight years ago on the logistical roller coaster of co-parenting and career management:


SARAH: I work three days a week: the other two I have off – lunching, drinking coffee, doing my nails! Ha!

Yesterday, awoke at 6:30 to the sounds of pouring rain and raging wind. Threw on clothes, dashed around in the peace and quiet before the children got up – first load into the washing machine. Assemble lunches for the two older (step-)children (Martha, 15, and Flora, 13) – set them out so they practically trip over them and ‘cant’forget them. Got Kaela, 4, ready for nursery. Suggest Jon (partner) drop M & F off as the weather is so horrid.

Then get youngest, Lyra (18 months) up and breakfasted whilst whizzing up some soup and a chicken pie. Oh, what’s the time? 9am – rang the garage to check when a replacement car is arriving – ours needs repairing. Eventually, I discover it will be after 2pm. Then I luxuriate in my ten minutes of peace before Lyra and I are off swimming. It is now a beautiful spring day. Post swimming, shovel lunch into Lyra and race to collect Kaela at 1pm. Now (of course) it’s pouring – so decision to wear sandals and no coat is regretted!

Get home, pop Lyra into bed. Have given up filling this time with wholesome activities – so settle Kaela at TV while I sort the laundry and reload with the third and (please?) final lot! Swallow some soup while supervising the making of daddy’s birthday card.

2:30pm: off to speech therapy (a helpful mum arrives with her two children to watch Lyra). Kaela loves these sessions and though it’s of real benefit, it is yet one more thing to factor into the already mad schedule. As luck would have news of the replacement car’s availability arrives in the middle of the session. To leave Kaela, I have to scribble a written consent and dash back Starsky and Hutch style to swap cars. I retrieve Kaela and return home – it’s our turn to host ‘tea group’, which began as four or five stunned mothers and newborns and is now the utter mayhem of five mothers and nine assorted children ranging from one to four and a half.

I get tea on the table for all the children at 4.45pm – and have to say am very pleased when my chicken pie is wolfed down by everyone, apart, of course, from Kaela – who (as children do) has developed a bug in minutes and is shortly asleep! So, I despatch all the invaders and dash around tidying with my shadow Lyra. Have definite pangs of guilt over my conflicted emotions – if Kaela is ill, my week will be spoilt. I’m supposed to be at the Women’s TUC for two and a half days, which I have been really looking forward to, and that rests on Kaela going to nursery; if she’s unwell she can’t go. This spirals into a panic about what byzantine arrangements might be needed and weighing up how evil it would be of me to go when she is ill?

Martha and Flora arrive home – starving. In goes another chicken pie, meanwhile Kaela wakes, eats some toast and an unfeasible amount of jelly. I’m relieved, our schedule will not be disrupted.

Get two ‘babies’ in bed by 7.30, organise other’s homework, lunches, school trip forms etc, gobble chicken pie with my husband, then do the supermarket shop online, make some desperate attempts to manage our finances – shifting money from one place to another – but we are really in a deckchairs-on-the-Titanic situation. Unload that last load of washing. Then, in the vain hope of switching off, settle down on the sofa! But no, my mother (our unpaid childminder for tomorrow) decides now is the time to estate plan. It really brings home how effective the anti-IHT lobby is: my mum is so worried, and seems little reassured by my ‘you’re not rich enough to worry about it’ line.

Finally, at 9.30, I slump on the sofa and force Jon to watch Delia use various forms of frozen potato to conjure up “good meals”.

JON: I’m part-time too – four days a week. I spend the other day reading the paper and going to the pub… What? Oh all right then, not really: I do the same sort of thing as Sarah  – but in a manly way (that means I do less of it).

Typically, up at 6.30ish, unload the dishwasher. Then I wash all the dishes (must get a new dishwasher). Kaela is up around 7.00, demanding to watch some highly educational TV?

Martha and Flora come down 7.20ish – head off to school, might even take coats if the snow is more than a foot deep.

Under Kaela’s strict guidance, I select and bring down clothes, facilitating dressing whilst glued to the screen – pause viewing (aren’t hard discs wonderful?), and force her upstairs to clean teeth. Get Lyra up and dressed to take Kaela to nursery. If things go well (manageable nappy change; no last-minute, 20-minute session on the loo – for Kaela, not me), I can drop Kaela off by 8.00 and be back for breakfast shortly.

Then I consult ‘The List’. The importance of this document in the harmony of our household cannot be overstated. It tells me jobs that I ought to know need doing and the events of the day that I ought to remember. Needless to say, this is written by Sarah, who after years of waiting for the fog to lift from my mind about knowing what’s going on in the house, knows life is easier if she spells it out to me. So, I’ll then maybe empty the washing machine before spending some time with Lyra. It’s possible that Sky Sports might be on while we play – what can I do? It’s Lyra’s favourite!

Then I might take Lyra to music and/or push her through a couple of shops (she’s in a pushchair – it’s not abuse). Home for lunch, which she generally wolfs down although a full body bib is required. Then up to nursery and back to get Lyra in bed.

Kaela watches more telly or does some drawing or a puzzle while I do more from the list, including making tea because time gets compressed later in the afternoon. Then I join Kaela, trying to bring some order to her play. When I’ve completed my Lego hospital with fully-functioning operating theatre I realise she went to do something else a while ago and it’s time to get Lyra up and head to Kaela’s swimming lesson.

Pre-swimming they go in the playzone – cages with padded bars, slides and lots of plastic balls. Lyra loves it but is a bit small, so I end up having to squeeze through gaps too tight for a man of my dignity to rescue her at the bottom of the slide; at which point she goes back round and ends up stuck at the bottom again. If I’m quick getting out between each round I can sit down for as much as 30 seconds at a time. Martha and Flora arrive to do something healthy – swimming or gym – although I suspect that, just as school seems to be a place to chat with their friends, swimming is chatting in water and gym is chatting on treadmill. On to Kaela’s lesson. Lyra objects violently as I strap her into the pushchair to help Kaela into her costume. Getting a swimming cap on over long hair is a skill I’ve picked up recently!

Kaela has become firmly opposed to going in the boy’s changing rooms, so to avoid arguments I let Martha and Flora get her showered. Between 5:30 and 6:15, we go home for tea. As Sarah has ensured I’m very organised, tea is ready and two, three, four, five or six of us sit down to eat, depending on who’s home. Time for Lyra’s bath – Sarah might get home and the pace considerably increase – we get them into bed and sort the debris of the day, and the older girls’ and maybe have a chat. But I’ve opened a bottle of beer by now, so everything’s good. It’s back to work the next day. I can’t wait!

National Hate Crime Awareness Week

To mark National Hate Crime Awareness Week, Safrina Ahmed (It Stops Here Project Officer) will be discussing the It Stops Here campaign and its widening focus on religious hate crime.


It Stops Here

It Stops Here is a collaborative campaign by King’s College London and KCLSU to build an environment where our King’s community feels welcome, supported and safe regardless of their gender, sexuality, race or disability. Specifically, it aims to tackle bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct so that all members of our vibrant community can thrive.

The campaign has now run for three years, and it has achieved some important things including but not limited to; training students in Active Bystander Intervention, running an online KEATS module called ‘Consent Matters’ and organising Consent Week with the support of student ambassadors.

Expansion

The It Stops Here campaign is now expanding and widening its focus to address religious hate crime, which is currently a sector wide priority and we want to make sure King’s is at the forefront of leading this crucial work.

What is Hate Crime?

According to the Home Office, hate crime is

Any crime that is motivated by hostility on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity can be classed as a hate crime

Hate crime is any criminal offence is perceived by the victim to be motivated by prejudice. Forms of hate crime have overall risen in England and Wales and religious hate crime made up 7% of hate crime in 2016-2017.  Higher Education has not been immune to this.

The Community Security Trust’s Anti-Semitic Incidents Report 2015 showed that of the 924 anti-Semitic incidents that were recorded, 21 involved students, academics or other student bodies. 13 of these incidents took place on HE campuses.

Tell   is a national project which records and measures anti-Muslim incidents in the United Kingdom.  In 2015, they received 1,128 reports of anti-Muslim incidents in 2015. Of the 468 ‘offline’ attacks, 6% of female victims and 14% of all male victims were at an educational institution when the incident occurred.

Whilst this data is not wholly reliable, it indicates the need for institutions to tackle religious hate crime so that it was better recorded, and all our students and staff are able to study and work free from any form of religious intolerance.

Intersectionality

Many students also experience religious hate crime at the intersection of their identities. Evidence submitted to the UUK’s taskforce shown that some women were targeted for sexual harassment across a number of their characteristics – such as their ethnicity, race, and faith.

Research from the National Union of Students found that one in three of their respondents were fairly or very worried about experiencing verbal abuse, physical attacks, vandalism or property damage due to their religion at their place of study. This was a gendered experience; women who wear Islamic garments were significantly more likely to be very worried about being abused.

Our Next Steps

Evidence from both within and out of the sector has highlighted the importance of Higher Education institutions  responding to religious hate crime. It is for this reason that the Office for Students pledged to tackle the problem and given eleven universities, including King’s, £480,000 worth of funding to tackle religious hate crime.

Over the next two years, we will be exploring different ways to ensure we protect our community against religious hate crime and harassment such as community-specific active bystander workshops, an interfaith student fund and improved anonymous disclosure platforms.

Mentoring Matters

I’ve been reflecting on the elements that have fed into my feeling successful in my career and frankly in my life.

In my vast experience (I am approaching a birthday and feeling the weight of my years) one of the things that has made the biggest difference to my personal growth and career progression have been great mentors. ‘Mentor’ is a word that is bandied about and often misunderstood. So, as we build on the success of King’s previous Diversity Mentoring Scheme and launch the ‘More than Mentoring scheme’ this month I want to share what it has meant to me and how I have found it beneficial.

I have had many mentors, but those who have had the most impact are namely: Michelle Wyer, Caroline Waters and Jonathan Slater. These are individuals who have had illustrious careers: Michelle was a female president of a male-dominated union, Caroline, amongst other things, is the deputy chair of the ECHR and Jonathan, who I met while at the Ministry of Defence, is now the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education.

Whilst the three of them were very different in life experience and personality, they had in common a high level of self-awareness, a sense of being comfortable in their own skin, a strong professional skill in their respective areas and great knowledge of their organisational contexts.

More importantly for me, as a mentee, they were empathetic listeners who put themselves in my shoes without dismissing or patronising me. They put thought and effort into seeing the connections and gaps that were in my blind spots. They challenged, supported or nudged me into thinking about situations differently. They helped me work out what was important to me, what my options were, as well as my pitfalls – including those I was creating for myself. Importantly they supported and encouraged me to move from conversation to action. At different times they each personally taught me or helped me seek input to develop new skills.

They provided a wide angle, zoom and telescopic lens, sometimes on me – why did I believe I couldn’t do it or that the world wouldn’t accept me? It wasn’t without challenge or emotion – at any given point I would feel like I couldn’t do it, or as if I they were prodding me to be someone I am not. Or like I just wanted them to help me – to make something go away, or let me hide under my duvet or whatever.

Mentoring isn’t just one way. These relationships worked because we had real rapport – mutual interest and respect.  Here I’ve focused on being the ‘mentee’ but I know from has also mentoring others I could equally have about how rewarding and developmental I found mentoring can be as well.

So, I am proud that we are launching More than Mentoring as the value and benefits of mentoring are well proven and I am a living example. The scheme will also provide the opportunity to network and develop a community through training, workshops and events.  Here at King’s those who identify as disabled, women, BME or LGBTQ+   are underrepresented at senior level and this is one form of positive action that we are taking to help address this. If you are interested in becoming a mentor or mentee, sign up here.

Respect, Report, Support

As It Stops Here gears up for 2018/19, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant and Project Lead, Nicole Robinson has written a blog on the importance of having an anonymous reporting mechanism as an option for reporting harassment, hate crime or sexual misconduct. 


It Stops Here is a collaborative campaign by King’s College London and KCLSU to build an environment where all our students, staff and community members feel welcome, supported and safe regardless of who they are.

 

The official report from the  Universities UK Taskforce examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students recommended a centralised reporting system, allowing for anonymity if preferred.

Over the last few years, anonymous reporting has been introduced by several universities nationally, including the University of ManchesterUniversity of Cambridge, and Goldsmiths University of London.

Anonymous reporting is recommended in recognition of widespread international and national underreporting of sexual violence, harassment and hate crime. The Ministry of Justice, Home Office and Office for National statistics estimated in a 2013 report that only 15% of sexual violence cases are reported to the police. (Ministry of Justice, 2013) In 2014, a report from the National Union of Students reported high rates of sexual violence in universities; figures which are not often reflected in institutions formal reporting data. (NUS, 2014)

As part of the It Stops Here project, the Diversity & Inclusion Team created and implemented an online anonymous form which provides individuals the opportunity to share their experience confidentially, without having to speak to someone directly, relive their experience, or go through a formal process.

At King’s, we have chosen to ensure that the form is completely confidential. This means that we ask closed questions and do not collect detailed information such as names, dates and times. This also means that we can’t follow up on or resolve these specific incidents of harassment.

Whilst we cannot respond directly, the form aims to allow King’s to identify trends in types of incidents, and reasons for not using formal reporting methods, to help us see if, and how, initiatives are affecting the levels of harassment in the long term and to help measure the effectiveness of It Stops Here.

For some, simply having a way to let us know something has happened, and that there is a problem, is enough. For others, it may be important to take it further. In both cases, it is likely beneficial to get further emotional support. With anonymous reporting, staff and students at King’s have multiple options when deciding how to respond to incidents, in a way that is right for them.

For more information about reporting options, available internal and external support services and the It Stops Here campaign visit our website.

If you have any questions, you can get in touch with us on diversity@kcl.ac.uk

Milestones

So it’s been a pretty epic month.

There’s been a huge milestone in my life, in my family’s and in my daughter’s. Lyra our youngest child, our ‘baby’ finished primary school! Starting there at the age of 3, she’s barely missed a day of in nine years is now leaving that stability and familiarity behind. I personally changed primary school 3 times and have often felt that didn’t enable me to establish really strong roots or relationships.

  

This milestone, whilst common, has been precious and emotional. It requires me as a parent to recognise that it is a period of change and that I need to support my child through it – something that takes time and energy alongside a busy working life. As a parent I spend a lot of time willing my children’s lives forward as each step of growing up and gaining more independence makes the parental work-life juggle just a little easier (usually!).

But with each step forward, each milestone naturally comes more change. Franciscan School has been part of my life for about ten years. Both as a parent and a governor, I have built relationships – and friendships – with staff and parents. This change, losing that everyday connection that her primary school gave me, left me an emotional, blubbering wreck, barely able to speak as I collected Lyra for the very last time.

This milestone leads me to reflect on being a working parent – the joy and richness it brings but also the energy, rigour and planning it takes. I’ve been a parent since I was 28. Firstly, as an on-and-off-again ‘step’ parent, then giving birth to my own children in my 30’s. In those 20 years I’ve taken the lead responsibility of scheduling our lives around drop offs, pickups and the amazing scheduling jigsaw that life of a school age child is. And as soon as you have all the pieces in place, you hit another milestone – another life stage or activity, changes to  childcare or illness that throws out all the pieces of your carefully pieced together puzzle.

It should then come as no surprise that I am an advocate of supporting new parents take time to celebrate and cherish those milestones. At King’s we have the Parents’ & Carers’ Leave Fund, which is designed financially support academic and research staff take time out to experience these precious moments and then get back on their career path.

It really does take a village to raise a child and I am forever grateful for my hodgepodge network of grandparents, older sisters, extended family, friends and childcare – Lyra goes on to a new phase and that is super exciting. I know it doesn’t actually get easier but I am going to take a short time to both mourn what is gone and celebrate the next milestone to come.

 

Not today, thanks!

I have recently been asked to be the safeguarding lead for vulnerable staff. I am still figuring out what that means, how to undertake the role and how it overlaps with diversity and inclusion, particularly around staff mental health.

We all know that there is a real stigma in this area and that there is a huge individual and employer cost of absenteeism and sick leave. Mental ill health can have a large impact on how able we are do our jobs, affecting motivation, performance and relationships at work.  Research shows that a high proportion of employees (approx.40 %) would not tell their boss the truth about why they were calling in sick if they were ill with stress, anxiety or depression. What’s more, studies show that one in four employees – including bosses – say that they have personally experienced mental ill health.

One of the difficulties with mental ill health is that it can be very easy to overlook. Signs and symptoms can vary from person to person, so it can be hard to identify those that need support. I recently did some really thought provoking Mental Health First Aid training, which raised my levels of knowledge and ability to address certain issues.

By focusing on preventive measures such as fostering a positive workplace culture with good awareness and understanding of mental ill health and support systems for employees who are struggling, we can challenge stigma and shame around mental health. We need to be open and honest about mental health and encourage and support individuals to share their experiences, at team meetings or in one-to-ones.  Where those in senior positions are open about their own experiences this sends a clear message that mental health is important and an integral part of everyone’s wellbeing.

I’ve always wondered if those around or above me ever experience those days, that I do, from time to time, when I just can’t face getting dressed or entering the world. On these days I need solitude!  I don’t consider myself to have particular mental health issues, but I do understand that different things make me feel better or worse mentally.

I am very lucky. I have had roles that enable me to organise my own time and location and have put into place a practice of generally working from home one day a week. Initially, this was part of being a working parent but on reflection the way it enables me to balance workload and personal interaction also supports me in managing my mental health, particularly when I am feeling low or fragile.

All of this means I am a great advocate of us equipping line managers to be aware of mental health issues and know how to spot the signs in their people. Managers must be given suitable support, such as specialist training, to give them the confidence to initiate and carry out appropriate conversations with affected employees. I know myself it is nerve wracking to raise things, for fear of saying the wrong thing and potentially making things worse. Educating managers on how to help support their employees and letting them know what assistance is available provides confidence and improves effectiveness.

In looking at the intersections with safeguarding and compliance with the Equality Act, I know we can’t remove all work pressures but we should be able to work with affected employees to develop coping strategies to help to reduce stress – for example, through a change in working hours or a change of job role. As a part of our duty of care to protect employee health and safety as well as our duty to provide reasonable adjustments we need to be able to identify and address potential work related triggers for stress or mental health problems.

There is no one size fits all approach to managing mental health at work but institutionally we should ensure we are including it as part of our wider sickness absence management policy. And, if you notice your colleagues are calling in sick or regularly working remotely I’d encourage you to take the time to ask them how they really are – it could make a difference.

Following the leader.

I spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing the ‘solutions’ to the various diversity and inclusivity challenges we face as employers and educators. Regardless of who I’m talking to or what I’m reading, the one thing that remains consistent in these discussion is that we need great leaders to create and sustain environments that people want to work in. The kind of work environment that gets you out of bed in the morning.

For me, this means having sense of purpose and feeling as though I’m adding real value – doing real good to ‘change the world’ to make it a fairer place. Working somewhere that has that purpose and with people who share my values is important. That’s what  gets me out of bed with a spring in my step.

What also keeps me going is working with leaders that I respect, and given that Diversity & Inclusion will be working closely with some senior leaders in the coming weeks. We will be briefing College Council, the governing body of King’s, on our work in race equality and disability inclusion, and engaging the Senior Management Team in Structural Inequality Training.

This level of commitment form those in such senior positions is heartening and leads me to reflect on what it takes to make a leader that I respect? What characteristics, skills and abilities make for good leadership in the book of Guerra?

  • Self-awareness is the cornerstone of good leadership for me. We emulate the behaviour of those we look up to. Leaders set the tone and standards of behaviour and are also role models rather than negative influences. Lessons in empathy and understanding yourself as well as your impact is one of the essential steps anyone can take in developing their leadership style.
  • Dealing with uncertainty whilst creating a vision – this leads people to understand how they influence and persuade others and so enable them to consistently perform well. Part of a leader’s job is to create an environment that enables and inspires people to use their energy and ability create personal, team and organisational success. That means leaders need to deal with uncertainty, find a path for themselves through complexity and a labyrinth of conflicting priorities.  To do that they have to have a clear view of a future state they are aiming for and galvanise their own enthusiasm and commitment to achieve success.
  • Involve others – good leaders recognise they don’t know everything and know they need to work with others and ask for support , listen to answers, join the dots and giving credit generously. Leading is about fostering relationships to achieve mutual goals, which can only work when both parties are honest and transparent.  That involves taking responsibility for communicating and being open with those they work with.  Communication is a two-way street. It’s so important to get to ‘know your people well’ – paying attention and taking the time to listen and learn from those they are leading.
  • Inspire and persuade – Those who lead should inspire and persuade through their interactions, rather than relying on status. The create genuine engagement and commitment in others rather than blind acceptance.
  • Be honest – No one can get things right all the time and good leaders are no exception. Recognising when things go wrong and taking responsibility, being open and showing you have learnt from them is a key leadership behaviour.

IDAHOTB… not just a rainbow piece of cake.

The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia was established in 2004 to draw the attention of policymakers, opinion leaders, social movements, the public and the media to the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTIQ communities across the globe. In under a decade, May 17 has established itself as an important date for LGBTIQ communities on a worldwide scale. It is easy to feel that with things in the UK have progressed so much over recent years that we are living in a nirvana of rainbow equality.

Sexual orientation is protected under the Equality Act – so it is illegal to discriminate in terms of employment, education and any provision of services. We have marriage equality in the UK, but it didn’t come easily. In 2004, the Civil Partnership Act was passed granting same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities of marriage however, many within the Government remained adamant that they were not equal to the concept of marriage. It wasn’t until 2013 when the Marriage Act passed to allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

However, the UK context is not universal. IDAHOTB on May 17 is now celebrated in more than 130 countries, including 37 where same-sex acts are still illegal. Centuries of stigma and social exclusion don’t just disappear because the law changes. Let’s remember, that the date of May 17th was specifically chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

It was my wedding anniversary last week (16 years!). One of my reflections was how that same year my brothers in-law also celebrated their partnership and commitment. Given the law at the time, they couldn’t enjoy the same social acceptance or legal rights as they couldn’t legally ‘marry’. Also significant parts of their family didn’t recognise or attend the event, casting a shadow on what should have been a joyous experience for them.

       

My other reflection on the progression of LGBT+ rights and equality is how it feels for young LGBTIQ people? I could let myself believe that the law changing and the apparent liberalness of society would make it easy to be a teenager discovering your sexual orientation in 2018. But then I look at the reality. In my experience, as a parent and as a school governor of a large London academy, I see high levels of homophobic bullying as well as very mixed appetite and capability in teachers to address it.  In observing my daughters and their friends, sexual orientation is more openly discussed and understood than it was ‘in my day’, but it hasn’t been my experience that many teenagers are openly identifying as LGBTIQ! And of course, there is still definitely a tendency by friends and families to automatically assume heterosexual relationships.

So until there are worldwide freedoms around sexual orientation, translated into an equality of rights and a shift in culture, thinking and behaviour, it remains important to mark and celebrate IDAHOTB with pride and a little rainbow icing on top.

Lessons in Allyship

In anticipation of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, we’ve invited Kathryn Richards from King’s Wellbeing and the LGBT+ Staff Network to pen a guest blog for us. 


With International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia on the horizon, you may have heard about the Great IDAHOBIT Bake-off on the 17th of May.  As I moved to sign up in solidarity, I took a moment to check myself and realised two things; this was the first time I’d heard of IDAHOBIT and, whilst the concept seemed pretty self-explanatory, I had no real understanding of its history and importance.  I could bake a pretty (or not so pretty) rainbow cake, but what purpose would that serve on its own?

Fast forward an hour and, with thanks to the powers of the internet, I had a better and more nuanced grasp, including the significance of May 17th to commemorate the WHO’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness, and the relevance of anti LGBTQ+ violence charity Galop as the beneficiary of the bake-off’s funds.  It was a small step to take, but one that paved the way to more meaningful engagement with this key date in the LGBTQ+ calendar.

It’s moments like this that remind me that allyship to any group is a continual process and a journey of purposeful, informed actions, rather than a fixed, self-proclaimed status.  There are many lessons along the way, with five in particular standing out from my own journey so far.

The Value of Listening

It’s good to talk, but it’s most important to listen.  Whilst calling out inappropriate behaviour and language is crucial, it’s important to be able to identify and challenge more than just the most egregious examples of discrimination and that knowledge comes primarily from listening to the lived experiences of those around us and in the public eye.

Feedback is Your Friend

My personal journey has, on more than one occasion, involved screwing up, albeit unintentionally, and being called out on it.  It can be uncomfortable to be vulnerable and take accountability for personal blind spots, but surely better than blithely repeating mistakes that serve to marginalise, whilst professing to be supportive all the while!

Broadening Understanding

Listening and being open to constructive criticism are both instructive, but it shouldn’t fall to those we know personally to ‘school’ us; there many pro-active ways to become informed.  LGBTQ media, organisations such as Stonewall and Galop, combined with queer film and literature all help build a picture of the community’s diversity, with intersectionality being a key theme.  Whilst I can never walk in another person’s shoes, appreciating the multifaceted nature of both identity and discrimination enables deeper engagement and empathy.

Taking Action

Most empowering for me has been learning how to be an active bystander.  I used to equate challenging inappropriate language and behaviour with ugly confrontation, but this doesn’t have to be the case and will probably cause more damage than good.  There are some excellent resources available to help practise bystander intervention without putting anyone at risk.  A good place to start is the Hollaback! website, designed originally for situations of sexual harassment, but with universal principles that can be applied to any type of bystander situation.

Stepping Away from the Spotlight

Ironic, I know, given that I’m putting myself out there with this blog post! However, there’s a fine line between meaningful contributions at the appropriate time and monopolising conversations that should be led by members of the community.

In the end, though, it isn’t my place to self-define as an ally; that title can only be conferred by members of the communities one seeks to support, based on merit and trust.  So, my pledge today is to approach IDAHOBIT 2019 better informed, engaged in more meaningful action, with another year’s worth of listening and lesson-learning under my belt.

« Older posts

© 2018 Diversity Digest

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑