This year, for Holocaust memorial day, the Equalities Team and specialists from Swansea University held an event for Holocaust Memorial Day. The theme was ‘Torn from Home’. A specialist in ethics, one in racism, and myself as Chair of the LGBT+ Staff Network at Swansea University, gave presentations on aspects of memorialisation and lessons to be learned. Reviewing the horrors of what happened during the Nazi regime in Germany (1933 to 1945) and the impact on people of diverse backgrounds was an important reminder to all of us that we must continue to strive for equal and just societies and social processes. For me, the task of reviewing and exploring what happened to LGBTQ+ people under that regime was particularly powerful, if considerably challenging.
Prior to the rise to power of the Nazi regime in 1933, the Weimar republic in Germany offered a diverse and creative culture in which LGBTQ people were able to express themselves reasonably freely, particularly in Berlin, which many LGBTQ people were drawn to. There was an institute studying homosexuality, and arguing against its criminalisation. Even though being male and homosexual was illegal, this law was not really enforced, and there were significant advances in gender rights and roles and women’s autonomy alongside cultural diversity. There were gay printing presses, gay clubs and bars, and bookshops too.
All of this freedom came to an end in 1933. The new regime enforced the criminalisation of male homosexuals. The focus of the Nazi persecution of LGBTQ people was on gay men. Section S175 of the Reich Penal Code applied to men only, and although there were those who lobbied to have it extended to women, this did not happen. Intimate relations between women were not seen as significant, and were not, as such, prosecuted at law. The lack of penal sanctions against lesbianism did not mean that women known or denounced as lesbians escaped all persecution or prosecution.
The Nazi regime undid all advances in women’s suffrage and rights. Women were removed from any positions of leadership or responsibility in public life and industry. They were to be mothers and wives and carers only, their ‘natural destiny.’ The mysogynist philosopher Ernst Bergmann suggested 1933 that ‘the sex of masculine women’ ‘be compulsorily mated in order to cure them’ arguing that there was ‘no need to fear that they would transmit their degeneracy to their issue.’ The Nazi regime was obsessed with racial purity.
A collective lesbian lifestyle and identity, which had grown since the early 1900s, and especially in the years of the Weimar republic, was destroyed under Nazism. And so such women were forced into hiding. However, some women were arrested as ‘asocials’ due to their lesbianism. Shortly after the Nazi ‘seizure of power,’ lesbian women were already being carried off to concentration camps. From 1936, they were sent for re-education programmes at the Berlin institute for Psychological Research and Psychotherapy, but there is very little evidence anywhere of what happened to women. According to some sources, lesbians who were sent to Ravensbruck, and other camps, were told that if they served 6 months as prostitutes, they would be freed. Most often, they were exterminated once they were no longer useful.
Gay men were arrested, detained, and sent to be ‘re-educated’ in order to try to ‘cure’ them of their homosexuality. If this was not successful, they might be castrated, or executed. In 1933, the Prussian Minister for the Interior issued three decrees for the combating of public indecency. These were focused on prostitution and homosexuality, including the closure of ‘public houses solely or mainly frequented by persons who engage in unnatural sex acts. Gay magazines and publications were closed and their stock destroyed.
Advances in science, health and research were reversed – on 6 May 1933 Magnus Hirschfeld’s Sexual Science Institute, which was world renowned, was destroyed, and on 10 May his writings and research were publicly burned. He had advocated that homosexuality was simply another state of human being.
In the second six months of 1934, a special section was set up at Gestapo headquarters to deal with cases involving homosexuality. At the end of 1934, all Regional Criminal Police Bureaux were asked for lists of persons who had been homosexually active in the past. There were nationwide actions against gay men. In Berlin, a raid on pubs resulted in 413 homosexual men being placed into ‘preventive detention.’ In 1935 the Sixth Amendment to the Penal Code contained significant changes in the criminalization of homosexuality and its punishment. This resulted in many more men being detained.
Although only small proportion of homosexual men were actually arrested and punished, the everyday life of all LGBTQ people was powerfully shaped by the official policy of oppression and criminilisation, resulting in a widespread contempt for anyone LGBTQ. Many people pretended to be heterosexual to avoid persecution.
Hundreds of gay men were sent to concentration camps. In these camps, coloured triangles designated what kind of prisoner. ‘Asocials’ (which included prostitutes and a small number of lesbians) wore a black triangle. Political prisoners wore red triangles. Gay men wore pink triangles. The conditions in most camps were horrific, and prisoners were subject to random and extreme brutality, torture, experimentation and extermination. Women found pregnant in Ravensbruck were forced to undergo termination of pregnancy in horrendous circumstances.
Six million Jews were murdered, as part of ‘The Final Solution.” This in itself is shocking. But they were not the only victims. It is vital to remember that many prisoners were Gypsies, political dissidents, political activists, or the most marginalised within society. Alongside the monstrous anti-Semitism, there was also a mass execution of ‘useless mouths’ including the mentally ill and the disabled. And for some, they wore more than one triangle, identifying their intersectionality. The families of many of those murdered received letters and death certificates citing standard causes of death, hiding the truth of what really happened. People were shot, beaten to death, starved, frozen, bitten by dogs, and, as the second world war progressed, gassed. A lot of what happened is lost, as the documents and evidence were deliberately destroyed during the last months of the war.
What can we learn from this?
This was a fascist backlash during a period of advances in culture, equality and gender rights. This was a response to advances in racial and gender freedom, and also advances in understanding of human identity and sexuality. It was led by a regime which took power and manipulated its population by misinformation, brutality and legal changes which reduced people’s ability to resist. It took a global war to bring this to an end. We have gained significantly in the last two decades in terms of LGBTQ rights and women’s rights, but we still have a long way to go. Many people I speak to, either LGBTQ-identified or not, seem to think that with equal marriage and the Equality Act 2010, we have nothing left to fight for. That there is no need for LGBTQ people to be political. Yet across the world there are still many countries were being LGBTQ is illegal. We need activism more than ever.
Currently, there are some reports of persecution of gay men in Chechnya. It is illegal to even discuss homosexuality in Russia. And there has been a reversal of LGBT supportive laws in the USA – including Trump’s ban on Trans people in the military. Similarly, gender equality legislation and activism in the USA is being reversed, particularly in the sphere of women’s reproductive rights. It is vital for us to realise that during the Nazi regime, all of the persecution was legalised. It is still illegal to be gay in 72 countries in the world, some of whom carry the death penalty for this ‘offence’ (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/27/gay-relationships-still-criminalised-countries-report).
The general vitriol and backlash against the rights of Transgender people in the UK and the USA is particularly disturbing. Political movements that have hitherto been focused on gender equality suffer from extreme elements which seek to deny Trans people their fundamental identities.
Violence and persecution of LGBTQ people is rife in our culture, despite the legal protections some of us enjoy. We cannot allow the inequalities, prejudice and discrimination that have plagued us for so long to continue or to worsen. Global leaders should call on every country to address legal issues, and enshrine the protection of individual rights in laws that cannot be rescinded.
When I read of the horrors of the Holocaust, and the people affected, I think also of the people I know and love, and I realise that this kind of marginalisation, victimisation and persecution could happen to anyone. When I first became a visible LGBTQ person within my current role, people were afraid for me. They said it would negatively impact on my academic career. When I experienced neighbourhood abuse at home, and professional bullying in previous roles in clinical practice, I thought I would have to hide my identity in order to continue paying my bills. But I am lucky to now work in a fully inclusive, progressive and visionary institution with visible role models and a very strong drive for equality. My work has become part of my activism, and my identity fundamental to my work. I consider myself lucky to work for Swansea University and to be connected to networks of activists and colleagues who are engaged in the same drive to demonstrably act for equality.
Considering the lessons of the past, I say, what can we do, you and I, to build a better future? What can you do? It might be that you simply challenge the language and behaviour you encounter, which might exclude or stereotype LGBTQ people, or people of diverse ethnicities, cultures and characteristics. It might be that you visibly show your support by joining the LGBTQ allies network, or promoting gender-inclusive language in your workplace. You might ask for LGBTQ inclusivity training in for your team. Or you might look at ways of making your materials and activities more inclusive. You might write to your MP to lobby for the retention of the Human Rights Act after Brexit, and to advocate for equal treatment and direct action to support certain groups in our society – including Trans people, migrants, people with disabilities, the elderly and those with mental illness.
It might just be that you embrace the idea of consciousness-raising, for yourself and for others. To recognise our privilege and use it as best we can to change this unequal, unfair world for the better. If this blog post has helped with that, then I have achieved my purpose in writing it.
Alys Einion February 11th, 2019
Posted In: Uncategorized
It makes me prouder than I can say to see the very visible statements made by Swansea University to demonstrate their commitment to LGBT+ equality and inclusion. I am coming into my tenth year working for this organisation, and there have been many changes, but the most significant for me is the strong and united approach to making this a really positive place to work and study.
This year, our Staff Network has received a Highly Commended, once again, in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, which makes us feel glad that we work as hard as we do to make this a better place. This year also, we are proud to have worked very closely with the Swansea University Students’ Union, and the Chaplaincy a partnership which has seen us develop a much wider range of events to commemorate the complex history and celebrate the beautiful diversity of LGBT+ people. The list of events and activities we are planning is below. Please share with anyone and everyone.
Blog Series – Throughout #LGBTHM19 we will be posting a series of blogs about our work, ideas, histories, identities and more.
Role Models – Our LGBT+ Role Models pages will be published showing visible and active leaders in our community
12-2pm, Mon 11th Feb – Engineering Central, Bay
12-2pm, Mon 18th Feb – Fulton House, Singleton
Join us as we plant rainbow shards to grow some wonderful colourful plants and talk about all things LGBT+. Plus, it’s entirely free.
*Icons and Allies Exhibition*
Thurs 14th-Mon 18th Feb – Bay Campus Library
Mon 18th Feb – Sun 24th Feb – Taliesin, Singleton
Drop in and take a look at some fantastic icons and allies with in the LGBT+ community in Wales and learn about all the things they’ve achieved.
10pm, Friday 15th Feb – Rebound, Singleton
You guessed it. Tooters as you know it is being taken over by rainbows. Wear your most colourful outfit and celebrate the month!
*Faith and Sexuality Discussion*
6pm, Tuesday 19th Feb – Taliesin
Pro- Vice Chancellor, Martin Stringer, will be giving a talk about faith and sexuality at this free event.
*Open Mic Night*
8pm, Thursday 21st Feb – JCs, Singleton
Come and read poetry, sing, tell jokes and discuss your experiences in a relaxed atmosphere. Or if you’d prefer, just come and listen!
2-5pm, Friday 22nd Feb – JCs
Local politicians and LGBT+ activists will be talking on a discussion panel and answering any of your questions.
Alys Einion February 4th, 2019
Posted In: Uncategorized
After co-chairing Swansea University’s LGBT+ Staff Network for 4 1/2 years, today I am saying goodbye as I prepare to leave the university to take up a new role in another organisation.
When I first became co-chair in 2014, the network was a small group of around 15 staff members, who held 1 event per year. Since then we’ve grown tremendously, and I’ve been proud to lead the network to the successful place where it stands today, supported by my co-chair Alys Einion, our Network committee, our senior champion Professor Martin Stringer, and our Allies across the university.
Here are some highlights from the Network’s last 4 years:
On a personal level, it’s meant so much to be able to use my experiences and knowledge as a queer woman to contribute to making the university a great place for LGBT+ people to work and study. For most of my university years as a student, I was in a very dark place, struggling with mental health issues and my queer identity – and this was only a few years ago. Had someone told me that 3 years later, I’d be leading an LGBT+ Network to become one of the most LGBT+ inclusive universities in the whole UK, I never would have believed it. I’m honoured to have contributed to this vital work, to watch the Network grow, and to see the increased prominence of LGBT+ equality across the university.Knowing that what we’ve helped establish could help even one person not have to struggle like I did makes any difficulties or hardship worthwhile and something I’ll always be exceptionally proud of.
I’ve made many friends through the Network, and most of my fondest memories of working at Swansea University are from the people I’ve met and the work I’ve done through the Network. I’m very sad to say goodbye, but at the same time I know it’ll be a good opportunity for someone else to step up and help the Network continue to evolve and achieve more great things.
I don’t doubt that that the Staff Network and the Allies Programme will continue to grow and develop in the future. Although I won’t be in the university, I will keep supporting and cheering from afar!
Thank you to everyone I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the years – it’s been amazing.
Alys Einion December 20th, 2018
Posted In: Uncategorized
John Harrington from Aberystwyth University is looking to interview a small number of trans students (aged 18-25) about their support experiences of transitioning into university in regard to their gender identity. This research aims to identify the positive support experiences, as well as some of the challenging experiences, faced by trans students in applying to university and the first few months of university life. The findings will be used help to improve the support provided for trans students at university.
The interviews will be conducted in a private place of your choice (e.g. at a local university), and the data will be anonymous.
The participants will need to be:
See here for more info: Participant Information Sheet (Oct’18) – Support experiences of trans students
Alys Einion December 19th, 2018
Posted In: Uncategorized
#LGBTSTEMDAY – A day to celebrate Diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths
I had the pleasure today of giving the Keynote address at a wonderful event hosted and organised by two postgraduate researchers at Swansea University. Ben Whittaker and Chloe Robinson brought together researchers from 7 perspectives to give Rainbow Talks relating to each theme of the LGBT+ rainbow flag, and it was wonderful to be in such a welcoming and positive space and to enjoy a bit of fun as I discussed what remain some very serious issues. The word art from the day is attached to this blog. There were speakers from a range of subjects and disciplines, and all seemed engaged and motivated to celebrate diversity and to address the challenges for LGBT+ people being themselves in the workplace, in the university as students, and in life in general.
The talks were inspiring, and I feel that this is an important step in promoting better connections between students and staff as we move forward to address some of the real, practical steps that can be made to foster a more inclusive environment. LGBT+ staff and students benefit from seeing themselves reflected in the course materials, resources and activities they experience. They benefit from a positive, inclusive environment in which all staff will challenge any prejudice, bias or negative behaviours. They benefit from gender-inclusive facilities, behaviours and language. When students and staff are happy and comfortable in themselves, and can be themselves in the workplace, they are more productive and more successful.
Here at the LGBT+ Staff Network we welcome the opportunity to work more closely with the student community, and in this case, the PGR community, in our drive to create a truly inclusive educational environment. We are delighted to celebrate #LGBTSTEMDAY and would like to wish all our colleagues well as they continue to act as pioneers in their fields.
Alys Einion July 5th, 2018
Posted In: Uncategorized
Every year the month of June is recognised as LGBT Pride Month, chosen to commemorate the Stonewall riots that took place in New York in June 1969. As such, June is a month for solidarity, support and celebration within the LGBT+ community, to recognise the people within it and the impact they can have to society and the on-going struggles they all face.
In this blog entry, we want to profile four different LGBTQA people, showcasing the diverse experiences that exist within the community:
Sir Derek Jacobi, CBE
Sir Derek Jacobi (CBE) aged 81, is a British actor and stage director who has been acting on stage and screen since the early 1960’s. In addition to his work as an actor, Derek Jacobi has been openly gay and in a relationship with his partner for over 40 years, and the entered into a registered partnership in March 2006, a few months after same-sex civil partnerships became legally recognized in the United Kingdom. Jacobi was a Grand Marshal of the 46th New York City Gay Pride March in 2015.
Mhairi Black MP is a Scottish Politician and member of the SNP. Currently aged 23, Mhairi is the “Baby of The House” which is an informal and unofficial title given to the youngest of the British Parliament. When she was first elected in May 2015, she was only 20 years old, making her one of the youngest elected British MP’s in 300 years. Along with other LGBT MPs from the SNP, she expressed her support for same-sex marriage prior to the referendum in Ireland. Asked about her decision to “come out”, she replied “I’ve never been in”.
Frida Kahlo de Rivera (born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón; July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954) was a Mexican painter who’s work explored questions of identity, postcolonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society. She struggled throughout her life with health issues including contracting polio as a child which caused her to have one leg shorter than the other and later in life she was involved in a traffic accident, severely injuring her and resulting in her having illnesses and pain for the rest of her life. Kahlo was an openly bisexual woman, marrying a man and having relationships with many women in her life, most famously the entertainer Josephine Baker.
Laura Jane Grace
Laura Jane Grace is the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist of the punk rock band Against Me! Laura Jane Grace had a lifelong struggle with gender dysphoria as well as dealing with depression and feeling isolated, and all those themes are encapsulated in Against Me!’s album “Transgender Dysphoria Blues.” Speaking to website Grantland in 2014, Grace said: “Dealing with depression is really what a lot of that’s about. On the surface level, the album may be transgender-themed, but underneath it, there are those universal themes — alienation, depression, not being happy — that I think that everybody can really identify with.”
Alys Einion June 20th, 2018
Posted In: Uncategorized
This week, to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, Swansea University LGBT+ Staff Network is offering Trans* awareness training.
International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBiT), held annually on May 17th since 2005, is the largest LGBT+ solidarity event in the world with over 1,000 events taking place in more than 120 countries worldwide. It marks the day in 1990 when the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.
In order to mark this important date, the LGBT+ Staff Network are pleased to present training by Kit Heyam on trans inclusion in the workplace, This training will explore:
• The basics of trans identities
• Sex and gender
• Common terminology
• Supporting trans students and staff
• How to show your trans inclusivity
• Q&A session
In order to promote an inclusive working environment it is vital for all staff to develop a better understanding of trans* issues and intersectional experiences in the workplace and beyond, and this is an excellent professional development opportunity.
This kind of event is vital in supporting us all to develop better awareness, behaviours and practices to promote equality and inclusion, not just in the workplace but across every aspect of daily life.
Equality has been the theme this month as on 5th May we attended Swansea Spring Pride. Marching in the parade, carrying the biggest rainbow flag ever, was a proud and emotional moment for me, as I found myself thinking back 24 years to when I was a young student nurse, travelling to London for Pride marches and celebrations, and struggling to come out to fellow students, friends and family. I was in love with life, but fearful, acutely aware of the risks I faced. I still remember, when I was 19 and first ‘out’, how we would form ‘posses’ of women leaving our favourite gay bar in Birmingham to walk each other to our bus stops, ensuring we stayed safe. There would be gangs of men outside waiting to abuse and attack us. This kind of behaviour is still going on today.
Now, as a visible and active role model for equality, it gives me immense Pride and satisfaction to attend what was an outstanding event at the Waterfront Museum and all through the city. Well done to our colleagues at Swansea Council for an amazing day, with a long trail of rainbow-clad marchers and a wonderful event with entertainment, information and all kinds of resources. I was thoroughly delighted to meet so many people, to make new friends, catch up with old ones, and see the next generation of diverse individuals stand up and be themselves without fear. It reminded me why we do what we do to promote equality and inclusion. We are making the world a safer place for everyone. We should be proud of that – of our university, of our city, and of ourselves.
Alys Einion May 16th, 2018
Posted In: Uncategorized
Swansea Spring Pride: Saturday 5th May, Waterfront Museum
Parade: 11 – 12pm, entertainment: 12 – 4pm
Celebrating our local LGBT community in style! Swansea Pride features music, info stands, talks, film screenings, kids crafts, glitter face painting and an Over the Rainbow gallery trail. Pride Parade from Castle Square from 11am, stalls and entertainment at the Waterfront Museum 12 – 4pm. All are welcome, free admission.
Swansea University will have a stall at Swansea Pride – if you would like to help staff the stall at any point during the day, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more and RSVP at https://www.facebook.com/events/615877898761541/.
Bi Fest Wales: Saturday 12th May, YMCA Swansea
Daytime: 12 – 6pm, evening live music gig: 7.30pm – 11.30pm.
BiFest Wales is a one-day event for bisexual people, their friends, allies, and anyone interested in bisexuality, with workshops, social and craft space, and community information. Entry is only £2, and under 16s go free. The Swansea University LGBT+ Staff Network will be in attendance on the day, and we extend an invitation for you to join us.
To find out more, visit www.bicymru.org.uk.
Transgender Day of Visibility
Saturday 31st March was Transgender Day of Visibility, a day to celebrate trans people and raise awareness and understanding of trans issues worldwide. Swansea University stands proud with our trans colleagues, students, & the trans community – we are committed to ensuring that everyone can be themselves, & be treated with dignity and respect. Please read the profiles of two prominent UK trans campaigners below – CJ and Charlie Martin (click to enlarge). If you would like to read more trans people’s stories, please visit https://www.stonewall.org.uk/stonewall-stories.
Our LGBT+ Staff Network is open to all staff who identify as LGBT+, including trans, nonbinary, or genderqueer. To learn more or to join please visit http://bit.ly/LGBTSwanseaUni.
Pride Gwanwyn Abertawe: Dydd Sadwrn 5ed Mai, Amgueddfa’r Glannau
Orymdaith: 11 – 12pm, adloniant: 12 – 4pm
Dathlu ein cymuned LDHT leol mewn steil! Bydd Pride Abertawe yn cynnwys cerddoriaeth, stondinau gwybodaeth, dangosiadau ffilm, crefftau i blant, peintio wynebau ‘glitter’ a llwybr orielau’r enfys. Bydd yr Orymdaith Pride yn dechrau o Sgwâr y Castell am 11am, a chynhelir y stondinau a’r adloniant yn Amgueddfa’r Glannau rhwng 12-4pm. Croeso i bawb, mynediad am ddim.
Bydd gan Brifysgol Abertawe stondin yn Pride Abertawe – os hoffech helpu ar y stondin ar unrhyw adeg yn ystod y dydd, cysylltwch â email@example.com.
I ddysgu mwy ac i ateb cysylltwch â https://www.facebook.com/events/615877898761541/.
Bi Fest Cymru: Sadwrn 12 Mai, YMCA Abertawe
Dydd: 12 – 6pm, gyda’r nos cerddoriaeth amgen: 7.30 – 11.30pm.
Mae Bi Fest Cymru yn digwyddiad undydd i bobl ddeurywiol, eu ffrindiau, cynghreiriad a phawb sydd a diddordeb mewn deurywioldeb gyda gweithdai, crefftau, gofod cymdeithasol, gwybodaeth gymunedol. Mynediad £2 yn unig, ac am ddim i blant dan 16 oed. Bydd Rhwydwaith Staff LDHT+ Prifysgol Abertawe yn bresennol ar y diwrnod, a gwahoddwn chi i ymuno â ni
I wybod rhagor, ewch i www.bicymru.org.uk.
Diwrnod Gwelededd Traws
Roedd Dydd Sadwrn yn Ddiwrnod Rhyngwladol Amlygrwydd Trawsrywioldeb, diwrnod i ddathlu pobl drawsrywiol a deall materion trawsrywiol byd-eang. Mae Prifysgol Abertawe yn falch o gefnogi ein cydweithwyr a’n myfyrwyr trawsrywiol, a’r gymuned drawsrywiol – rydym wedi ymrwymo i sicrhau y gall pawb fod yn nhw eu hunain a chael eu trin ag urddas a pharch.
Darllenwch broffiliau dau o ymgyrchwyr trawsrywiol blaenllaw’r DU isod – CJ a Charlie Martin.
Os hoffech ddarllen mwy o straeon am bobl drawsrywiol, ewch ar https://www.stonewall.org.uk/stonewall-stories.
Mae ein Rhwydwaith Staff LDHT+ yn agored i bob aelod o staff sy’n adnabod eu hunain fel LDHT+, gan gynnwys pobl drawsrywiol, anneuaidd, neu ryngrywiol. I ddysgu mwy neu i ymuno ewch ar bit.ly/LGBTSwanseaUni.
Alys Einion April 13th, 2018
Posted In: Uncategorized
Guest Post by Philippa Price, Librarian, Information Services
You’ll find a great choice of fiction, non-fiction and journals (and even some DVDs if you’re not much of a reader!) in the library’s LGBT+ inclusive reading selection. These recommendations were originally inspired by fiction lists from Stonewall and have since been added to by members of library staff. All the titles in the library’s list are available from Swansea University Libraries. If the book you are interested in isn’t available at your campus library, you can sign in to iFind and Request that it is sent for you. We are always looking to develop this list, so if the book you love isn’t on there, let us know! You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the hashtag #SUBetterRead on Twitter or Instagram.
As library staff, we appreciate a love of literature, but reading has a wider benefit too. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expresses this far better than I ever could in here TED Talk, ‘The danger of a single story’. In it, she shows how easily a lack of understanding can arise if we only hear one narrative about a group of people or a country. It’s so important for us to be able to find ourselves in literature, but it’s also valuable to find an understanding of other people through fiction. Our LGBT+ reading list is a great resource if you want to find out more about the issues which have been marked by LGBT+ History Month, but it’s also a brilliant place to go if you’re looking for your next good read, whoever you are!
Alys Einion February 25th, 2018
Posted In: Uncategorized
There’s a kind of sadness in accepting that we still have a long way to go. Today I have been preparing lectures on equality, diversity, oppression and power, and the historical resistance to oppression. I have been reviewing information, case studies and TED talks on racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and these have raised some important issues for me relating to the history of LGBT+ identities and our own resistance to oppression. When we examine the lives and resistance of LGBT+ people, the concept of social devaluation emerges strongly, and this resonates powerfully with me when considering my life, and the lives of colleagues, friends and family.
According to Nzira and Williams (2009, p. 34), “our identity… is defined not only by ourselves but by others. When our identity is defined negatively by those in power, oppressive experiences are highly likely to result. The social process involved has been called ‘social devaluation.’” The experience of oppression is not new to many individuals, but perhaps those who are not accustomed to fighting for the legitimacy of their identities so forcefully, perhaps those people may not be so aware of the impact of social devaluation on people, on their wellbeing, on their ability to survive and to thrive in this vastly complex world. Social devaluation means that aspects of a person’s identity are viewed negatively, and that negativity is widely socially accepted because it derives from a dominant ideology. This can, commonly, be seen for example in groups of society being viewed as ‘second class’ or ‘less than.’ This in term limits opportunity for such people. It limits their voices. Our history of LGBT+ identities, for example, is complicated because history has been written by dominant forces which continue to argue against the assertions of our communities. A common argument for the lack of existence of LGBT+ people or identities in the past is the lack of ‘proof.’ For example, there is no ‘proof’ the Ladies of Llangollen had a sexual relationship – therefore it cannot be asserted that they did. This is an interesting approach. There is no proof that a whole raft of famous ‘straight’ people had sex either, yet it is assumed that there was a sexual, or heterosexual foundation to their marriages, despite there being no proof that they actually had sex. It is assumed that, because for example, they were married, that they had a sexual relationship, or at the least, a romantic relationship. The same measure is not applied to same-sex relationships of people in the past.
My response to that, of course, is ‘if it walks a like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.’ If an historical figure has a close, same-sex relationship with a person and it looks like an intimate relationship, is viewed by others and by the people themselves as an intimate relationship, then it is safe to assume it IS an intimate relationship. This is just one example of social devaluation, the undermining of same-sex relationships in the past because of a lack of legal or social legitimacy.
But the nearer past also contains other examples of how this might happen. A personal example of this is a comment made to me once by a very senior manager in a healthcare organisation, who had accused me of lying about being off sick. I had had a GP sickness letter confirming my sickness, and had followed protocol by ringing up and asking when to bring this in on the day that sickness began, the day I had secured the sick note. I was told by an administrative colleague that it was ‘fine to bring it in the day you come back’ because I lived so far from my place of work and one of the reasons I wasn’t in work was because I wasn’t well enough to drive. When I arrived back at work I was told that I would not be paid for the sick time because I hadn’t got the ‘sick note.’ Producing it and my argument, I was accused of lying (about the illness, about the phonecall to the administrative colleague) and getting a sick note in retrospect. This is what the senior manager said. “We all know you people can’t be trusted.” She was, of course, referring to the fact that I was in a lesbian relationship. This was before 2005 and so I had little legal redress for her behaviour. I argued strongly and was told that she “would let me get away with it this time”. My anger was such that I could barely articulate it, and I left the organisation some time later after systematic bullying for which there was no redress because of social devaluation. I was deemed to deserve the ostracism and outright bullying I experienced because of my deviance. I use this personal example but am surrounded by others’ examples of similar experiences, most of which I will not share in a public forum because they are their own stories, not mine to expose.
However, when we consider how far we have come, in terms of legal protections, we cannot forget that we are, many of us, still compelled to be activists for equality simply because we still see this social devaluation around us. When lesbian characters in mainstream dramas are consistently killed off, this suggests that being a lesbian ultimately leads to an early death. When gay characters are only known by and through their sexual behaviours, this devalues gay identity and limits it to sex, suggesting that this is the most important thing about being gay, which in turn undervalues the complexity of gay culture. When bisexuality is either invisible or discounted as ‘confusion’ then social devaluation comes into play, as if there is some great authority stating that every individual must define themselves according to social norms and make a ‘choice’ to be something that society has given a particular value to. When trans* people experience violence daily, and experience constant negative press in the UK media, this reinforces the false idea that they are ‘other’ and somehow deserve what they get, which is the antithesis of an inclusive, egalitarian society. When women are still judged primarily on their appearance and their willingness to starve themselves to meet social ideals of body size, and men are encouraged to denigrate and sexualise women as part of ‘male culture’. When all of these things continue, we have no choice but to resist.
Like many others, I have experienced people dismissing the fight for LGBT+ equality. “You’ve got equality now,” they say, because we have equal marriage. Yet this is far from an equal society, and far from an equal experience. We are free now to join the normative form of marriage and spend huge amounts of money on a socially validating event to celebrate and legitimise our relationships, yet it is impossible to get a gender neutral passport or a gender neutral birth certificate. And raising these questions, these legitimate, socio-legal issues, still makes people uncomfortable, just as seeing the rainbow flag and being faced with LGBT+ people in public life still makes people uncomfortable.
How can we respond to this? By asking what it is that we ascribe value to in our social lives. And who ascribes that value. Pose these questions, and start to unpick from where we derive our social value and the validation of our identities. Who owns the media that represents us in these ways? Who channels the information that we view? Who challenges the rampant sexism that is still inextricably linked to the pervasive homophobia and unconscious bias in our social worlds, the discomfort with trans* identities or non-binary gender? Do we even challenge these things ourselves? Where does our power lie in resisting the social devaluation of ourselves and our identities? Perhaps when we examine these questions we can start to see how to make the change real, and pervasive, right here where it matters the most, in our day to day reality. Or at least, we can recognise the oppression we all experience, and the multiple dimensions and intersections of inequality, and start to look to each other to bring about change, learning the lessons of the past and defining a different kind of future.
Alys Einion, February 2018.
Alys Einion February 5th, 2018
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