As I walked past the main building at Cardiff University last week I noted the rainbow flag flying proudly on their main flag pole, clearly part of their commitment to LGTB+ History Month. It got me wondering about whether we might use this blog to share other ideas and possibilities that we have seen elsewhere and would like to see here is Swansea.

Let me begin with two from Birmingham:

The first is the LGBT student mentoring programme (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/internships/mentoring/lgbt.aspx ). I was very proud to be part of this scheme, almost from the beginning. The idea was to provide students at the University with mentors over a year who had experience of being LGBT in different professions. The team had drawn together, through personal contacts, alumni and the local LGBT business group, a number of volunteers who agreed to meet with students on at least two occasions over the year. We began the year with a speed mentoring evening when potential mentees and interested students gathered to learn more about the programme and to have a series of five minute sessions. The students then indicated who they would like to act as their mentor. It might be a person from a profession that interested them (media, finance, health services, education etc. etc.) or somebody who clicked during the evening. There were two or three mentoring sessions during the year, where the agenda was largely set by the student’s own questions and concerns, and a review at the end of the year. It was relatively simple to organise but the feedback from the students (and in fact the mentors) was that it was so valuable and offered a safe space to discuss issues around LGBT identity and work that is not available anywhere else.

The second example is perhaps on a larger scale, and that is the inclusive curriculum project (https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/teaching-academy/documents/public/eip-nov14/McLinden.pdf ). I have booked in to a conference later in the year to learn more about the outcomes from this project, but in essence the project was designed to explore how LGBT issues could be integrated into the curricula across the University. Coming from a Department of Theology and Religion this had, perhaps ironically, always been an element of our curricula since the end of the 1990s. I taught part of a module on LGBT theologies, but more importantly, I also always taught the first year ‘Introduction to Religion’ module on which all our students, from the BA Theology, BA Islamic Studies and BA Religion and Theology, all had to attend. This gave me an opportunity to introduce queer approaches to religion, raise challenging questions on sexuality across different religious traditions, and to note just how many authors in the field are openly gay or lesbian. LGBT issues was not a ‘theme’ within that module it, along with BME, gender, disability etc. was part of the way I taught and part of what I taught. The students also came to realise, because of the examples I chose from my own life and experiences, that I was also gay. It never created any problems for me and clearly helped some of those in the lecture to approach staff in other contexts to discuss these issues further.

The inclusive curriculum project was aiming to develop that model further, across the University, and doing much more in terms of the wider structure of learning and teaching and student support. It may not appear to have any relevance for subjects in science and technology, for example, but even here I was fascinated to hear of one lecturer in Maths who made a point, again in the first year module, of choosing a variety of examples from a range of diverse mathematicians to illustrate the relevant points, and emphasising the diversity of the mathematic community. It was partly about incorporating LGBT (and other minority) theme as part of the examples chosen in a discipline, partly about using a diverse range of authors and indicating how their gender, sexuality, ethnicity etc. played into their thinking where relevant, and partly about LGBT lecturers being open and willing to engage in wider discussions. All this was designed to be approached in a safe environment, not to be pushed down student’s throats as it were, and, to use a horrible term, to ‘normalise’ discussions about LGBT people and ideas.

Others out there will probably have other examples, from alumni funded LGBT safe spaces on US campuses to identifiable ‘LGBT allies’ stickers that staff can put on their doors or notices boards. There are many ideas, not all of which we would want, or be able, to introduce here at Swansea, but it would be interesting just to see what could be going on out there.

 

Martin Stringer

PVC (Academic, Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences)

February 29th, 2016

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I feel pretty confident that I can tell you about every representation of lesbian relationships that I encountered during my youth.

 

I can tell you about that Brookside kiss, even though it’s not in my living memory, because I’d seen the screencap so many times (always accompanied by a word like ‘shocking’ or ‘sexy’) and it’s the only reason I knew who Anna Friel was.

 

I can tell you how much I tried to like The L Word, despite how over-sexualised and generally unrelatable it was to me.

 

I can tell you how it felt to watch Tipping the Velvet in my bedroom in secret, switching channels every so often so the next day I could talk about the programme which was on the other side.

 

I can tell you a lot about Zoe Tate in Emmerdale, from her girlfriend who abandoned her at the altar to the time she was rejected by that nice police officer and everything in between.

 

I can tell you all about all the lady couples in Bad Girls. I can list them in order of my most to least favourite, tell you which characters I wanted to be, which kisses most made me feel like coming out would be worth the risk, how it never occurred to me that all these women were criminals because I was too busy feeling like a kid in a candy shop.

 

I can tell you about the tropes. I can tell you about the girl-on-girl kisses to grab ratings and the almost inevitable disappearance of the storyline afterwards. I can tell you about madwomen and murderers: women who killed for, or even killed, the women they loved. I can tell you about bisexual women who cheated on each other with the same man. I can tell you about women who were abused and loved women and women who were abused for loving women. I can tell you about unrequited love and untimely loss.

 

I can tell you how these representations seeped into my young brain and shaped my expectations of the world.

 

I can tell you that I know that things are getting better, but that there is still a way to go.

 

By Anonymous, LGBT+ Staff Network member

February 22nd, 2016

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Have you ever watched a film and thought, yes, that makes sense, that speaks to me? Have you ever watched a film and really related to the people and the circumstances? Or have you watched film after film and wondered, when will I see my ideals, my values, my identity reflected back at me?
Finding yourself and understanding your identity is a key experience for everyone, something which starts in adolescence and seems to consolidate during the early years of adulthood. However, we are always learning, I feel, and many things influence the kinds of people we see ourselves as. For LGBT people, especially those who, like me, grew up in the 60s or 70s, finding their LGBT identity can be somewhat problematic. Or at least, can be a less straightforward. Unlike today, back in the day there were very few LGBT characters or storylines on TV or in films. As a teenager in the 1980s, there were very few role models for me to help understand my own identity. My research into narratives shows that ‘we are the stories we tell about ourselves’ and creating those stories often needs exposure to similar stories.
In the 1980s, I remember watching a TV adaptation of The Rainbow (DH Lawrence) and another of Oranges are not the Only Fruit (Jeanette Winterson). Neither of these painted a very positive view of being a lesbian, although there were elements of hope there for me. I was an avid reader, but there were no books for me to read. I watched the teen films that were prevalent at the time, but few had characters I could relate to. I remember watching the film Some Kind of Wonderful which had a boyish character who was called a lesbian by one of her classmates, but she was in love with her male best friend and ended up with him. There were so few books in which I could find something to relate to. I read The Well of Loneliness (Radclyffe Hall) and was so thoroughly depressed that I wondered if I would ever find happiness as a lesbian living in a world of straight people and straight stories.
And then I left home, at 19, and went ‘on the scene’. One evening, I was invited to a party with the woman I was dating. It was at a house owned by an older lesbian, a professional woman, secure in her identity and her context, and the world opened up. She had a shelf full of books about women, feminism, and lesbians. She loaned me a book (which I sadly was never able to return, as I did not have her address and fell out with the woman who had taken me to her house) which opened my eyes to a whole world of lesbian fiction. The book was I am a Woman by Ann Bannon. This was one of the books that were published as pulp fiction in the 1950s and 1960s, sensationalised with provocative covers, but many of which dealt with the real-life struggle of lesbians to find a place within the world. The book had a profound effect on me. I read and re-read it until the cover started to fall off. I started looking for more books, and found that these did exist. And I started looking for films. I found a bookshop, sadly now gone, in London. Silver Moon Books provided women’s and lesbian books and videos. There were adverts in the gay papers, and such things could be ordered through the mail.
Suddenly my world exploded. I watched some of the independent films made in the early 90s, and it was then I discovered my favourite film of all time. Claire of the Moon, Directed by Nicole Conn, tells the story of an American writer who goes on a writers’ retreat and shares a cottage with a famous lesbian writer and academic. The tension between them, set against a backdrop of powerful natural scenery, still grips and moves me, even though I have seen the film so many times I know the script by heart. I bought the book that went with it, and the soundtrack – first on tape, then later on CD. I bought the book written by the actor who played Claire, which described her own journey of self-discovery inspired by the film. And I realised that everything that I had been searching for could be and was reflected out there, somewhere, if I only had the means to find it.
It seems strange now, in these days of instant streaming, instant access to a vast catalogue of music, films and books, that once upon a time it was hard to access materials like this. Librarians would not order certain books, and you had to find out about the books in the first place. I felt as if I lived in a desert of lesbian identity, constantly searching for something to slake my thirst for knowledge, for self understanding. And it was films like this, and like Go Fish (Guinevere Turner) which helped me to start to see myself from different perspectives, and to understand the symbols of lesbian culture which were manifest in these films. Films and books which talked about lesbian life and experience opened up my knowledge of my culture and my history. I learned about butch and femme, radical sex, separatist lesbian feminism, bisexuality, and sexual health, all from videos and books. There was no other way to learn, it seemed.
Claire of the Moon deals with the classic issue of understanding self. Claire is an independent, confident, sexually aggressive woman whose self-assurance is compellingly attractive. The film shows how she is challenged by the sudden interaction and forced proximity with Dr Noel Benedict, and how at first they clash, their differences causing significant friction. “I have never seen two people more ill suited” Noel says. Claire is a night owl, a coffee drinker, with sloppy habits and a tendency to smoke too much. She is laid back and free, expressive and unselfconscious. Noel is an early riser, a workaholic, “dedicated, upright” and somewhat uptight. Their differences seem insurmountable. “You stay north, I’ll stay south” Claire says to Noel. Their differences are emphasised.  But something draws them together, some commonality. First, they each read each other’s latest book. They bond over alcohol and backgammon. And the attraction between them becomes evident. Against the dramatic scenery of the Northern Californian coastline, they find themselves drawn together only to pull apart. Noel is attracted but having been hurt by a straight woman in the past, is disinclined to see Claire’s attraction as real or substantial. She dismisses it as idle curiosity. Claire, meanwhile, seeks out sexual encounters with men to compensate for her confusion. Her inner life is represented in dream/fantasy sequences which she finds disturbing, but which reflect strongly for me aspects of my own inner life.
And still, they are drawn inexorably towards each other. In this film, you see references to lesbian and women’s culture and history, particularly in the characters on the writers’ retreat, who are almost caricatures. There is Shylo Starbright, the hippy, esoteric ‘holy-istic type’. There is the conceptual poet, Adrienne. The housewife who has escaped from the kids for the first time, and whose husband leaves her because he can’t cope on his own. And the two women who run the retreat, one of whom is a butch lesbian, the other a femme and academic. There is much more to lesbian culture than these examples, obviously, but they act as tiny symbols of a much greater history that is waiting to be discovered. There is the representation of the ‘lesbian hug’. And then there is that fundamental story line, the love and desire between two people who are attracted to each other despite their differences. That was what gave me hope, as a young woman, struggling to work out who I was, and wondering if I would ever find community, find a relationship, friends who were similar to me, or at least people who shared the same kind of journey. The cataclysm of the climax of the film is simple, and simply powerful.
I have watched that film too many times to count. I have, since, developed a fondness for lesbian fiction, of every class and genre, and can cite whole range of authors and stories that give me pleasure and open up new windows into knowledge, understanding and the wider world. I love Karin Kallmaker’s books in particular, as well as Sarah Waters. I am lucky now that such books and films are mine at the stroke of a key, and I no longer spend weeks or months just watching the same film over and over to remind myself that I am a lesbian.
I have come to realise that we are all looking for identity. We are all looking, perhaps subconsciously, for something outside of ourselves that reflects our inner life, our sense of self. We look for the stories that speak to us, or about us. We find parts of ourselves in the films we watch, the books we read. We find our history not just in the factual records of the lives of lesbians, gay men, transgender people and the vast diversity of identities that are now emerging beyond the boundaries of binaries and definitions. We find them in the books written by others about stories that are often similar to us, the stories that take us away into new worlds and new locations.

I am an author myself, now, and I know that my work is influenced by all those who came before me. As I continue to write, I always remind myself just how far I have come, and how priveleged I am to witness and share in the stories of others. We are the history others will read in the future.

More than ever, it is important to write, read, produce, watch and consume these stories. They are a testament to those who were before us, and to the world we live in now, where our diversity can no longer be eradicated. The stories exist.

And so do we.

 

by Alys Einion

Senior Lecturer in Midwifery

 

 

February 16th, 2016

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When people congratulate me for co-chairing the LGBT+ Staff Network and call me a queer role model, I have to be honest – I didn’t intend for this to happen, I just came out to a colleague and everything snowballed very quickly from there.

In a lot of ways, I’m not the best person to lead a Network – I’m abominably shy, awkward, no good at networking, and generally prefer to stay hidden from sight (though admittedly most of this is due to inexperience). This was a source of discomfort for me for a while – was I a rubbish role model? Was I giving a bad image of LGBT+ people, or of the network?

Then again – over the months I have come to realise two things:

Done is better than perfect
That is – it’s better to have someone trying to effect change, making mistakes along the way, and doing their best with their heart in the right place, than wait for the “perfect” leader to come along before we try to do anything. Since I became co-chair of the Network, I am proud to have achieved the following using my resourcefulness, creativity, and enthusiasm:

• Enabled the Network to become an active group that meets monthly
• Set up regular co-chair meetings to progress the our strategic LGBT+ plans
• Established a successful LGBT+ Allies Programme
• Organised LGBT History Month celebrations for 2015 and 2016
• Held awareness-raising campaigns on calendar dates previously not marked at the University, e.g. Bi Visibility Day.
• Doubled the size of the Network
• Jointly lead the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index submission, which this year resulted in us being ranked 36th top employer in the UK, and 2nd top HEI employer!
• Regularly touch base with the Network to ensure that our members are happy with the service we provide and can feedback suggested improvements (currently underway)
• Worked with Senior Management to communicate support for LGBT+ issues
• Strengthened links with the Students’ Union LGBT Officers and community LGBT+ groups in order to share best practice, support each other’s events, and share resources.

I’m sure someone in a higher level position could have achieved even more – but until someone comes along and expresses an interest in the network leadership, then I’m more than happy to do the best I can. And for an awkward young admin assistant, I think I’ve done a pretty good job.

The more role models, the better
So often, the role models we are presented with are of a similar style – a particular leadership style that is authoritative, academic, highly confident, and well-networked. I don’t (yet) identify as any of those things, but actually that’s ok. Role models are there for people to aspire to, and not everyone wants to be an authoritative, forceful leader. Some people want to be gentle, encouraging leaders, some have no desire to lead, and some at the start of their careers can’t even imagine reaching the dizzying heights of SMT because that seems so far from where they are now. Some people just want to be comfortable enough to be out at work. If I am to be a role model for anything, I hope it is for being a publicly imperfect person that is striving to be better and doing what she can within her means. I hope I illustrate that resourcefulness, courage, and a desire to make things better can lead you to achieve great things – even if you’re awful at talking to people at parties.

Cath
LGBT+ Staff Network co-chair

Cath’s previous posts:
Straight Until Proven Queer

February 8th, 2016

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February is an interesting month. It’s the tail-end of winter, when people are thoroughly sick of the long, dark nights, the cold, the bare trees and grey skies, and are yearning for spring. The bright lights and warmth of the festive season are behind us, and we face the new year full of resolve or trepidation. That this has been designated UK LGBT history month seems to me to be perfect timing. It’s a chance to lighten the darkness a little, but still reflect and learn. Make the most of the lingering mood of introspection. It’s a chance to understand ourselves in context.

Whether you are LGBT+ or other, an ally, or someone who has never considered the history of the LGBT movement and of our identities, this is a chance to explore deeper the people, culture and events which have shaped our knowledge of ourselves and have affected our liberties and rights in the UK. It is a chance to consider ourselves in a wider global context.

The first place to start then, for this blog series, is with a brief overview of what this month means, and I hardly need to do anything other than give the official website: http://lgbthistorymonth.org.uk/

This is about honouring and recognising our history. The history of politics, political movements, literature, the arts, the law. It is the history of identity. Women living as men. Men living as women. Butch and femme, drag and drama. The changes in law, culture, and medicine. The oppressions of society, government, and medicine, pathologising us when we were no longer invisible. It is the history of survival in a world that kept on denying us. It is humbling.

But there is more. As I start this month, my first ‘history month’ as co-chair of the Swansea University LGBT+ Staff network, I find myself reflecting on what it means to me to be even sitting here writing this blog. Writing is a form of history making. Everything I do in this role, it seems, is making history, and that means that everything that others have done to simply be themselves, express themselves, or advocate for the rights of LGBT+ people have also made that history.

It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it, that what we do, day by day, is contributing to history? It causes a sudden shift of perspective, like climbing up and suddenly realising you are actually climbing down, like vertigo from looking up at a high building. And what I see here is that I am one small voice in a vast and huge chorus, all singing the same song. That chorus extends out to beyond the borders of our identities as LGBT+. It extends to all the other dimensions of identity, of self, and of community. Black, white, minority ethnic, female, male, non-binary gender, transgender, old, young, middle aged, parent, single person, coupled, married, divorced, people of faith, politically active people, working people, academics, professionals…. All of us a huge part of creating the world anew, each day.

The theme for this year’s LGBT month is Religion, Belief and Philosophy. There are many things that shape our world, and I have always felt that our beliefs, the way we make sense of the world, are fundamental to our identities. I have always wanted to make a difference in the world, always felt that I was put on this earth to make it a better place. This is one way I can do that. So as I continue with this blog series, I would like to raise key issues about belief, about religion, and about philosophy, and link to the various figures and events in history that have brought about the biggest changes in our wider world.

It was 32 years ago that I realised I liked girls. In that way. I was an introverted 13 year old, with a deep sense of spirituality and a yearning desire to be known, to be seen. There were no visible lesbians in my community, and few in the media. I had no idea about lesbian identity or history; gay was a very bad word in our house. I had no idea of the many, many people who had risked their lives to live according to their own identity. Over 30 years of my own history, and much of what I have and continue to experience is thanks to the people who have helped shape the world into a place where I can sit here and write a blog like this and not risk my career, my home, my life, or my liberty. That is why history is important. Because it is important to see where we have been, and how far we have come, honouring all those who have come before us, so that we can all feel able to continue to shape the future.

Check out the resources on the LGBT history month website, and do please follow this blog series as I explore as many issues as I can throughout this very important month. And if you would like to contribute to the blog, please get in touch at lgbtplus@swansea.ac.uk

HAPPY LGBT HISTORY MONTH!!!!!

By Alys Einion, Co-chair of the Swansea University LGBT+ Staff network.

February 1st, 2016

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