Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

Tag: Pride Month

Pride Month Reflections: Proudly King’s

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


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

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

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

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

Maybe lack of creativity is to blame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what Pride means to me.

Proudly King’s Allyship Campaign Pledges

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

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

 

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

 


Where you can seek support

For members of the King’s College London Community:

External support available to all: 

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

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

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/ 

 

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 . 

 

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