Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

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Pride Month Reflections: Proudly King’s

Paul Webb, Executive Chair of Proudly King’s offers his reflections on Pride month and looks at some of the work that has been happening at King’s College London


Proudly King's taking part in a pride parade with a decorated London bus.

Every Pride month, the problem of ‘Rainbow Washing’ rears its technicolour head. For those unfamiliar with the term, when companies appropriate the Pride flag during the month of June but do nothing of pragmatic value for their queer customers, that’s Rainbow Washing.

But it’s not just companies who offer nothing in return to the LGBTQ+ community who receive backlash. You might remember Marks and Spencer launching a Pride month sandwich in 2019 – the Lettuce, Guac, Bacon and Tomato. They declared the sandwich ‘packed with flavour’ and donated £10,000 to AKT (the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ homeless charity) but it still left a bad taste in people’s mouths.

So, what is it about Rainbow Washing that provokes angry community leaders and a month of social media outrage? Perhaps it’s about money. Yes, Marks and Spencer gave a healthy sum to AKT, but I’m sure they made a few quid for themselves by jazzing up a BLT and selling it for £4.45. But let’s be realistic. Companies are about profits, and the margins need to be worth it.

Maybe lack of creativity is to blame.

Since 2016, Skittles have ditched their signature rainbow colours for Pride Month, selling white sweets in white packaging because ‘only one rainbow matters [during] pride’.  Like M&S, they donate a portion of proceeds to deserving charities.

They might have made it impossible to find the purples and avoid the greens, but the public responded more favourably to a campaign promising to ‘give the rainbow’ rather than take it purely for commercial gain. Skittles went further than adding some arbitrary guacamole to a British lunchtime staple.

They build on their campaign year after year, and in 2021, they colourised black and white images of LGBTQ+ history for the first time, bringing attention to queer heroes without whom we wouldn’t be celebrating Pride in the first place. Surely that’s a worthy Pride campaign.

Then again, Mars Inc (owner of Skittles) must have profited, because the rainbow-less confection is back for the seventh year running, and it’s difficult to believe a multi-billion-pound company runs on altruism alone.

If I had to guess what makes a good Pride campaign, I’d say it’s about authenticity. I can’t define authenticity (which I appreciate isn’t very helpful) but I can tell you about some of the things Proudly King’s are doing to celebrate Pride Month 2022:

  • We’ve organised social and educational events. Both are important. We’re particularly excited about ‘Stories of Queer Poland’, a joint event with Warsaw University on Wednesday 22nd June at 5.30pm, online and in person.
  • We’re continuing our allyship campaign, encouraging colleagues to pledge to the LGBTQ+ community in order to receive a beautiful progress lanyard and wear with pride. So far, we have over 400 pledges. You’ll see some of them at the bottom of this blog.
  • We’re flying flags from Strand, Guy’s, Waterloo and Denmark Hill campuses. The buildings at Denmark Hill are illuminated with rainbow colours. There’s nothing wrong with visible celebration of Pride Month as long as that’s not the only thing you do.
  • Most importantly, we’re continuing our year-round work. We’re marching at London Trans+ Pride in July and attending UK Black Pride in August and Bi Pride in September. We’re continuously working with EDI and Senior Leaders to improve the LGBTQ+ experience at King’s. I’m sure you’re all aware (because we haven’t stopped banging on about it) that King’s was awarded a Stonewall Gold Award in February 2022 and Proudly King’s was a highly commended Staff Network. That’s a testament to our institution’s commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion.

There’s no rule book on ‘How To Do Pride Month’. To be honest, I’m not always sure what’s right and what’s wrong. But I do know that authenticity (however you define it) goes a long way.

This year, I emailed Estates and Facilities colleagues around King’s to ask about flying Pride flags. They responded almost immediately, with kindness and enthusiasm, to tell me they’d be up on the June 1st. They didn’t need reminding.

So yes, they’re just flags, but they symbolise King’s coming together to support and celebrate our LGBTQ+ colleagues.

That’s what Pride means to me.

Proudly King’s Allyship Campaign Pledges

Below are some pledges that members of the King’s community have shared with Proudly King’s as part of their allyship campaign.

As a white cis gay man, I’ve had a lot of things pretty easy, but even so I still think twice before holding my husband’s hand in public. I’m going to support + the LGBTQ community more visibly, promote equality and challenge prejudice in my work, volunteering and my personal life.
I will work towards incorporating more inclusive events and LGBTQ+ representation within the Refreshers and Welcome to King’s projects, expand our support and offer guidelines to services and faculty events.
I will engage in self-directed learning and active listening so that I can better understand the issues impacting the community.
I pledge to display the Proudly King’s banner as a symbol of my allyship for the LGBTQ+ community and to indicate my openness to having conversations with students and staff about issues they might find difficult to talk about. Being open about my allyship is an important step for me.
It starts at home. I champion this within my family hoping that changes in the way they speak and describe members of the LGBTQ+ community would lead to changes in interactions within their own social circles and so on.
I’m going to try and be more of a visible bi role model in my department and continue to support others in having challenging conversations. I also hope to introduce pronouns to more student activities for the projects I oversee.
I’m going to speak out against transphobic attitudes when raised by friends and family. I’m going to look at ways we can be more inclusive for young learners in our widening participation programmes.
I will stand up against negative, harmful and discriminatory comments and behaviour. I will continue to educate myself – and know this is my responsibility. I’ll model good behaviour but will own my mistakes and learn from them.
I will be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community by ensuring that all of our processes and policies within the Business School support equality, diversity and inclusion. I will try my best to encourage all of the diverse voices and views within the School to be heard, and to speak up when homophobic, transphobic or other intolerant views are expressed in my presence.
I pledge to proactively learn more about LGBTQ+, through books, films, tv shows, listening to podcasts, talking to those who identify as LGBTQ+ to better understand the existing barriers and challenges. I hope that this will not only allow me to be informed but will also enable me to learn how to become a better ally.

 

You can get involved by visiting the Proudly King’s website, and dont forget to follow them on Twitter & Instagram

 


Where you can seek support

For members of the King’s College London Community:

External support available to all: 

  • Galop is a charity that supports LGBTQ+ people who have experienced abuse.
  • Switchboard LGBT+ helpline offer free, confidential and impartial advice and support.
  • Stonewall are a leading LGBTQ+ charity.
  • Mermaids offer support to transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse young people and their families.

Want to Learn more about Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s College London?

International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Reflections

In our latest Diversity Digest Blog, Jake Orros (he/him) an Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Project Officer here at King’s College London reflects on IDAHOBIT DAY. That’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia which is marked across the world on the 17th May.  He explores why the day is needed in 2022 and signposts to how you can make a difference and also access support. 


Jake Orros standing on the 8th floor balcony of Bush House with Views of Westminster in the background as the sunsets.

Jake Orros, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Project Officer.

IDAHOBIT Day – that’s International day against homophobia, transphobia & biphobia is marked this week. Now observed annually across the globe on the 17th May since its inception in 2004. The 17th of May is significant because it was on this day in 1990 the World Health Organisation declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. This year’s theme is “Our Bodies, Our Lives, Our Rights”.

In 2022 some may ask ‘why IDAHOBIT is still needed?’  And the same question could be asked of pride events and other LGBTQ+ observances.

After all it has been 32 since years since the UN declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder. And from a UK perspective; sexual activity between men was decriminalised in 1967. The ban on LGBT people serving in the armed forces was first lifted in 2000 and remnants of legislation removed in 2016. In 2001 the age of consent was equalised. Section 28 was finally repealed in 2003. In England & Wales the first same-sex civil partnerships were entered into in December 2005 & marriage followed in March 2014, with Scotland & Northern Ireland following (although it took the latter until 2020 and with a nudge from central government in Westminster). Trans people have been able to change their gender since 2005. LGBT people can build their own families and adopt children. All these stops on the journey to finding true equality, belonging,  acceptance and inclusion should be celebrated, despite arriving with much delay at each of these!

In 2022 IDAHOBIT Day is still very much needed. Despite all the advances listed from a UK perspective – more needs to be done, both at home and abroad. The fight for true equality, acceptance and inclusion is still very much in progress, and now is not the time to ease off the accelerator in the battle against homophobia, transphobia & biphobia globally. Here are some examples:

From a UK perspective

Conversion Therapy – The Government has still not banned harmful conversion therapy, 4 years after promising to do so. There have been repeated delays and U-turns. In the recent Queen’s Speech the government proposed a bill to be passed this parliament to ban conversion therapy, however, the government has indicated this legislation will only protect LGB individuals and not members of the Trans community. This is deeply worrying, with many including the British Psychological Society expressing concern that not all members of the LGBT community will be protected by this new legislation. Any legal ban on conversion therapy must be inclusive of all forms of supposed ‘therapy’ and must be implemented without further delay.

Hate Crime – Instances of reports of hate crimes against members of the LGBTQ+ community have been on the steady rise, more on this can be found in this article. Additionally, the figures collated by the charity Stonewall make for a sobering read on their LGBTQ+ facts and figures webpages. A combination of factors are likely to be behind the increased reporting of instances of hate crime against LGBTQ+ people. 1) A real terms increase in instances where LGBTQ+ people are target; 2) the true extent of the problem is being revealed as more feel able to share their lived experience. What is clear is that LGBTQ+ people in Britain are still targeted because of their sexuality, gender identity or gender expression.

Global perspective

Legislation – approximately 69 countries still have legislation on the books that criminalise LGBTQ+ people. Let that sink in. By simply living as their true authentic selves’, individuals risk prosecution or worse. According to the Human Dignity Trust 11 jurisdictions currently impose or have the sentencing option to impose the death penalty on those engaging in consensual sex between same-sex individuals in private. And 15 jurisdictions criminalise transgender peoples expression/gender identity. Some may say that prosecutions of LGBTQ+ individuals in many of these jurisdictions are low/non-existent. This argument misses the point. This legislation stigmatises being LGBTQ+; it creates a hostile environment that legitimises homo/bi/transphobia. The impact & burden on the mental and physical health of LGBTQ+ people should not be underestimated.

In the shadows of historic legislation – In countries where legislation no longer remains criminalising members of the LGBTQ+ community, the laws that once stood can cast long shadows over the community. Anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment and fear may remain engrained in cultural norms and collective societal behaviours. It can take time for social acceptance of LGBTQ+ people to become the main narrative.

An example of this has recently come to light in the UK press in response to Her Majesty’s government’s proposal to send refugees landing on the UK’s shores to Rwanda. Many have questioned the Home Office’s proposals and the impact it would have on LGBTQ+ people. The Home Office acknowledges that there are indeed concerns. Stating in their own Equality impact assessment of the new partnership that ‘Homosexuality was de-criminalised [in Rwanda] in 2010. At this stage, investigations point to ill treatment being more than one off, but it does not appear to be systemic.’ Coupled with this the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office website issues the following guidance to LGBTQ+ travellers to Rwanda – ‘Homosexuality is not illegal in Rwanda but remains frowned on by many. LGBT individuals can experience discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities. There are no specific anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT individuals.’

What is clear in this instance is that it can be a mixed bag abroad. Lack of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation does not equal universal acceptance or safety. It should be noted that individual experience can differ for those living in a country and for those visiting temporarily for work or holidaying. There can also be regional variances and wider rural vs urban considerations to take into account. The takeaway here is that we can use IDAHO day to highlight both the archaic legislation that remains on the statute books across the globe; and the homo/bi/transphobic views held or perceived to be held by a significant minority that may persist long after decriminalisation.

Personal perspective

Homo/bi/transphobia does not always manifest itself in large overt attacks on an individual or community, often it is delivered via small actions that may be best described as microaggressions. These low intensity actions delivered over numerous occasions have an accumulative effect that can be equally hurtful, harmful, and damaging.

Earlier this year I visited a friend who lives outside of London. The weather had been beautiful, and we were heading out to grab some locally produced ice cream to wrap up what had been a brilliant day. At some point on our hunt for ice cream we started holding hands. Such an innocent act. In 2022 two men holding hands in public should not be revolutionary or an act of defiance. Everyone should be able to hold hands with the person of their choice and feel safe, feel confident and feel free.

As we approached a pub, an individual sitting outside made eye contact with myself and my friend, they turned to the person they were sat with and brought their attention to us. Both locked eyes on us and our connected hands as we approached. We continued walking. Then came an inaudible comment from the individuals sat down, clearly about us, about our connect hand, delivered in a tone that was certainly not welcoming. We did not let go but tightened our grip as we glanced at one another, decided to avoid confrontation, and walked on towards ice cream. I was stunned and angered by their small but overt act. Their microaggression.

Do people make comments about mixed-sex hand holding? Imagine holding hands with someone of the same sex and walking down the street and being met with multiple mini incidents like the one I recently experienced. Sure, you can shrug it of once, twice, three times – these microaggressions accumulate. It can be exhausting. It can be isolating. This is why we need to tackle all incidents of homo/bi/transphobia no matter how big or small. Regardless of size it is not acceptable.Power of Love IDAHOBIT Day Poster.

IDAHOBIT day acts as a rallying point to call for an end to abuse, stigma, and discrimination. The day also acts as an important opportunity to recognise and celebrate LGBTQ+ identities, individuals, and the wider community. Celebrating who we are is important; it grounds us, gives us renewed purpose & determination and reminds us why it is so important to continue to push for a world free of injustice, intolerance, and hate.

In the past month there have been several stories that should be amplified and celebrated;

  • Firstly, this week Jake Daniels has become the UK’s first openly gay male professional footballer to come out in 30 years whilst still playing. He follows hot on the heals of Australian player Josh Cavallo who publicly came out last October. Jake’s public action at the start of his career is courageous. There are already many out players in women’s football and there are countless other LGBTQ+ players who are not out publicly. I personally hope that we will reach a point where the idea of ‘coming out’ is not a news story and that people are simply accepted for being themselves. This said the fact that Jake feels confident and able to share his story and use his influence to enact positive change should be applauded. Now let’s focus on his sporting prowess and not his sexuality alone.

 

  • Secondly, the Netflix book adaptation of Alice Oseman’s ‘Heartstopper’ has recently hit the screens. The show has received phenomenal reviews for its wholesome portrayal of teens falling for each other. The show is hugely relatable. The show and comics were written about teenagers with teenagers in mind as the primary audience; the show has gone on to attract a much larger audience. Twitter has been full of LGBTQ+ people commenting that they wished they had a show like this, characters like this and a plot like this when they were younger. It is brilliant to see authentic & relatable LGBTQ+ stories for all audiences entering the mainstream.

 

  • Thirdly, the UK now has a dedicated LGBTQ+ museum called ‘Queer Britain’; it has just opened its doors to the public in its first physical home 4 years after the museum was founded, it is situated near King’s Cross. The museum sets out to document and celebrate LGBTQ+ histories & identities that have often been forgotten or not given the attention they deserve in the mainstream. The museum will act as a rallying point and showcase the diverse stories of the community.

What you can do to help

We all have a duty to stand up to hate. We all have a responsibility to counter homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. We can each take steps big and small to tackle hate & injustice and celebrate amazing LGBTQ+ individuals.

Here are some things you can do to make a difference:

  • Visit the IDAHOBIT Day website.
  • Donate to an LGBTQ+ charity tackling hate – we have listed some in the section below.
  • Write to your MP to support a trans inclusive ban on conversion therapy. You can do this really easily via a charity like Mermaids.
  • Volunteer with an LGBTQ+ charity or event or help fundraise for them.
  • Report hate crime via the independent charity Crimestoppers.

For members of the King’s College London community you can:

  • Visit our LGBTQ+ allyship toolkit.
  • Get involved with our LGBTQ+ staff network Proudly King’s.
  • Attend one of our upcoming training courses:
    • Request Trans Matters Training for your team.
    • Attend Microaggressions training.
    • Check out our Diversity Matters training, including the new e-course.

Where you can seek support

For members of the King’s College London Community:

External support available to all: 


Want to Learn more about Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s College London?

Celebrating Gold

King’s College London’s continued commitment to shaping an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ people at work was  recently recognised  with a Stonewall Workplace Equality Index Gold Award. King’s achieved 14th place in the Stonewall Top 100 Employer list which is compiled from the Workplace Equality Index, a benchmarking tool for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace. KCL ranked 2nd overall in the higher education sector. You can read the full story here.

To make this momentous occasion King’s College London’s LGBTQ+ staff network’ Proudly King’s & the university’s Equality, Diversity & Inclusion team held a celebration event to recognise & thank all those who contributed to our Workplace Equality Index submission. 

In This blog we will be sharing some of the speeches and pictures from the evening, including reflections from Sarah Guerra & Kirsty McLaren.

 


Content warning: transphobia, queer phobia, racism, sexism, assault, sexual assault and suicide. 

 

Stonewall gold celebration

Kirsty McLaren, Sarah Guerra & Paul Webb.

Welcoming thoughts – Kirsty McLaren – on behalf of Proudly King’s

Kirsty McLaren.

Words drawn from Kirsty’s welcoming speech delivered at the celebration event. 

Welcome everyone and thank you for joining us to celebrate the Stonewall Gold Award. The last time we handed in our Workplace Equality Index submission, we were handed back a position of 250-something out of 400 employers. There wasn’t any disappointment or pushback, just a real sense of opportunity, because King’s is full of changemakers.

They’re our student-facing staff who work to allow students to have their identities recognised on our systems and the IT staff who implement it. They’re our procurement team who scrutinise the LGBT inclusion of countries and companies in their tender process. They’re our HR staff who make recruitment and onboarding processes inclusive. They are the 500 staff members who’ve worn a rainbow lanyard and pledged their allyship to Proudly King’s. They are every member of staff who’s attended diversity training. They are the EDI officers who led on the Stonewall submission. They are us – Proudly King’s – who welcome everyone bring people together and campaign for change. And every member of King’s who’s made these walls a safe space for people when there wasn’t one at home.

The important thing about us is that we are relentless, and we are never complacent. Even if we hit top marks on every charter mark or index out there, all of us will still be working to make this place even better, and even safer. While this is a celebration of everything we’ve achieved together it should also be a frank reality check for what people are still experiencing. Trans people at King’s and across the world have been cast as the subject of debates without invitation

I remember coming back from a trip in Cornwall and stopping in a service station. On the back of the toilet stall I saw a poster in the back of the toilet saying, “men can dress up as women to assault you, is that what you want?” It was a protesting the gender recognition act. It didn’t make me angry at the people who put it there, just sorry for them and the system we live in that keeps people in boxes and thrives off the vulnerable members of society hating each other. Within King’s, other universities and everywhere imaginable, people have debated trans issues. Universities have pulled out of Stonewall over the debate. Britain’s human rights watchdog has pulled out of Stonewall over the debate. This is debate over where trans people should and should not have space.

But the debate isn’t about space, is it?

It’s about women feeling so afraid to be anywhere in public without sharing their location with loved ones or sending them a quick “I’m home!” message. It’s about being told when you’re little that you can always trust a police officer, and respect what they ask of you, only to find out he’s used his position to harm you. It’s about the 1 in 5 women, the 1 in 6 children, the 1 in 20 men and the 1 in 2 trans people who are sexually assaulted. You don’t have an issue with trans people. You have an issue with the perpetrators. If you haven’t guessed by the statistics, are not trans people. A cisgender man who pretends to be a woman to attack people is not a trans person. Trans people have become the scapegoat for an issue that nobody in power is willing to address. Just this month we saw 80 charities and organisations boycott the UK Government’s first LGBT conference after it changed its mind on banning conversion therapy meaning that trans conversion therapy will not be outlawed. We can’t accept that lesbian, bi and gay folks are more deserving to be safeguarded from self-hate and suicide but trans people are not.

Ever since the start of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, we’ve had conflict within ourselves which only benefits those who have more privilege. The Stonewall Riots which launched the modern movement were started by black trans women who were sick and tired of police brutality. A few years later, they stood on stage at the pride parade to be booed off stage by white, gay, cisgender men and women who ousted them from the very revolution that they had started.

Fast forward four decades to our second ever Pride Parade with Proudly King’s and we are stopped in the blistering sun for two hours because white lesbian groups protested against trans people being included within the LGBT movement. Meanwhile, those who started the movement, black trans women, today have a life expectancy of 35 and it is simply not good enough. We no longer march in Pride in London because they do not protect or empower the most vulnerable members of our community.

Two weeks ago, my fiancé and I went on an impromptu pub crawl around our area. While we were there, we met Luke who is a trans man. Luke was organising a meet-up for a new LGBTQ+ association in our local area. He was sitting on a table by the bar scrawling notes about how to get the word out to people without publicising the date or time. I asked him why he wouldn’t just put up the signs because surely the queers would flock. He told me that this the pub was the only place he had ever managed to get a job, because everywhere else in the area rejected him when they learned he was trans. He said that the last time he had advertised something publicly, the pub was attacked, and he was abused. But he also said that he was questioned about what was in his pants by another member of the LGBTQ+ community at the previous meetup. The pub was the only place he could be safe because he wasn’t safe at home. And even in his safe space, he was targeted as a trans man by the general public and by his own community.

The ultimate goal of those in power in the world is to pull us apart. We are fed ideas by media, politicians and those who profit from keeping us separate and in conflict with one another. Because while we’re doing that, they can continue to thrive in a world that favours cisgendered people, that favours men, that favours able-bodied people and that favours white people. Working intersectionally and empowering every part of a person’s identity is the only way we move forward. Because those in power are terrified of what that would do to the status quo.

We can all do better by Luke regardless of how golden our awards are. This evening I invite you all to celebrate all our achievements and to continue being changemakers.

In this room we have Josh Pullen, who campaigned against the Honorary Degree of the Sultan of Brunei when the death penalty was re-introduced for gay people. Proudly King’s won that battle because he amplified the voices of queer people in King’s and beyond, and – importantly – the university listened.

We also have Professor Evelyn Welch and Sarah Guerra. I’m not sure whether the UK manufactures the size of boot that these women have left for someone to fill. Evelyn has worked at the most senior level to develop a focus on culture, inclusion and diversity among her many other roles. But she has somehow made time to be the Senior Sponsor for:

  • Elevate – our gender equality network
  • NEST – our parents & carers network
  • And our Race Equality network

As well as volunteering and championing our work in Proudly King’s.

Sarah Guerra has spent the last 5 years at King’s leading a team who’ve decreased the gender pay gap, increased the number of female staff at senior level, gained an Athena Swan silver award, a Race Equality Charter Bronze award and a small thing called the Stonewall Gold Award where we ranked 14th in the UK and 2nd among universities.

I want to thank everyone in this room for being here and being a part of making King’s a better place. You’re the reason I’ve never been afraid to bring my whole self to work.

 


Reflections from Sarah Guerra, Director of Equality Diversity & Inclusion 

Sarah Guerra celebrated with pride and trans inclusive nails.

Words drawn from Sarah’s speech delivered at the celebration event. 

It is such an enormous pleasure and privilege to be asked to speak here tonight. I am, as we all know, nearing the end of my time at King’s. I can say these 5 years have genuinely been some of the best working and life experiences I’ve had.

This Stonewall success has meant so much to me. It is the result of strong partnerships and collaboration as well as determination and commitment by so many. Kirsty outlined many of the ways we have worked together collectively to achieve this success. Many across the King’s community have contributed to this success and importantly to the safety and inclusion of our LGBTQ+ colleagues. Everyone here should feel their chests puff with pride.

I want to particularly thank Nicole Robinson, Tyler John, Jordan, Alex Prestage, Evelyn Welch, Paul Webb, Ryan Benjamin, Kirsty McLaren, Chenee Psaros, Josh Pullen, Vanessa Farrier who all have played a role in really driving King’s LGBTQ+ inclusion journey – not forgetting the IOPPN leadership who started King’s relationship with Stonewall before I arrived. They all need special mention for the roles they have played in leading King’s to this success.

While celebrating we must remind ourselves why it is important that we ensure a focus on LGBTQ+ equality. March 31 was #TransDayOfVisibility, and that gives us an opportunity to celebrate trans and non-binary people, and to raise awareness of the discrimination faced by the community worldwide. It also provides an opportunity for trans and non-binary people to feel seen through positive and realistic representation – and for allies to learn more about how they can stand in solidarity.

As I reflected on what to say today, I felt I couldn’t say it better than Lady Phyll that is Phyllis Opoku-Gyimah. Someone I’ve had the privilege to know for maybe 20 years. She is a LinkedIn ChangeMaker, Executive Director of Kaleidoscope Trust, CoFounder of UK Black Pride, A Human Rights Activist, a Community Builder and Organiser and an LGBTQ+ icon.

Lady Phyll said;

“We all have a role to play. Along with sharing trans peoples’ stories far and wide, make sure to support campaigns and mutual aid networks, so that in future trans people can be more than simply visible – they can thrive.”

All over the world we are celebrating the beauty and courage of our trans siblings. While today is a day of celebration and revelation, I want to start the day by highlighting the still very real rise in oppression that trans people are facing that seems to run parallel to their visibility.

With more representation than ever before, the general population are able to learn about the nuanced complexities of the queer community from their phones, televisions and newspapers in new and more informed ways. This being said, it has also armed an extremely vocal minority within our society with the necessary tools to identify and target some of the most vulnerable in our community. Anti-trans sentiments and violence continue to rise all over the world, and the recent ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in the United States serves as a reminder that this in turn breeds a redaction of our rights as human beings.

Trans day of visibility is a day of celebration, a day to reach out to and appreciate the trans people in our lives in admiration and respect.

She ends with words that I fully subscribe to –

“I genuinely do believe in the power that positivity and light can have on our community, however I also think that it is vital that the cisgender members of the LGBTQ community take stock of the very real threats that trans people face on a daily basis.”

I wasn’t at the march in London this weekend – but Lady Phyll and all those who came out remind us it is time for our allyship to manifest itself in action.

In looking through another lens as to why LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace is life changing and can be life saving I was fortunate enough that my brother-in-law brought our family a set of books at Christmas. One of these was called A Dutiful Boy – a memoir of secrets, lies and family love. By Mohsin Zaidi. The Guardian, GQ and New Statesman named it best book of the year. Mohsin grew up in a devout Muslim household and was confronted with the biggest decision he would ever make – to live the life that was expected of him or to live his truth?

Let me tell you in his own words…

(Sarah read a passage of book pages 274-276).

And the final lens – my own – those that know me will know I myself have come to know, accept and share my queerness as a bi Cis woman whilst here at King’s. It is still something I feel a bit weird talking about as I have been happily partnered with someone of the opposite sex for a long while now. I found myself often asking am I queer imposter? Particularly when I, say, see the twitter content that questions people who are in ‘straight’ relationships saying they are queer. Am I appropriating space? Am I jumping on a bandwagon?

No! I have learned more about romantic and physical attraction and their relationship to my sexual orientation -I get to decide for me who I am attracted to or why – not societal norms. As I started to share this news about myself I was interested in the range of reactions I got. From my brother-in-law saying ‘congratulations and welcome’ to a previous work colleague – someone who I felt was very open, saying ‘am I reading correctly that you have made some self-discoveries?’ Yes, I’ve realised I’m bi/queer but no real change in the day to day. ‘Hope your discoveries are not making life too complicated’ – to which I answered, ‘Why would they? I’m the same person’.

This is why I am so grateful for the relationships, conversations and support here at King’s underpinned by our Stonewall membership and our brilliant Proudly network that have helped me come to terms with and understand my own confusion and repressed feelings and experiences. Helped me understand who I am and be happy with that.

Tonight, isn’t about me but my experiences are a big part of why Stonewall membership and support is so vital it provides space, advocacy and education to reduce fear and confusion for individuals and to help organisations understand how to be LGBTQ+ inclusive. Getting this Gold award tells us we are on the right track and to repeat Mohsin’s words – ‘I am unwilling to give up on the idea that things can change’..

I so look forward to seeing King’s leading the conversation after my departure.

Thank you.

 

If you would like to watch some amateur footage of the speeches delivered on the night please contact the team via email (diversity@kcl.ac.uk). 


Gaining a Stonewall Workplace Equality Index Gold Award is not a destination. but a small step in our journey to creating a more inclusive world. To get involved with our work and to find out more explore the links below; 

International Women’s Day – Get Involved

Sarah Guerra, Director of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s College London shares ways of getting involved in IWD 2022 and reflects on the underrepresentation of men in the EDI field. 


Once again it is International Women’s Day on the 8th March. I will miss this year’s festivities as I will be enjoying a much needed and long-awaited break in the US of A!

Portrait of Sarah Guerra

Sarah Guerra, Director of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s College London.

Their website tell us International Women’s Day is powered by the collective efforts of all. Collective action and shared ownership for driving gender parity is what makes International Women’s Day impactful.

They quote Gloria Steinem:

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.” – Gloria Steinem.

This year we are asked to imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.

At King’s we have a variety of activity happening. Elevate, in collaboration with the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team are hosting an online event on Tuesday 8th March 12:00-13:00 focusing on the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day – #BreakTheBias.

Add your visions of a more equal world to our International Women’s Day Padlet. Ideas from the King’s community will form the inspiration for a poem which will be recited at the event by recent King’s graduate and poet, Karen Ng.

We will also hear from Aleida Borges, Research Associate at the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, about the institute’s work, as well as her research on women’s grassroots leadership.

You can also unleash your creative side at an International Women’s Day themed Poetry Lunch & Do Session on Wednesday 2nd March, 14.00 – 15.30. Find out more information and register for attendance in person or online.

I have really enjoyed reading the Padlet and look forward to the poem. I also find my thoughts turn to address something that has been on my mind for many years. Something that President & Principal, Professor Shitij Kapur noticed when he arrived at King’s. In short

Where are the men?

On his arrival we organised several listening exercises for him to hear and learn about equality diversity and inclusion efforts and issues across the University.

One with the EDI team. A team that is diverse compared to many at King’s in terms of gender identity, sexual orientation, race and religion – but is also predominantly cis women.

One for those who hold EDI champion positions across the university i.e., chairs of EDI committees, Vice Deans etc. Again, a reasonably diverse set of people but again the vast majority women.

Finally, one with our staff network chairs – a slightly more gender balanced group but still predominantly female.

Why is this?

It is something I notice in so many EDI arenas.

I am a member of the REF equality, diversity and inclusion advisory panel – vast majority women. Similarly, our internal REF EDAP was all female. This is in stark contrast to the wider REF governance bodies internally.

In truth pretty much every EDI event I ever go to is vastly majority female and has a much greater representation of black, asian, minority ethnic, queer and disabled people than in my regular everyday workplace.

How do we change this?  If (and I paraphrase Gloria here) the story of the struggle for equality belongs to no single equality activist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights. If we want to get to that gender equal world, a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated.  How do we make the ’together’ part so we can forge women’s equality that includes all people – and particularly the group that is often missing and yet still holds most the world’s power – men?

I am not going to do a long spiel.  My International Women’s Day call/plea to action is to ask all who read this to give me some ideas and thoughts as to how to get men into the room when we talk EDI.

Embedding wellbeing in uncertain times

Joy Whyte is Strategic Director, Education & Students, and the professional services lead for student mental health and wellbeing. To coincide with University Mental Health Day (3rd March 2022) Joy explores how we can embed wellbeing in uncertain times.


At the start of this academic year, the Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Steering Group met in its newly configured form for the first time. I co-chair this group with Professor Juliet Foster, the academic lead for student mental health and wellbeing, with Wilna Gracias as the remarkably dynamic and knowledgeable Head of Student Mental Health & Wellbeing Strategy.  

Joy Whyte leans against a stone rail, set alongside the exterior of a stone building. She is a white woman with auburn hair tied in a low plait and wears a teal top and jacket.

Joy Whyte, Strategic Director, Education & Students.

We started the meeting of the newly constituted group with a round of introductions, asking participants to share a time they were well supported and to describe the impact of that support. Rounds such as this – common in community organising practice, as a means of connecting group members – normally take 10 minutes at most. Ours took 50 minutes. In at an atmosphere of trust and confidence in one another, and a willingness to be collectively and individually vulnerable, we all shared stories of times when we had been challenged, and described the ways in which we had each been supported.  

Except for my own, those experiences are not mine to share, but anyone who has lived through two years of a global pandemic will have plenty of stories of their own: of isolation, of bereavement, of the difficulty of balancing work and family life (writ large as schools closed across the country), of caring responsibilities – both immediately and distantly, of health concerns and illness, of financial worries, instability around housing, difficulty in getting out to buy essentials, to name but a few. And sometimes a great many of these factors, in combination, exhaustingly set within a context of the intense ambient anxiety caused by a global health crisis.  

We also know that these factors have been felt differently – that black people and people of the global majority have been at greater risk from Covid, that women have carried a disproportionate childcare burden (affecting time for research, work, and rest), and that living arrangements have impacted in varyingly problematic ways for those who live alone, in shared accommodation, with a violent partner, or as a single parent.  

“More people have experienced a mental health crisis during the coronavirus pandemic than ever previously recorded”. – Mind, 2020.

The Prime Minister may think that we’re in post-pandemic times. But, even if you think the global health risk has subsided (and I believe only vaccine equity will assure that), the reverberations of living through such destabilising and precarious times seems set to be with us for some time. In November 2020, Mind revealed that “more people have experienced a mental health crisis during the coronavirus pandemic than ever previously recorded”. Mind warned of the risk of a second, mental health pandemic, and called for urgent action to mitigate the impacts of this, including investing in mental health services in the community. 

In February, the Office for National Statistics reported that 16-29 year olds feel significantly more anxious than the general population. 42% reported high levels of anxiety in the first half of February compared with 34% on average. Many King’s staff will be in this age group, and many more are directly supporting students who are experiencing these feelings of anxiety. The Student Minds Planning for a Sustainable Future report observed that “the human relationship between staff and students is still the key factor in the student experience and in supporting student mental health and wellbeing. How staff are supported becomes an important consideration.” 

In the 2018-2020 Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Report and Strategic Plan, we set out a pyramid support model. There are undoubtedly students – and staff – who need support at the uppermost levels (university specialist support services, and external specialist support services). Indeed, Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor UWE and President of Universities UK (UUK) noted in a One King’s leadership session on 24 February that “the increasing demands being made on Mental Health and Wellbeing both within university, NHS and 3rd sector agencies is significant. Universities are being expected to support high risk mental illness as the pressures on the NHS increase. This is being worked on by UUK working across Government Departments to encourage a joined-up solution”.  

Yet the base levels of the pyramid are equally important, and as King’s moves into the next phase of our strategic plan, the steering group’s focus is on illuminating further the Education Strategy’s ambition to “support positive wellbeing as a fundamental ethos of the university” and to “support and enhance the mental and physical wellbeing of students and staff through all aspects of the university experience”.  

Going back to our October meeting, individual stories about challenges sat within the context of the support we had each received – a meeting with a colleague or line manager in which we felt heard; a note left on a desk or in a locker by a co-worker; someone asking ‘how are you?’ months after a difficult event, and meaning it; cups of tea made; diaries cleared for a conversation; understanding and compassion. These were often seemingly small actions – of kindness, concern, and support – and they were profoundly meaningful.  

“Local factors play a significant role in staff wellbeing. Having a supportive team and a good direct line manager has been shown to be important for good wellbeing…” – University Mental Health Charter.

These experiences reflect the findings of Student Minds, whose University Mental Health Charter (which King’s is  working towards) states “Local factors play a significant role in staff wellbeing. Having a supportive team and a good direct line manager has been shown to be important for good wellbeing, in both the literature and feedback from staff participants in the Charter consultation.”  

Importantly, though, Students Minds note: “However, this can be precarious if not supported by the general culture of the university. This suggests a need for a combination of a general healthy culture and specific structures and practice, which ensure managers can and do support good wellbeing within their teams and respond appropriately to staff experiencing poor mental health.” 

For my own part, I think that whilst our individual experiences can catalyse change, by illustrating what support can work well (and conversely where an absence of support has heightened difficulties), the Education Strategy’s ambitions can be genuinely transformative. In the words of the King’s Community Charter we partly demonstrate our collective commitments to making the world a better place by “creating a culture that promotes positive mental health and wellbeing, and supports a proactive and holistic approach, whilst recognising the needs of the individual”. As a steering group, we look forward to sharing with you more details of what this means in practice, as we prepare the King’s application to the University Mental Health Charter.  


For guidance on mental wellbeing, and details of a range of sources of support, including Togetherall, see staff mental wellbeing 

Organisational Development are currently conducting a review of the support available to staff, with the outcome of the review to be shared in early May. If you’d like to share your views on King’s support for staff wellbeing, Organisational Development invite you to send your thoughts to OD@kcl.ac.ukusing the subject line ‘Wellbeing Review’. 

#ItStopsHere: Consent Matters

Content warning: This blog explores themes of sexual violence.

Dhara Brahmbhatt, Interim Strategic Initiatives Project Coordinator at King’s, has recently completed the Consent Matters course offered to all students & staff at King’s College London. Dhara offers her reflections on the course and encourages others to complete the online module; to better inform yourself of your rights and to support others. 


Did you know that 70% of female and 26% of male students and graduates surveyed have experienced sexual violence? (The Student Room Report).  If you are reading this blog, you’ve probably experienced unwanted sexual behaviour, and almost certainly observed or heard of friends who have experienced this.

Sexual violence is unacceptable and the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) team at King’s College London is aiming to prepare students to be able to act in the moment when they see an unacceptable situation, and / or to recognise when their own behaviour crosses lines of acceptability.

When I joined the EDI team to help promote the Consent Matters course, my colleague Helena Mattingley (Head of EDI) encouraged me to enroll on the online training created by Epigeum so, I could encourage others to complete the course based on my own experience of Consent Matters. The interactive course is promoted to students and available to all staff for free. To learn more and to complete the training visit our Consent Matters webpages.

Prior to taking the course I believed that consent comes with common sense. I mean, how difficult can it really be to say ‘no’? Or to hear ‘no,’ and act accordingly? But it wasn’t until I started going through the course that I recollected personal experiences where I had been in similar situations and how uncomfortable I had felt at the time. After completing the course, I feel confident and have a better understanding on not only how I can be an active bystander but also what my legal rights are and what I should have expected from support services.

The Consent Matters course is extremely informative and educates individuals on why consent is important, when consent can and can’t be given, and the legal context in which we study, work and live. It provides a foundation for acceptable behaviour in relationships, and uses stories that spoke to me which helped convey the importance of respectful relationships.

Consent Matters debunks misconceptions and teaches us how we can overcome these misconceptions and apply consent in practice.

There are a few different ways of being an active bystander, including non-confrontational options, and all which offer support. Some examples are (which the course further expands on):

  • Offer support
  • Shift the focus away from the remark or situation
  • Step in after the event
  • Talk to others
  • Confront the person directly

Finally, the course has several useful signposts and pieces of information in the ‘resource bank’, here you can find a wealth of links for different support services. These links are extremely handy to have for yourself or your friends in case of unforeseen circumstances. After all, more than half of the readers of this blog will have experienced unacceptable sexual behaviour – and knowing where support is available is so valuable.

Sexual violence unfortunately isn’t uncommon; however, this does not make it acceptable. Consent matters is a course designed by Epigeum and promoted at King’s for students and staff to take to help equip them with the tools needed if these situations were to arise in their own lives or of their friends and families. It also educates these individuals on whether their own behaviour under these circumstances is acceptable. The course addresses key factors in details regarding acceptable behaviour in relationships, misconceptions, and different manners in which one can be an active bystander. The course also highlights key links and information in the ‘resource bank’ for various support services available.

 Therefore, as the saying goes ‘knowledge is wealth’ take the course today and better inform yourself on your rights and how you can support those in need.

KCL students & staff can complete the course now, by visiting our Consent Matters pages!

 

References:

Happy Black History Month

Helena Mattingley, Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s reflects on what makes the cut into history curricula and shares her ever growing reading list.


Each October we mark Black History Month to  celebrate  the achievements and contributions of Black people now and throughout history, and noting the deliberate neglect or active removal of Black people from history.

British History as taught in schools is highly edited, not only in terms of historic periods, but who within those periods has the spotlight. History is produced in re-creating – who and what is chosen, how it is presented, and the selective memory and even more selective re-telling.

History is created from the pieces left behind, cherry picked and woven into a narrative by curators which typically matches their world view. It’s taught as being History, rather than curated evidence of the past – by which I mean it’s presented as Truth with a capital T.

My perception of what I was taught as history was like looking through a microscope and being told I could see the whole of UK History. To have a real understanding, we need to recognise the prejudice and bias of the evidence, of the historians, and what makes it into public consciousness is not a true reflection. I want to add more microscopes and more perspectives until I can see a broader representation of the past to continue my self-education.

This is why Dr Liam Liburd’s work to design a King’s Colonial History module is so important. Through inclusive scholarship, a cohort of talented students have uncovered and pulled silenced histories into focus. New voices and perspectives are bringing an important dimension of our past to life, and challenging the simplistic default white narratives.

Self-education is a powerful took, which is why I’ve been building a reading list. What would you add to this?

  • Black and British, David Olusoga
  • Black London, Avril Nanton and Jody Burton
  • Black Tudors, Miranda Kaufmann
  • Staying Power, Peter Fryer
  • Empireland, Sathnan Sanghera

You can use the comments section below to share your own inclusive must reads lists

 

Stonewall – staff survey now open!

Nicole Robinson, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant & Jake Orros, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Project Officer at KCL share how to get involved with this year’s Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.


At King’s we are committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment where all members of our community can achieve their potential. This includes our lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer colleagues. To support our journey to being a truly inclusive employer we have worked with the charity Stonewall since 2016.

This year we are taking part in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index and we need your help!

As part of our submission to the Workplace Equality Index we want to hear from you. We are calling all staff at King’s College London to take part in Stonewall’s employee survey. The staff survey is your chance to tell us how we’re doing as your employer. It asks about your identities and about your experience working at King’s. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to have your say and honestly share how we are doing as an organization. Together we can create a more inclusive university.

Whether you’re LGBTQ+ or not, we want to hear from you!

You can take part in the survey here.

Stonewall is a charity  that stands for lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning and ace (LGBTQ+) rights everywhere. Over the last 30 years, they have helped create transformative change in the lives of LGBTQ+ people in the UK and around the world.  The charity has also been at the forefront of making workplaces inclusive for LGBTQ+ people for more than 15 years through the Stonewall Diversity Champion scheme.

King’s has proudly taken part in the Diversity Champion scheme since 2016; the programme empowers LGBTQ+ people and allies to step up as leaders, role models and activists in the workplace. As truly global institution the Champion scheme echoes King’s vision to develop and empower individuals to lead and make the world a more inclusive place.

Sarah Guerra, Director of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion:  “This independent Stonewall survey is a good opportunity for all our staff to feedback on our LGBTQ+ inclusion journey and success to date. King’s has come a long way since we became a Stonewall Diversity Champions in 2016. I myself have come out as Bi whilst working at King’s.

Since 2016, we have seen all of the Senior Management Team undertake structural inequality and Trans Matters training, updated our trans inclusion policies,  improved the provision of gender Free toilet facilities and we are currently creating an allyship toolkit to support all members of our community. I would encourage all staff at King’s to get involved and complete this years workplace survey.”

Organizations from across the UK take part in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index, each receiving a score as a measure of their actions to build an inclusive workplace. The Index is our chance to celebrate our achievements, understand where we need to make progress and benchmark ourselves nationally as an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace. This year we’ll be sharing with Stonewall our updated Trans inclusion and Dignity at King’s policies, as well as sharing our work on socially responsible procurement and Trans matters training delivered to senior leaders.

Our submission is divided into 2 parts:

  • Firstly, we are measured across 8 areas of employment policy and practice.
  • Secondly, all staff are invited to take part in the online survey run by Stonewall.

Both parts of our submission are independently reviewed by Stonewall who will announce the latest Workplace Equality Index early next year.

We want to say thank you for supporting our Stonewall journey and for participating in the survey. If you would like to know more or if you have any questions you can get in touch with the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion team via email at diversity@kcl.ac.uk

Take part in the survey here

Frequently asked questions:

  • The survey takes 5–10 minutes to complete.
  • The survey is open to all staff at King’s – not just members of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • The information you provide is anonymous and completely confidential. All of the information gathered by Stonewall is fed back to King’s in an aggregated way, without any personally identifiable information.
  • Survey closes on 5th November 2021.
  • 16th February 2021 top 100 and Gold, Silver & Bronze employer awards are announced.

Useful links & additional information:

Note: If you don’t work at King’s College London, why not reach our to your employer and find out if they are taking part in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index this year. The Survey is open for all organizations taking part until 5th November 2021.

It Starts With You – Mutual Mentoring and Data

EDI Consultant and Mutual Mentoring lead, Nicole Robinson, explains the link between data and King’s Mentoring Schemes, and how a better understanding of our our university can benefit all staff. 


Have you ever wondered what King’s does with your personal data? 

It is common to see information about data protection and storage, but you may wonder why we need this information from you in the first place. You may be reluctant to provide this information to your organisation. This may be especially true when we are asking you to provide personal details, such as your sexual orientation or trans history.  

One of the positive outcomes of providing your data however, no matter who you are, is that it helps us to develop evidence-based, targeted equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) interventions including our Mutual Mentoring and More than Mentoring schemes.  

In December 2020 King’s launched the first pilot wave of our Mutual Mentoring scheme. Mutual Mentoring aims to increase confidence across King’s in championing all areas of EDI by matching a senior leader with a volunteer who has knowledge or experience of a prioritised area of EDI. The senior leader, in turn, can offer guidance on leadership, career progression and development. The scheme is currently in the pilot stage, and there are hopes to scale it up in future. 

In the first wave of the pilot, EDI Project Officer Lauren Blackwood was matched with VP Education, Professor Nicola Phillips for six months. In reflecting on the partnership, Lauren said; 

‘We both felt safe and comfortable to talk quite frankly. I was very surprised about how authentic I felt I could be on a frequent basis. It was great to be signposted to academic materials related to my interests, and to understand why specific approaches were taken and the constraints that exist at different levels. I feel proud of my growth over the last two years, and I have gained so much from both the Mutual and More than Mentoring schemes. 

The More than Mentoring scheme is separate from the Mutual Mentoring scheme. For the last four years, the scheme has matched mentors and mentees with shared lived experience to foster deeper understanding and connection between members of the King’s community. Staff who have participated in the scheme have reported feeling more connected and supported, and many staff return to participate year-on-year, often moving from mentee to mentor. The scheme has grown each year, partly because of testimonies and encouragement from other staff. Staff like Nirmal Sampathkumar, a Post-Doctoral Researcher from IoPPN, who took part in the scheme this year. Nirmal shared his experience working with Lucy to colleagues as part of a collaborative webinar, and encouraged others to join the scheme; 

https://web.microsoftstream.com/video/af2c40dc-7d0e-4460-96af-6c7beac80c15 

We’re looking forward to opening the scheme again in the new academic year.  

To be able to run positive action initiatives, King’s must be able to evidence why they are needed, which is why King’s needs to be informed about your personal data. King’s mentoring schemes are a direct result of staff updating and providing their equal opportunities and diversity monitoring data. When these interventions are recognised by external accreditations such as the Race and Gender Equality charter marks, they also improve our ability to access funding for even more initiatives: it flows back into research, back into our staff experience, and to supporting our students.  

diagram showing the progression of how data is collected and used

How is your data collected and what is it used for?

And it starts with you.  

To submit your Equal Opportunity data today:  

  • Log into HR digital services 
  • Access My Profile (click your photo in the top left or right-hand corner of the screen)  
  • Click Equal Opportunities in the drop-down menu on the left and update the details in My Profile.  

All your personal data is anonymised will never be identifiable. Visit Equal Opportunity Data webpages to see how your data is used and protected.  

 

Ace and Agender – Turning Discomfort into Confidence

Ali Gibson (any/all pronouns) is the current Vice President Education (Health) at King’s College London, and a third-year medical student as of September. Ali’s blog talks about experiences growing up and the euphoria of finding a gender identity.


I was 16 when I first found and started using the label ‘Asexual’ to describe me, after at least two years of feeling different. Whilst my friends entered and experimented with sexual relationships, my teenage years came and went without sexual feelings and as you do, you put it down to something else; I was yet to hit puberty, or to meet the right person, when I would be magically fixed and all about the sex. It never materialised, and so I ended up internet searching ‘no sexual attraction’ and found Asexuality. Labels can be contentious but for me, finding that there was a group of people who didn’t experience sexual attractions or desires in varying forms was eye-opening. It didn’t cause a revelation of something I wasn’t already, instead it just made sense and came with a community who had all been (at least similar) boats. 

The one thing I neglected confronting as a teenager was my gender. It would be wrong to look back now and not think I have probably questioned my gender for about the same length of time as my sexuality. It’s hard to explain what it feels like as all our references come from within the binary society we live in, but I never felt like a ‘girl’, and I never felt like a ‘boy’. Nor did I really aspire to either perception I had of what that meant. As I grew up I was proud of the fact I didn’t own any make-up, skirts or dresses, things I considered feminine, and I spent most of my childhood scraping my knees on scooters, bikes and rollerblades. I was a ‘tomboy’, and proud. But that label fades and I went through puberty to find myself confronted with being a woman, with breasts and periods and a reproductive health condition to boot. I have long hated my tight curly hair, despite much adoration from others, shaving it off at 17 under the guise of raising money (which I did do, so not all selfish). I’ve had an unnecessary complex around being able to wear a baseball cap and not look like cartoon character Crystal Tips, which has bothered me for seemingly no reason. 

At the end of January just past, having bought a baseball cap on sale, I twisted my short but significant curls up onto the back of my head and (with great skill) put on the cap. I looked at myself in the mirror and for the first time in an immeasurable amount of time saw someone who looked like me, who looked like I want to. Full of emotion I laughed in surprise at myself and this person I saw in front of me. It followed weeks of wondering if I should change my label; I was four months into my time with KCLSU in a job where there’s a short time to get things done, nevermind having to reintroduce yourself. And I knew I wasn’t unhappy being a cisgender woman (someone born biologically a woman who also identifies as a woman) – but could I be happier and more comfortable as someone non-binary? 

Ali, KCLSU Vice-President Education (Health) and soon to be third-year medical student

I took time off at the beginning of March and came back using my new name, Ali – a name I used online which had been wholly accepted by the people I met there and felt like a name and a person I had created for myself. This was the new me, the me that university had bloomed, the me that felt I had a place. I am so thankful to all of my colleagues across KCLSU and King’s who have wholeheartedly accepted my name change, some astute colleagues even picking up on it before I formally let people know. If I had to stick a pin in it, I’d say my gender is ‘Agender’ – I have none, I just don’t feel it, and I’ll keep my hair short and wear t-shirts with television references and baseball caps as long as it feels good. Where in the past I was uncomfortable with someone drawing attention to my non-femininity (bullies would jeeringly ask me, a complete stranger, whether I was male or female, a common sentiment used by transphobic people), I now actively don’t mind what pronouns someone uses for me, and find it quite liberating when someone’s assumption differs from my biological sex.

It’s taken me five, maybe seven years to get here, but meeting people who are transgender, non-binary and gender diverse has shown me the alternative, and is one of those things I wish 14-year-old me had been exposed to. Because it’s only when we break out of the binary, and share with our young people the vibrancy and inclusivity the LGBTQ+ community has to offer, that we can turn discomfort into confidence. 

Ali Gibson (any/all pronouns) is the current Vice President Education (Health) at King’s College London, and a third-year medical student as of September. Ali’s blog talks about experiences growing up and the euphoria of finding a gender identity.

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