Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

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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.

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.

Love and Rage – but right now, mostly rage

Lauren Blackwood, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Project Officer at KCL reflects on this years UK Black Pride theme of ‘love and rage’. 


Content Warnings: black death, trans death, ableism, racism, and queerphobia.  

It is somewhat bittersweet that I have a platform to write about my rage. It is not often that black people get to do this and be heard, comforted, or accepted by our audience (Ashley 2014; American Psychological Association 2020). Even whilst writing this, I must perform a level of palatability on this platform – juggling respectability politics, tone policing, colonial ideals of professionalism, providing citations for my literal lived experiences so that I’m seen as credible, and my own authenticity – it’s peak. It’s also peak that we – my community, my ancestors, and I – even have to feel this rage and to have carried it over generations for over 400 years. We do not need anyone to validate our outrage, and we don’t need anyone to justify it. I would much rather just exist in a world where we’re loved, and feel love, and I’d get to just write about love. But honestly, that remains an out of reach utopia, even in big-big 2021.  

This year and a half has been a perfect opportunity for non-black people to hear black people, see black life, suffering, and rage. In addition to this, we’ve seen the love that black people continue to extend to one another for the sake of love, survival, and community. To be clear, it is not that these opportunities were not available to non-black people before; it just became a lot harder to avoid engaging with these walks of life. To make it even more shit, what they have witnessed is only a tiny snippet of our lived experiences. Even this opportunity given to non-black people was at the expense of the ongoing detriment of black peoples, and a result of our global suffering and consequent rage.  

We’ve had to watch non-black, and non-queer, people find out for the first time that black people disproportionately account for 14% of UK missing persons – but makeup only 3% of the population (White 2021), “Black and migrant trans women of colour [being] more vulnerable and frequently targeted” (Trans Respect 2020) and “People of colour mak[ing] up 79% of the 28 trans people murdered in the USA” (Trans Respect 2020) in 2020, that the school to prison pipeline exists and has historically targeted black children and youth in Britain (Graham 2016), that there’s a lack of public health services tailored to meet black people’s needs (Mind 2019; La Roche et al 2015). None of this is new news to those that it effects, but it’s so incredibly enraging that change so heavily relies on white people, and cishet people, catching up with what we already know and have been protesting about for generations. And just as a note, we’re hardly even close to having proportionate data on black queer lives to be centrally collected and easily accessible in the UK.  

But in the face-off all of this historical and contemporary violence, failure, and exclusion from our institutions, queer black people still manage to love and support one another; Lady Phil has given queer black people, Black Pride – a space to exist authentically and unapologetically; Melz Owusu has founded a first of it’s kind University, the Free Black University, alongside completing their PhD giving black people the freedom to regain control and access to our own education and epistemologies; Azekel Axelle founded the Black Trans Foundation supporting black trans and gender non-conforming people access healthcare through fundraising and establishing a network of Queer, Trans, and Intersex, People of Colour (QTIPOC) healthcare experts; Eshe Kiama Zuri initiated the Mutual Aid Fund supporting marginalised people, at the intersections of oppression, across the UK. Even when thinking about all of this love and community response I’m perpetually enraged that it even needs to be done. Imagine if we didn’t have to pour ourselves and all of our energy into meeting our basic needs as queer black people – imagine if that kind of love existed beyond our community. Bruh, rage!!! 

Donate to queer black people and organisations this month and every month, whether that be time, requested resources, or money; continuously invest your energy into self-educating about queer black lives, experiences, and history – I promise that you will not run out of valuable things to be learnt; listen to queer black people and act on what you hear – I’m tired of repeating the same requests for meeting basic needs and liberation.  

Happy Black Pride, I guess. Pop up if you want my PayPal (for professional and legal reasons this is a joke).  


American Psychological Association. (2020, July 2). Prospective teachers misperceive Black children as angry [Press release]. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2020/07/racialized-anger-bias 

Ashley W. The angry black woman: the impact of pejorative stereotypes on psychotherapy with black women. Soc Work Public Health. 2014;29(1):27-34. doi: 10.1080/19371918.2011.619449. PMID: 24188294. 

Graham, K. (2016). The British School-to-Prison Pipeline. Blackness in Britain. 

Mind (2019) https://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/legal-news/legal-newsletter-june-2019/discrimination-in-mental-health-services/ 

White (2021) Accessed at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/black-people-missing-b1827530.html 

La Roche, M. J., Fuentes, M. A., & Hinton, D. (2015). A cultural examination of the DSM-5: Research and clinical implications for cultural minorities. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 46(3), 183–189. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0039278 

Trans Respect (2020) Accessed at: https://transrespect.org/en/tmm-update-tdor-2020/ 

 

‘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.  

Baldwin, The Velvet Rage and Philadelphia: a Pride Month Trifecta 

EDI Director, Sarah Guerra, pens a blog about her reading of some important pieces of LGBTQ+ literature and cinema. 


My recent book group book was Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, and by coincidence, my next book was The Velvet Rage: Overcoming The Pain of Growing up Gay in a Straight Man’s World. By even further coincidence (as we, in lockdown, working our way through my 16 year old daughter, Kaela’s, must-watch film list), we watched Philadelphia. Philadelphia is a novel, a self-help book and a movie all about the intricacies of gay men’s lives, and the barriers and prejudice they face almost every day. It’s been quite the trifecta in provoking my thinking.  

James Baldwin is an author I have dabbled with and keep meaning to get serious about and read his entire back catalogue. For those who don’t know, Baldwin was an essayist, playwright, novelist and voice of the American civil rights movement. He was born in Harlem in 1924. He is acknowledged as one of the 20th century’s greatest writers. Baldwin broke new literary ground with the exploration of racial and social issues in his many works. He was especially known for his essays on the black experience in America, and is an author who might really help us all as we work more and more on tackling systemic racism (take a look at the EDI team’s anti-racism resources page here).  He also broke new ground in the novel, Giovanni’s Room which tells the story of an American living in Paris with a complex depiction of homosexuality, a then-taboo subject.

James Baldwin, author of Giovanni’s Room

Baldwin was open about his homosexuality and relationships with both men and women. However, he believed that the focus on rigid categories was just a way of limiting freedom and that human sexuality is more fluid and less binary than was often expressed in his lifetime.  

Giovanni’s Room has a wide variety of themes, and is not just a ‘gay book’ (whatever that is). What really struck me was how the narrative fitted unbelievably neatly with The Velvet Rage where the author, psychotherapist, spends time exposing the nature of the intrinsic shame that he identified in himself and others as being encoded into gay men from an early age. 

Giovanni’s Room gives us an insight into David’s mind, his internal conflicts in relation to his family’s and society’s expectations, and his confusion about who he is attracted to and what is ‘ok’. It is particularly striking in its exploration of age, particularly the young gay men characters being spiteful and contemptuous about the older ones. The reader however can see that this is really their own fear of either becoming or not becoming like the older men. The novel is aanatomy of shame, of its roots and the myths that perpetuate it, of the damage it can do. There is something about the narrative that to me felt  both freeing and exposing of the horrifying self-loathing that some gay men feel. There’s a passage, just before David  meets Giovanni (his lover), where he observes a group of effeminate gay men. He describes them through a series of animal metaphors, first as parrots, then as peacocks occupying a barnyard. Finally, David says of a young man in drag that “his utter grotesqueness made me uneasy; perhaps in the same way that the sight of monkeys eating their own excrement turns some people’s stomachs. They might not mind so much if monkeys did not – so grotesquely – resemble human beings.” His seeing those around him as inhuman because of their different expression and his own self hatred was heartbreaking. 

Downs coined the phrase ‘The Velvet Rage’ to refer to a very specific anger he encountered in his gay patients – whether it was manifested in drug abuse, promiscuity or alcoholism – and whose roots, he feels, are found in childhood shame and parental rejection. “Velvet rage is the deep and abiding anger that results from growing up in an environment when I learn that who I am as a gay person is unacceptable, perhaps even unlovable,” he explains. “This anger pushes me at times to overcompensate and try to earn love and acceptance by being more, better, beautiful, sexier – in short, to become something I believe will make me more acceptable and loved.” 

The Velvet Rage, by Alan Downs

Downs outlines how feelings of worthlessness can be created in childhood quite unintentionally, and these lead gay adults to search for an unachievable perfection.  

Downs identifies many manifestations of “Velvet Rage” dealing with depression, self-harm and suicide, body dysmorphia and eating disorders – illnesses which are four times as likely in gay men as their straight counterparts.  The book went on my reading list as a recommendation from a colleague who described it as one of the first books he had read where he really felt seen. I am grateful for the recommendation. Recommendations like this are how we all become better allies.  

In Philadelphia, we see an Academy Award winning performance from Tom Hanks, telling the story of a high performing lawyer on a fast career track who suddenly finds himself firedHe takes his employer to court and proves the case that the sacked him unfairly and only because he had AIDS. The movie uncomfortably shows us the reality of the 70s and 80s and how open and accepted homophobia was. It gives us a live and far more modern demonstration of what Baldwin wrote about and illustrates the elements expressed by Downs.  

Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington

One of the things I particularly liked about The Velvet Rage was the very practical ‘skills for life’ section that helps any reader become more self-aware, better able to recognise how to set boundaries, how to recognise what their own needs and responsibilities are and ultimately better engage with the world and build relationships. The skills are based on the various theories that Downs puts forward of the barriers that are created for gay men which really gave me pause for thought, and I would encourage people to read both books to deepen their own insight.  

I am someone who sees myself as and wants to be an LGBTQ ally. It is all too easy to let those letters roll off the tongue. These books and the film made me really stop and think: how good a job have I really done over the years? I think the fact that I have lots of gay friends gave me a false comfort. How much have I really done to understand their experience? How it might present barriers each and every day to their success and inclusion in the world? No doubt not anywhere as much as I could do. So, allies, as we find ourselves in Pride month, get out there, get reading and watching, and join Proudly King’s who can help you on this journey and tell you what will really help our LGBTQ staff and students feel more included. I’ve particularly enjoyed the new Proudly Pod and am looking forward to Virtual Pride on Friday . 

 

LGBTQ+ Inclusion and the Church

For LGBTQ+ History Month, EDI Project Officer, Jemma Adams, pens a blog about her experience of the church and its attitudes towards LGBTQ+ lives.


My personal faith and belief meanders sometimes away, sometimes alongside, the mainstream Christian church, but what I do believe is that Christian scripture, tradition and experience reveals a God who transcends gender and sexuality, a God who did not create, nor do I believe they would condone, the heteronormativity that has come to consume much of the church. As a theologian I am fully convinced that the church can only be authentic to the message of Jesus Christ and its own scripture if LGBT+ people are fully included and indeed central to the life of the church. Others would disagree with me, but I do not want to give them space and use my words here to argue against them (there are also many theologians and writers who have done this far better than I ever could here). Instead I want to reflect on the experience on the ground for individuals and churches and offer a glimpse into what the full inclusion of LGBT+ people in the church might look like.

Whilst the Church of England and other denominations continue to tie themselves up in knots with statements and ‘conversations’ about sex, sexuality, gender and marriage, LGBT+ Christians have to endure the heartache and hurt of statements made about them, demeaning their relationships, identity and the validity of their very existence in the eyes of the church. But whilst this goes on in the governance and leadership of the Church of England there are church communities who are flying the pride flag from their spires (sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically), who are actively campaigning for equal marriage and ensuring LGBT+ people are at the centre of their leadership and expression.

In my experience, however, most churches sit somewhere in the middle, often tolerant but not active or explicit in their LGBT+ inclusion. Such churches often want to be welcoming and inclusive, but my message to them is that tolerance and silence are just not enough. Such an approach requires people to be neutral, to mute themselves and hide their identity. That is not equality and inclusion and nor do I believe it reflects the fundamental Christian principle that we are made in the image of God. If that is true, and humans reflect the person of God, then ‘when anyone is invisible, aspects of God, too, are also rendered invisible’.[1] God is beyond sexuality and gender, yet paradoxically contains all within, just as God is both transcendent and embodied (in the person of Jesus).

If a church community wants to be fully inclusive they must be explicit about being welcoming to LGBT+ people and they must follow this through in every aspect of church life and worship. In other words, they must work to challenge the heteronormativity and the patriarchal structures that can be present, and this must be done by the whole congregation and not just left to LGBT+ individuals. They must think about the language and imagery they use about God; LGBT+ dating and relationships need to be talked about just as straight relationships are; different types of families should be remembered in prayer and sermons and discussion should include references to LGBT+ lives as much as straight or cis lives.

My hope is that the church becomes a place of equal marriage, where all loving and committed relationships are respected and supported and where LGBT+ lives are recognised in the rites and symbols of the church. I long to see a church where people are not othered or excluded no matter what their gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, ethnicity, neurodiversity or cultural expression. My confidence in that vision often wavers, but the faith and strength of those I know in the church actively working to bring about this vision gives me hope, and I think we’ll get there… eventually.

  • This blog was inspired and influenced by Siobhan Garrigan (2009) Queer Worship, Theology & Sexuality, 15:2, 211-230.
  • If you’re interested in the theology of sexuality and gender, I recommend Adrian Thatcher, God, Sex and Gender: An Introduction (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).
  • If you’re interested in finding an LGBTQ+ inclusive church, have a look at this list provided by the King’s Chaplaincy team – LGBT Churches in London

[1] Janet R. Watson, Feminist Liturgy: Its Tasks and Principles (The Liturgical Press, 2000), p. 33.

LGBTQ+ History Month: Oh What a Privilege – On Being a Bisexual Mum

For LGBTQ+ History Month, EDI Consultant Nicole Robinson writes about bisexuality, being straight passing and motherhood. 


My new portfolio leading King’s work on LGBTQ+ equality has been an exciting opportunity since I returned from maternity leave in September after the birth of my son in May. My new programme of work, whilst being very early into my new role as a mother, combined to reinforce and refresh in my mind my role as someone who is straightpassing. Someone who is straightpassing is someone who, in their dayto-day life, is presumed heterosexual. 

I identify as bi. I have been with my husband for ten years and my entire adult life, since we were 17. I understand that I have the privilege to hold my husband’s hand and walk down the street without fear, that our marriage took literally days to plan and was uncomplicated (I highly recommend eloping to your nearest registry office with no guests), and that our decision to be together is respected and not questioned.

I also know, and feel deeply, that my life could have been very different if the person I fell in love with, and chose to spend my life with was different. It is very strange to deny a huge part of my life; the confusion of working out who I was attracted to (thank you for your help in those early years Sugar Rush and Skins), the women I’ve loved, the challenges of coming out and being outed and of course, the feelings and attractions that I continue to have.

I often wonder if my relationships with friends and family would be the same if my partner was different, if I would have the same conversations. In most circumstances I know that wouldn’t be the case. It’s also working out who my son will understand me to be. In the years ahead I’m more likely to be covered in glitter at messy play than at Pride, and my Friday nights are currently less Soho streets and more likely ending up reading depressing forums about what mums would do if their children came out to them during night feed number 308537Being in a long-term ‘functioning heterosexual relationship’, whatever that is, a mother, and someone who is quite introverted, means that my life and my lifestyle don’t often match up with what is understood to be LGBT or queer culture. 

When you’re straight passing, it isn’t that you’re unaffected by homophobia or biphobia, it is that it affects you in a different way. Instead of it being immediate and direct, its being stuck in conversations where you must run through several decisions. Do I correct them? Do I call them out on their behaviour? Do I come out to them? Will that put me at risk? What will that mean for this relationship going forward? For my place in this environment?  

Motherhood is a powerful time where ideas around your own identify are thrown into a whirlwind. Returning to work can complicate this even further, and so now more than ever, its important to reaffirm my identity and my sexuality. Being bi is an immutable part of who I am, and an important part of my work as an EDI practitioner.  

I hope that with more visible people at King’s sharing their experiences, more of our colleagues will start to question and acknowledge their own assumptions around who LGBTQ+ people are, what our experiences are, what our families and lives look like, and what we contribute

LGBTQ+ History Month: And the Category is? Live: Work: Learn

When I first started on the path of becoming an EDI professional, I concentrated on learning most about the areas outside my lived experience – I’ve written extensively on my experience as a woman of colour from a working-class background, and my life as a working partner and parent. My understanding of my own sexual orientation is continually developing, and I am a firm Q (of LGBTQ+) for questioning. Over the years I have continued to educate myself and learn about the lives and experiences of others to try and understand myself, as well as to be the good ally I aspire to be and to do my job effectively.

I was overjoyed recently to discover Pose which, as Alex Prestage said to me, is a dramatized version of the excellent documentary, Paris Is Burning, exploring the guts and glamour of New York’s ballroom scene in the late 80s and the exclusion from mainstream culture and society experienced by gay and trans people.

Notice what it’s all about. Being able to fit into the straight, white world and embody the American dream. We don’t have access to that dream, and it’s not because of ability, trust me. – Blanca Evangelista 

I must confess, I didn’t know about the ‘ballroom’ scene until very recently and I have to thank my team for making the introduction. The ballroom scene draws a largely gay, mostly black and Latinx, crowd to watch mainly, though not exclusively, trans performers competing for trophies by performing (“walking”) in certain ‘categories’. Paris Is Burning tells the story behind Madonna’s 1990 single Vogue and clearly lays the foundation for the enormously popular RuPaul’s Drag Race. This was one of the main revelations for me. These are now part of my everyday life and cultural bank yet I had no idea where they came from or what their original meanings were.

With sharp dialogue, exquisite music, an abundance of dancing and sex, all heavily costumed and glittered, Pose is simultaneously riven with racism, sexism and transphobia. I watched with sadness and disbelief as many of its characters, all gay and trans people of colour, are rejected by their biological families and find solace in a community or chosen families and spaces where they are able to express themselves freely.

People came because they needed a place of comfort, they needed a family, they needed a house mother. – Pray Tell.

The AIDS crisis is a strong motif throughout the show, and explores how misinformation and stigma exacerbate marginalisation and the impact this has on LGBTQ+ people and communities.

For me it was very much a story of family and friendship. As I tweeted afterwards:

I felt I had become close personal friends of each of the characters and now can’t believe I won’t be seeing them every day.
(For more follow me @equalitywarrior)

Pose shows us that what might to some seem frivolous or ridiculous can serve as a source of hope, comfort and nurturing.

You have to shine so bright out there that they can’t deny you – Blanca Evangelista

One of the things I loved, and would like to see more of, is the presentation of trans and gender diverse people not as comedic, pantomime characters, but as rounded, everyday human beings. While much of the public discourse on trans and gender diverse people seems transfixed on their bodies, Pose lets us into these characters’ hearts, minds and souls. The show gives us insights into how they feel about themselves. I realised how little I was thinking about their bodies at all. Pose has the largest transgender cast of any commercial, scripted TV show. The show sends a message of love and of understanding and education about lives that many do not understand and so choose to reject.

Whilst it would be silly to claim that watching a couple of TV shows can fully inform me about the lived experience of trans and gender diverse people, it does demonstrate that there are multiple ways to learn. Well-made TV programmes can give you an insight into the lives of others and we all, in my view, have a duty to educate ourselves. I also believe if more people could watch a programme like Pose with an open mind and an open heart, we might all be more willing and able to tackle trans and homophobia.

 

 

LGBTQ+ History Month: WTF is gender? Coz I have no idea.

For LGBTQ+ History Month, EDI Consultant and Proudly King’s Committee member, India Jordan, writes about their experience of gender – beyond, and in-between binaries. 

(EDIT) This blog was written in 2020 when India was in an earlier stage of their ‘gender journey’, so keep an eye out for possible updates on this! 


Have a think about gender, do you really know what it is?

I’m not really going try to answer the question, but give you an idea of my lived experience and what goes through my mind on a daily basis.

One of the most annoying things in the world for me is being called ‘madam’, ‘miss’ or ‘lady’, or when I’m with friends or my partner, being called ‘girls’ as a collective. It ignites some sort of deep anger and discomfort that I can’t really explain. It’s the same as when some men open doors for me and say ‘after you’ just because they perceive me to be female. It feels so inherently counter to my sense of self and has never felt right. It’s the fact that someone has made an assumption about me and is interacting with who they think I am, whether that’s ‘madam’, ‘miss’ or ‘lady’. And in this moment, I lose the ability to exist in the way I see myself.

That said, if someone asked how I do see myself I would probably say ‘I don’t know”.

I have no idea what gender is or what gender means. I know it is fluid and ever-changing. It feels easier for me to say what I think I am not: I’m not male, I was a female-assigned a birth (AFAB) but I don’t really identify as a female.

What I do know, or what I feel is that I exist in this neutral space where I don’t really see myself fitting into an either/or man/woman binary. I guess that would mean I fit within the very broad spectrum of ‘non-binary’. It’s taken me a while figure out and included a lot of self reflection and understanding to get to this point (and I’d say I was probably on the start of this journey rather than the end).

For a couple of years now this ‘neutral’ identity has very much existed at the forefront of how I see myself, however I’ve been afraid to take up space asking others to see/treat/identify me in the same way. This was up until very recently, where back in December I made a public Instagram post asking people to refer to me with they/them pronouns or simply by my name. This came about after months of deliberating, conversations with friends, and googling desperate questions like ‘who am I?’ ‘what is gender?’ ‘am I non-binary?’ ‘do we even exist anyway???’.

Outside of my life at King’s, I am a DJ and music producer. This means I have public social media pages, and people write about me sometimes. So, this Instagram post came about around the time I was receiving more press/publicity (as an artist) than usual due to featuring on a  mix series podcast, a couple of gigs and a single release. I knew I had to say something because every single time I read ‘she’/’her’ in the write-up’s, I immediately disassociated and didn’t feel like they were talking about me. It felt super jarring. Publishing the post felt terrifying; I was exposing myself, being vulnerable and also publicly declaring that I should take up space and demanding that others respond to this request. It felt very unnatural but I know now that it was really really necessary.

Since then, I’ve requested people at work refer to me as they/them. I guess you could take this blog as a formal coming out post to King’s. A simple changing of pronouns, whilst some may perceive this as small, feels like an absolutely massive thing for me. It means I don’t get a pang of anxiety/gender crisis every time someone calls me ‘she/her’.

Whilst I am nowehere  near feeling sure about what my gender is (or what gender is at all), it really does help alleviate that weight and constant confusion I carry around with me daily.

I’ve found reading, listening to podcasts and joining online communities really helpful in this gender journey so far. Here’s a couple that I recommend:

Life Isn’t Binary: On Being Both, Beyond, and In-Between – MJ Barker & Alex Iantaffi

Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen, Amrou Al-Kadhi

NB – My Non-binary Life (Podcast), Amrou Al-Kadhi & Caitlin Benedict

This image:

Wellbeing Month: Proudly bringing your most authentic self to work

For Wellbeing Month, Proudly King’s co-chair Kirsty McLaren talks about joining, and then getting involved, in a staff community network. Proudly King’s is King’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network, and there are other networks open to all staff including the Race Equality NetworkElevate: King’s Gender Equality NetworkParents’ & Carers’ Network and Access King’s: Disability Inclusion Network 


No matter how much you love your job, your colleagues or the cactus on your desk, work gets stressful and that’s unavoidable at times. People choose all sorts of ways to find positive wellbeing at work, and mine is Proudly King’s.  

Originally, I never thought of joining the Proudly King’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network as a de-stress, it was something I was affiliated with, and that’s what led me there. But after meeting so many other members over the years, I realised that sometimes the job isn’t the stress, it’s feeling like you don’t have anyone else you can relate to in your 9-5. When you walk into a network event, there aren’t any assumptions. As a gay person, it can be frustrating when you start a new job and are faced with (very innocent) assumptions about yourself, which often means you must correct people and ‘come out’ multiple times. network is a refreshing break away from the everyday world, regardless of who you are. Whether you’re in particular community or not, you’re free to come to events without prejudgement or assumption. Whatever is affecting your wellbeing, there will be a network that will help you feel at home at King’s.  

Kirsty at London Pride

For me, being myself is not an issue, but not everyone is privileged in that respect. Not feeling able to be yourself at work impacts relationships with colleagues, job satisfaction and productivity. Ultimately, it impacts you and your wellbeing. I’ve seen first-hand the impact my own mental health had on my work, and it creates a spiral: 

“I can’t do this today.” 

“I didn’t do that today, so now I feel anxious.” 

“I’m too anxious to do that effectively” 

“Well because I didn’t do that all of my colleagues think I shouldn’t have got the job” 

“Why did I get the job? I can’t do it. I’m a fraud.”  

And so on.  

For me, before I learned how to manage my mental healthunderstand my own feelings (and that they were okay) and accept that I deserved to make time for myself, things didn’t look too bright. I ended up off sick from a job I loved passionately, and still do. At some point you accept that you deserve to live and work in a way that makes you thrive, not just survive. You must accept that you are enough. Whether that is through joining networks, doing sport or whatever exercise makes you feel good, meditating, arts, TV, cooking, whatever it is… you. do. you. There is no right or wrong way to do that, but If it makes you happy then keep doing it and if it doesn’t, then stop. Bring your most authentic self to work. You’ll see that others start to follow suit as well.  

 

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