For LGBT History Month, I delivered a workshop for Newcastle University jointly hosted by NU Women and the Rainbow network on Women and LBT intersections. We considered the impact intersectionality may have on organisational culture and how to be inclusive.
I was pleased to offer a workshop on ‘Being an LGBT Ally’ for staff at North East Business and Innovation Centre , Sunderland. The BIC do great work offering support to people starting and growing their businesses. We considered how to create an inclusive culture for LGBT people as both colleagues and clients. Check out a testimonial from the workshop here.
Chance Encounter 1
Earlier this year, I contacted NEBIC (North East Business and Innovation Centre) to find out about their EU-funded Boost your Business course. The BIC support people to start and to grow their businesses.
While I was meeting with one of their advisors, having spotted my line of work their HR officer came to have a chat with me about the possibility of running a workshop for their staff. The BIC are currently running a series of events on wellbeing and so I created a workshop for them, ‘Being an LGBT Ally’, which looked at supporting LGBT+ people to be themselves in the workplace. Given the BIC’s client-facing work, the workshop also focused on how the environment might ‘speak to’ LGBT+ customers.
Simple things like having visible role models, some images on the website or wearing rainbow lanyards can have a big impact on whether a person feels included. They are ‘quiet’ ways of letting a person know that they are welcome, either as a member of staff or as a client. In turn, these enhance wellbeing and sense of belonging. And of course, hosting a workshop was an excellent step on that journey to becoming an inclusive organisation.
This chance encounter resulted in a mutually beneficial arrangement – some awareness raising for staff and some business for me (the BIC clearly take the ‘Boost your Business’ ethos to heart!!)
Chance Encounter 2
A second chance encounter that emerged from my dealings with the NEBIC was when I attended the Boost your Business course itself. This is three-day residential course which gives people the opportunity to focus on their business ideas as well as providing an opportunity to network with others in similar situations.
Having arrived at the hotel for the course, my first encounter of the morning was with a fellow participant who, when I introduced myself and my work, asked me what ‘LGBT’ was. I confess I was a bit taken aback at the time and it made me reflect that I do make assumptions that people know what those letters mean. I had further pause for thought as a second person later in the day asked me the same question.
While I’m not about to alter my business cards (have had too many printed, for a start), it has made me think more about how I introduce myself and also introduce the workshops I deliver, which always entail elements of terminology but I now make that aspect more ‘up-front’.
Learning for me always involves challenging established ways of thinking. Having my own thinking challenged has helped raise my awareness and made me take less for granted.
I am currently working as part of a national project funded by the Government Equalities Office (GEO) in Anti-Homophobic, Biphobic and Transphobic (HBT) Bullying in primary and secondary schools. The work is co-ordinated by the LGBT Consortium and raises awareness among staff and students. In North East England, school staff training and support is being delivered by myself and colleagues working with the LGBT Fed, a volunteer-led regional infrastructure organisation.
While the focus is on anti-HBT bullying, our work at the LGBT Fed takes a holistic approach. Thus, the training covers not only types of bullying (linguistic, physical and online, for example) and how to challenge it but, importantly, we consider ways to create a whole-school environment that works positively with regard to LGBT inclusion.
As part of the project, the GEO are funding the development of new lesson plans to add to Schools Out’s existing valuable resource, The Classroom. The Classroom has lesson plans searchable by discipline and by Key Stage, which makes it user-friendly for time-pushed teachers. The materials are also easily adaptable to teachers’ own classroom contexts.
I have found when working with primary schools, one of the concerns teachers can have is how to make LGBT-inclusion age-relevant. Underpinning this concern is a (tacitly held) perception that LGBT issues automatically imply sexual acts. In reality, whatever one’s sexual orientation – LGBTQ+ or straight – physical sexual acts are only one aspect of that identity, amongst for example, emotional attachment, desire and possibly life-partnership. If mentioning a straight couple or individual to four year-olds, sexual acts obviously do not come into the conversation, just as they would not do with an LGBTQ+ couple or individual!
One of the resources from The Classroom I have used during training is ‘Different People, Different Talents’. Aimed at Key Stage 1 PSHE, the lesson introduces students to notions of valuing difference and individuality, and gets them involved in tasks such as who can do a tongue-twister or stand on one leg! It moves through values placed on stereotypically gendered activities and also includes examples of different people, one of which is a student living with his father and his father’s boyfriend. These are gentle, age-appropriate ways to encourage children to value difference and they form part of the backdrop to an inclusive school from an early age.
As well as embedding such content into the curriculum, the whole school environment is an opportunity to communicate the school’s ethos around diversity and inclusion. From the images on the walls to the language spoken in the classroom, playground and staff room, the school can work together to create a positive environment. OFSTED and the requirements of the Equality Act and Equality Duty require schools to be proactive, yet knowing how to do this is where training and expertise can really help.
In our training, we aim to equip staff with greater understanding of issues such as the social model of discrimination; types of discrimination and how to combat it; what exactly the law requires; terminology and differences between equality, equity and social justice. With raised awareness and understanding, staff can become more confident in not only introducing new material into their curriculum but in embedding LGBT inclusion in the whole school environment.
I am excited to be collaborating with former colleagues at Northumbria University on this film season at Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle. Four films are being screened throughout February and March to celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8th) and the centenary of the first women gaining the vote in the UK:
16 February: She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (Mary Dore, 2014) tracks the histories of second wave feminism in America, from NOW to WITCH, through interviews with the women involved and archive footage of them in action. Introduced by Julie Scanlon and Rosie White.
22 February: Selma (Ava DuVernay, 2014) chronicles the three-month period in 1965 when Dr Martin Luther King led the campaign to secure equal voting rights culminating in the Selma-Montgomery march. Introduced by Mel Waters and Victoria Bazin.
1 March: The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996) is an example of New Queer Cinema, following the life and loves of a black lesbian documentary-maker. Introduced by Anamarija Horvat and Sue Regan.
8 March: Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean, 2017) sees the Newcastle premier of this fascinating documentary about the Hollywood actress and inventor. The screening features a Live Q+A with Susan Sarandon as Executive Producer talking about her new film.
Tickets and times at the Tyneside link above!!
February marks LGBT History month in the UK and LGBT History Project North East are again putting on a fantastic day of talks and activities to mark the occasion.
I am so pleased to be contributing a session with Louise Evan-Wong, Director of the LGBT Fed, on ‘North East Lesbians and the Women’s Liberation Movement’.