Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

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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 “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 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 had not been enforced since 2000 and fully lifted 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 Section 28 was finally repealed in 2003.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?

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.

#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:

Challenging Fatphobia

As the festive period begins, Jennifer Hastings, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Projects & Partnerships Manager at King’s College London, explores our relationship with food and fatphobia. 


At this time of year my social media feeds tend to be full of advice on how to handle food and diet culture during the holiday season. In a way this is progress; growing up I was more likely to come across magazine articles listing low fat Christmas pudding options than carefully worded support for those with a difficult relationship with food. On the other hand, it does beg the question of how diet culture has managed to permeate every aspect of our lives, even the parts dedicated to rest and relaxation.

I am obsessed with food. When people were searching for Black Friday deals, I was checking if my favourite bakery was doing any discounts. Whilst I like to revel in this source of joy (there isn’t a quicker dopamine boost than a freshly baked brownie) it, unfortunately, exists against a backdrop of capitalism and fatphobia.

We receive conflicting messages around food. Food is the centre of many scenarios and indulging is often encouraged. We show someone we care by cooking for them and we have second helpings to demonstrate our gratitude. We indulge in treats that reflect the change in season and theme celebrations around communal feasts. However, when a body begins to evidence an enjoyment of food, it is suddenly seen as flawed or a disappointment (both by the person inhabiting it and onlookers). In the book ‘Gone Girl’ there’s an infamous monologue where the main character laments the existence of the ‘cool girl’ and her requirement to display a carefree attitude to food whilst maintaining a thin physique. I’m sure this quandary isn’t limited to fiction.

A person’s weight may not be a protected characteristic but being fat (by society’s standards) certainly results in differential treatment, from spaces that only accommodate smaller bodies to life threatening medical discrimination. People can be horribly cruel to those they deem too heavy, often attempting to disguise their judgment as concern for their health. Interestingly the same people conveniently ignore the fact that fat shaming is more likely to result in weight gain than weight loss.

We also know that fatphobia intersects with other forms of oppression, such as racism and misogyny. BMI (body mass index) figures are relied on in many medical settings despite being a tool developed with only white, cis men in mind.

Access to an abundance of food is certainly its own form of privilege. However, even in the UK, the type and quality of food people can access varies greatly. If you’re juggling work and childcare on a minimal budget, a cheap takeaway may well be your best option. Jack Monroe has written extensively about the realities of food poverty (content warning for suicide), highlighting the factors that contribute to someone’s dietary choices.

It would be amiss not to reflect on the diet industry itself, which has the sole purpose of making a profit. Whatever euphemism we use (I believe ‘wellness’ and ‘lifestyle change’ are both currently in vogue), companies selling you weight loss products are not invested in their long-term outcomes. Not least because they want return customers.

My friend and I often say that it’s too late for us to dismantle our body image issues as we have already absorbed a series of patriarchal messages about how we should look. On an intellectual level we reject fatphobia however we have also (inadvertently) internalised it, using it as a lens through which to view our own bodies. This is why I am a fan of the body neutrality movement. There’s no quick fix to loving a body that diet companies and media outlets are intent on criticising, however we can shift our focus onto other things.

This approach does have limitations. A level of privilege is required, which makes body neutrality a luxury not extended to everyone. In her column Aubrey Gordon makes a distinction between how fat people feel about their bodies versus how they are treated by others. She says: ‘To be sure, self-love and body neutrality are powerful things. But they aren’t so powerful that they can divert or erase others’ harmful actions or make unjust systems more just.’ Sophie Hagen also talks about ‘Fat Liberation’ and the importance of targeting those that weaponize people’s bodies in the first place.

What does this mean for the festive season ahead of us? I am going to echo the advice I alluded to at the start of this blog- look after yourself. Where possible, fill your time with the things that bring you joy and, if you need to talk to someone, Beat (the eating disorder charity) has a daily helpline you can call. And if you feel able, challenge fatphobia when you witness it. In his book ‘The Promises of Giants’, Dr John Amaechi defines culture as ‘the worst behaviour that you tolerate’. Of course, we need a societal shift and systematic change but, in the meantime, we can at least stop tolerating behaviours that are complicit in the marginalisation of people’s bodies.

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.

‘hOmOsexual Armageddon’: Mark Tricklebank on being gay before and after decriminalisation

Mark Tricklebank is a Wellcome Trust Career Reentry Fellow in the Department of Neuroimaging Sciences. He is a committee member for Proudly King’s. For LGBTQ+ History Month, he writes about his experiences coming to terms with his sexuality before and after decriminalisation.


The greatest achievement for the LGBTQ+ movement has undoubtedly been the decriminalisation of sexual relations between consenting adults. As a young boy enrolled at a C of E school, trying to come to terms with same-sex attraction, the path to damnation was clear enough. The glint of golden hairs on the suntanned arm of a classmate that made me feel deliriously happy and incredibly curious about what the sun reflecting off his delicious legs would look like, were dangerous dreams that at this age would only introduce me to the word “pervert”. My headmaster committed suicide in his study for “interfering” with his pupils.  

The word homosexual was muttered with emphasis on the “O” in the BBC English of the time. My world was a world of spies and Germans. Philby and McClean were ‘hOmOsexuals’ who were intent on surrendering our country to the evil Russians. My aunty was a nurse in Winson Green Prison, and she had spoken with the spy Klaus Fuch who had warned her that Armageddon would soon be released on the West whose governments were full of traitors and upper-class hOmOsexuals. But what was a hOmOsexual? I had no idea until puberty was released on me. At ten I realised that my perceptual set was tuned to pick up the slightest hint of sexual interactions between men. The occasional television play that carelessly incorporated a hint of something not quite right in the interactions between male characters; an insistence for shirt cuffs to be folded absolutely properly; the Brylcreemed hair and perfectly chiselled features all provided an aura of things not being quite right.  

The idea that hOmOsexuals were perverts who hid their true nature and desires – like Soviet spies – was common sense. Handsome police officers were stationed on watch outside public toilets, ready to catch out returning commuters lingering at the stall for the briefest sight of a male member gloriously standing to attention. Avoiding the glances of Constable Dixon, ready to exert the full force of the law on anybody showing interest, these men scurried off home to wives, families and the safety of their typical British sanctuaries, content with their Philby-like performances. 

There was no need to label yourself a pervert when it was easy to obtain training to hide your deviant desires by simply reading the newspapers or watching the television. If the keeper of the Queen’s pictures could do it, why not Joe Bloggs on the 5.30 to Effingham Junction? That way, Winson Green’s promise of hOmOsexual Armageddon could remain safely out of sight, hidden by the chimneys still belching smoke. Until an episode of intense temptation would defeat even the most stalwart of spies, and the whispering would start: “I always thought there was something odd about the way he dressed,” or, “he always needed to visit the gents before getting on/off the train”. Deceit and denial were the order of the day until the door closed and relief could be obtained in private behind the locked door. The scrawled messages on the walls and doors of what others could provide serving as pornographic stimulation to ensure relief was rapidly achieved.  

Yes, things have changed so much for the better. Now, we can just say, “so what I’m gay, just get over it.” But even today some cannot. It might be incredibly easy to hide your true desires from family, friends and employers, but at what cost? Those adverse childhood experiences will return to impede our achievements of happiness and contentment in the form of midlife depression, anxiety and stress-related illness. And what about those coming from environments where Colonial-era laws are still rigorously applied? What about the refugee children imprisoned, separate from any role models or positive adult interactions to offer advice and support. Those adverse childhood experiences will come back to limit and harm all of society with a vengeance.  

We Will Ride: Making Transport Accessible

This week, we share a blog from Savitri Hensman, Patient and Public Involvement Coordinator for Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) South London, based at IoPPN, which details a look back at the Campaign for Accessible Transport protests in London in the 90s. Thanks to Ruth Bashall for images.


‘We will ride’: making transport accessible

Getting to King’s College London, and around our city, is easier for many disabled people than it would have been a few decades ago. Public transport is far from fully accessible, especially the underground. The pandemic has added to problems. Yet much has changed, thanks largely to direct action by disabled campaigners.

Thirty years ago, buses were generally impossible to use if one was unable to climb on board and were without written and audio announcements of stops. Even the limited access to the tube which now exists was not in place. Though members of the public, many disabled people could not get around on what was meant to be public transport. Calls for change were largely disregarded. But in 1990, the issue became hard to ignore, as protests brought traffic in parts of central London to a halt!

Wheelchair users waiting to board buses as part of the protests to make London more accessible

The Campaign for Accessible Transport (CAT) protested in high profile locations such as Oxford Street, for instance halting a bus as a wheelchair-user symbolically tried to get on. They explained to impatient passengers that, while their journeys were delayed, some people had been waiting for years to get to their destinations.

Activities were carefully organised, with plenty of photo opportunities for the media. Some protestors chained themselves to buses. A number of people were arrested; being willing to take this risk often involved a fair deal of courage, especially since police tended to have no training in how to move disabled people safely and getting into police stations and courts often meant being carried up flights of steps.

I was young and non-disabled back in those days. But friends who were involved in organising the events roped me in to be present as one of the legal observers. I was not part of the protests but was one of those who observed, kept note of who got arrested and police behaviour and, in general, helped to protect the rights of protestors. I had no legal training but I did have experience at anti-racist demonstrations, which offered useful opportunities to practice staying calm amidst often violent chaos. So on perhaps a couple of occasions, I showed up, looked on and kept jotting, on the sidelines of the action.

Image of protestors

Wheelchair users waiting to board buses as part of the protests to make London more accessible

Singing was often a feature, including a song by an American activist, ‘We will ride’, which was adapted to the UK context.

These protests contributed to a broader shift in how disabled people were viewed in Britain, as those previously seen as helpless took bold action (though there is still a long way to go in tackling negative and disempowering images). In other ways too, disability rights activists – some of whom involved in diverse social movements for justice – were changing attitudes and practices.

Change did not happen immediately. But after CAT came DAN (Direct Action Network), with some overlap in membership. Newsworthy events happened in London and elsewhere, drawing attention to injustice in transport and other areas of life.

In 1995 a Disability Discrimination Act was passed, though tackling lack of access in transport through the law was a slow process. However some transport authorities were improving access; it was clear that disabled potential users were not willing to let the issue be forgotten. From 2000, the new Mayor of London introduced what was, for a while, probably the largest accessible low floor bus fleet in the world. Changes were also introduced in the underground and overground train network, though a new leadership did not keep up the momentum. Nevertheless the improvements had major effects on people’s ability to study, work or volunteer and be part of the community.

Making change happen often involves much lobbying and negotiation. But sometimes direct action may be needed, as happened so memorably all those years ago.

Map of the London Underground showing step-free and wheelchair accessible stations

The Significance of Sponsorship

This blog is part of a series from Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, where she will be addressing the ‘whole picture’ of EDI, why it is important, and how we go about making effective, systemic change.


Senior level sponsorship, sometimes called ‘championing,’ is a critical step in ensuring sustainable change when working toward EDI goals; without this support organisations would not be able to sustain changes made in their behaviour.

A wide range of research  plus my personal experience tells me that is the number one indicator of the success of any equality, diversity, and inclusion activity in an organisation. The phrase can make some feel uncomfortable, with concerns of patronage or nepotism, but the reality is far from that. Executive sponsorship simply recognises that what those in charge of an organisation care about and put their energy into, gets done! This is because those across the organisation also then see the work as important, and that they will be rewarded or better regarded if they too care about it.

Executive Sponsors have several duties in demonstrating active support. They are people appropriately placed in an organisation, who have significant influence on decision-making processes or structures. They can advocate for, protect, and positively drive EDI activity, and act as inclusive role models for the organisation.

Executive (sometimes called Programme Sponsors) provide visibility and access to decision-making environments and reduce the risk that individuals from underrepresented groups face. Sponsors can provide challenging conversations to support new and progressive activity. A key part of their role is to demonstrate their belief in the potential of the programme outcomes and help build that belief in others and so act as ‘the face of change’ for the organisation. They will utilise their voice to champion the activity in question challenge bias, as well as shield those in less powerful or more vulnerable positions from harm or undue criticism. A Sponsor’s role is to demonstrate the case for change, and to always champion building a positive culture.

Sponsors can help ensure that the equality, diversity and inclusion activity relate to the organisation’s overall aims. They can help by helping others see the connection between the EDI goals and the organisation’s wider goals. They can use their personal skills, positions of influence and power to overcome resistance from others or to help unblock tricky areas. Sometimes it is a question of resources and sometimes it is a question of organisational culture or attitude.

At King’s we have a whole variety of sponsors and champions. Some of particular note have been: Prof.  Ed Byrne in his overall sponsorship of EDI;  Prof. ‘Funmi Olonsakin and Prof. Evelyn Welch, who have both taken positions of leadership for REC and Athena Swan;  Prof. Reza Razavi, who has really pushed to improve the work culture in our research areas. Recently, Prof. Richard Trembath has become the sponsor for our programme of work around disability inclusion. The work of all these as Sponsors has included: chairing working groups; advocating very powerfully across King’s to get things moving; working quietly behind the scenes to lend their expertise and knowledge; providing mentorship, coaching and importantly access to themselves as a means of opening doors for others. They and many others have demonstrated a willingness to speak out on issues and educate others. They consciously sponsor employees from different backgrounds and challenge their peers to do the same.

Programme sponsors at King’s, who sponsor a range of programmes, including race equality and disability inclusion

The heart of executive sponsorship is realising and taking the many opportunities you have to highlight issues - be it at team meetings, executive meetings or during one-to-one discussions - to help ensure actions are in place, to raise awareness, to support diverse progression, and to mentor and coach others.

Programmes for inclusion work well when they are driven by senior leaders and shaped by their people. A successful cross-cultural sponsor relies on mutual understanding on matters related to race, culture, and inclusion. Therefore, they need to be visible, and willing to have sometimes challenging conversations about race with honesty, understanding and courage. We are helping build our SMT’s capability to be great sponsors and champions with our Mutual Mentoring programme sponsored by SVP Operations Steve Large. I am planning a separate blog on mentoring and reverse mentoring, so look out for that.

On the flip side, it is important to remember that equality, diversity, and inclusion is incredibly people-focused, and can raise a lot of sensitivities. A Sponsor’s presence at programmes and events will not only attract more employees, but it also speaks volumes about the importance of the issue on the organisation’s agenda. However, they must be people who others trust and feel comfortable with otherwise their presence and sponsorship may not have the positive impacts that are needed.

I would like to thank all our Sponsors at King’s. They exist right across the gamut of King’s. I would like to urge all of those in a senior leadership position to consider – what are you seen as sponsoring? If you cannot answer that question, then let’s have a chat as I have a long list of ways in which you can help advance EDI at King’s!

 

The Demand for Difference

This blog is part of a series from Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, where she will be addressing the ‘whole picture’ of EDI, why it is important, and how we go about making effective, systemic change.


Yesterday, I had the pleasure of opening our Network summit in partnership with Radius, and earlier in the week, the privilege of attending the launch of our new Mutual Mentoring scheme. In doing so, I was able to reflect on how essential building empathy and understanding are, and the role which staff networks play in EDI success. Celebrating diversity and difference and building community is a critical component of our EDI strategy here at King’s. It is one of the reasons we have made a conscious and proactive effort to develop and support staff networks, partner with KCLSU, broaden our development approach to  More than Mentoring, and ensure that we continue to support network development and wellbeing via events like the Radius summit.

Celebrating difference is about recognising that each employee or student is unique and valuing that individual difference. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond tolerance, to fully embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions that a truly diverse community can bring. Celebrating cultural events across the year, whether it be Pride, Black History Month, Trans Awareness Week, or Disability History Month, which we are currently celebrating, helps to unite and educate, and allows us to better understand each other’s perspectives.

King’s College London’s Proudly King’s Network at London Pride

Through understanding a range of diverse backgrounds and experiences, we can all gain a sense of pride for the diversity of our culture. Celebrating and understanding varied backgrounds is crucial to personal and community growth.

There are so many benefits of celebrating differences and enabling people to be their true selves at work. For example, doing this helps us and our organisations overcome stereotypes.

‘A stereotype is an over-generalized belief about a particular category of people. It is an expectation that people might have about every person of a particular group’

Stereotyping, whether it be conscious or unconscious, is too commonplace. It has a negative impact on the way people see and behave with others who they perceive (consciously or unconsciously) as different. Stereotyping encourages us to make assumptions about others, which can be incorrect and hurtful, as well as hindering collaboration and teamwork. When an organisation celebrates differences, it encourages the dissolution of preconceived notions, breaks down stereotypes and helps us to see people for who they are.

Celebrating difference and counteracting stereotypes discourages racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism, to name but a few key things we must combat. These are often borne out of fear and ignorance. In the workplace, it could be a subtle joke or simply leaving someone out; either way it is not something we want to persist. With increased awareness and appreciation of different cultures and races comes increased respect for other people and their differences. Prejudice and stereotypes are removed through education and celebration and their removal is a necessity to discourage the ignorance that supports these ‘isms’.

People tend to surround themselves with people ‘like them’, as it is familiar and safe. Therefore, it is important to actively build cultural awareness of difference. Encouraging working with different cultures and backgrounds not only helps to educate others and build appreciation of other cultures and their histories, but it can also prevent ‘groupthink’.

Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when a group of individuals reaches a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the consequences or alternatives. Groupthink is based on a common desire not to upset the balance of a group of people.

It is proven that having a more diverse set of people in the room prevents groupthink, leading to innovation, which ultimately leads to better decision-making. Increasing openness to difference helps create new ways of working, improves current processes and gives people the ability to make changes in the way they work, for the better. Once again, I recommend my AKC lecture to consider this in more detail.

Groupthink can encourage harmful or detrimental ways of thinking

In seeking ‘unity’ we must, at the same time, remember and celebrate individual uniqueness.  Without this we will not be enabling people to be themselves. We will instead risk forcing them to assimilate to ‘a norm’. Embracing and celebrating difference brings a greater breadth of ideas and solutions and builds a culture where everyone feels valued and appreciated. Developing this inclusive culture requires more sophisticated and capable managers, as increased diversity increases the perspectives and ideas that need to be reconciled and rationalised. One of the ways we are helping build this is via Cultural Competency, a set of behaviours which takes this thinking and embeds it into the curriculum and professional development for all students and staff.

I developed my own confidence and capability by learning about myself and my differences, and consequently, was able to move from feeling othered to feeling empowered and confident. This is why I believe that this celebration of difference and building of community is one of the most crucial requirements of being successful, and why I have embedded it within King’s overall EDI  .

Jessie Krish on Black Lives Matter & Race within the Arts and HE

Jessie Krish, who recently joined Equality Diversity & Inclusion as a part-time Project Assistant, and works outside of King’s as an independent curator, shares her reflections on the Black Lives Matters protests of the summer and how they inform work in the Cultural Industries and Higher Education sector. She recently co-edited a ‘Reader’ for e-flux journal on Loot and Looting.


After Minneapolis Police officers killed George Floyd, protests grew, and cities around the United States saw their buildings boarded with sheets of plywood: a defense against the threat of looting. With workers who usually inhabit these buildings absent due to Covid-19 lockdowns, the boards were there to protect commodities. Donald Trump’s command “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” was a violent call to protect property, even at the expense of human life.

Whilst it is crucial to maintain the distinction between political protest and particular instances of looting that occurred in the recent wave of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, it was looting in particular that escalated the protests, polarised public and political opinion, and contributed to the explosive impact of the BLM movement. Some viewed these acts of theft and vandalism as symbolic rejections of structures perpetuating state violence, systemic racism, and capitalist exploitation. But mainstream coverage in the United States’ media tied looting to people of color, and failed to connect these actions with the histories of systematic dispossession that Black Lives Matters activists protested, or the racialised extraction that subtends economic activity almost everywhere.

In the midst of the protests, American Artist presented an intervention at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s online collection, in which all digital images of the museum’s artworks were temporarily replaced with a plywood texture. The title of this project, Looted, pointed directly to the imperial legacies and colonialist practices of many Western museums, as well as activist and artistic institutional critiques in which the uncomfortable figure of museum “loot”, stolen from indigenous peoples and foreign nations and yet to be repatriated, is often central.

A screenshot of Looted on the Whitney’s website

Presenting Looted as an act of ‘redaction and refusal,’ the Whitney sought solidarity with activists, and to reframe the narrative around the boarding up of the museum’s building during this period. American Artist’s Looted highlights the extreme contradictions that cultural institutions must hold (for example, guarding looted national property, whilst developing convincing and inclusive postcolonial narratives) when they engage with decolonial work. Work which requires structural, material and cultural change.

The boarded museum and its website populated with squares of rendered plywood, is a visual reminder of the close proximity of current state violence to the museum’s stolen imperial acquisitions. Whilst they can feel worlds apart, the street, museum, and university are at close quarters, and activities in each domain stand to impact cultures, structures, and material outcomes across the board.

I’m writing following the recent publication of Universities UK’s report Tackling Racial Harassment in Higher Education (November 2020). Following the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s publication of evidence of widespread racial harassment on university campuses just over a year ago, this report calls on university leaders to acknowledge that UK higher education perpetuates institutional racism. It cites ‘racial harassment, a lack of diversity among senior leaders, the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student attainment gap and ethnicity pay gaps among staff as evidence’. Recognising that racial harassment is just one dimension of structural racism in the Higher Education sector, it acknowledges the depth of this problem and the breadth of work required, making detailed and evidence-based recommendations beyond the scope of the guidance, including the need to diversify predominantly Eurocentric and white university curricula.

Reflecting on a year in which the BLM movement has exploded and been met with the force of the state, racial discrimination has risen, and racial health inequalities have been exposed as a matter of life or death with grossly uneven outcomes for coronavirus patients of different ethnicities, I am heartened to see UK Universities addressing harassment so thoroughly. I share their positivity for the impact that the HE sector could have, with the potential to shape the minds and attitudes of 429,000 staff, and 2.3 million students, a generation whom, particularly in London, will be unprecedented in their diversity. Time to get to work!

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