Well, 2017 was a busy year for us here in Swansea University. Not only did we engage in a number of events, including a seminar for LGBT History Month, and hosting and organising the 2nd Annual LGBT+ Inclusivity in HE Conference, we also implemented some plans to formalise our network structure, forming a new committee. The roles are currently being advertised, as follows:
This is a valuable opportunity to get involved in a leadership / cross-faculty role, which is essential for career development for both academics and Professional Services staff. The Network will be a friendly and encouraging group in which to develop these skills.
Roles are assigned for two years in the first instance. Committee members will be required to work proactively, deliver actions by agreed deadlines, and to work together in an environment of equality, trust and respect. The network will meet on a regular basis (approx. every 2 months) and members are required to attend meetings and events wherever possible, contribute to discussions, and undertake a fair allocation of work. We expect members to be able to commit 2-3 hours every week to the role.
If you are interested in applying for a role, please email Cath Elms C.L.Elms@swansea.ac.uk with the following information (up to 500 words per question):
The deadline for applications is Friday 12th January 2018.
If you have any queries about the roles, please get in touch. If you would like to apply for a role but have concerns about not receiving support from your line manager to attend meetings, etc, please get in touch as we may be able to assist with this.
Alys Einion January 4th, 2018
Posted In: Uncategorized
The conference is tomorrow! I am so excited to meet everyone and we have a packed and really amazing programme of events.
Programmes will be distributed on the day, but in the meantime, here is how the days are looking….
Please remember, we are on the Bay Campus. Here is a link to the campus map
Please come to the School of Management and follow the signs for the conference.
With very best wishes from the LGBT+ Network and the Representatives from Cardiff University and University of South Wales.
Programme Day 1 – 5 September 2017
9:00 am – 10.30 am Registration and refreshments
10.30 am – 11:00 am Welcome to the conference – THE ORGANISING COMMITTEE
11:00 am – 12:00 pm
CHAIR – Prof Martin Stringer Keynote address: Professor Cara Aitchison, President and Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff Metropolitan University
From ‘marking difference’ to ‘making a difference’: the social-cultural nexus of power and personal responsibility in the leadership of higher education.
12:00 pm – 12.15 pm Comfort Break
12.15 pm – 1.15 pm
CHAIR- ALYS EINION Papers: Staff and student experience
(Non-) performative allyship: when LGBT-friendly images of HE institutions backfire
Pippa Sterk, Goldsmiths
Interactive collaborative virtual learning space exploring inclusive practice
Mandy Jack, Swansea University
Hate Crime Reporting Centre
Robin Benson, Swansea University
Fanzines: making media, doing activism
Cath Elms, Swansea University Workshop
Decolonising ‘inclusivity’: mapping reciprocity through a social cartographical lens
Cath Camps & CA Emmett, Cardiff University and USW
1.15 pm – 2.30 pm Lunch Break
2.30 pm – 3.30 pm
CHAIR – CATH CAMPS Papers: cultural barriers and mental health
Bisexual erasure and biphobia in Wales
Carlotta Lami, Swansea University
LGBTQ students and mental health
Georgina Gnan, King’s College
Gender, women and the ‘F’ word – addressing gender inequalities awareness in professional and social science education.
Alys Einion, Swansea University.
An employability mentoring scheme for LGBTQ students at the University of Birmingham
Sean Russell, Get Out Stay Out
How can my teaching be more LGBTQ inclusive? Reflecting on professional practice and power in higher education
Nicola Gale & Nicki Ward, University of Birmingham
3.15 pm – 4 pm Afternoon Coffee Break
4:00 pm – 5:00 pm
CHAIR – Prof Martin Stringer Papers: campus climate
Turning the sandstone into a rainbow: implementing an inclusive culture in a 170 year old institution
Jennifer Barrett & Mark Smith, University of Sydney
Proudly Proactive: celebrating and supporting LGBTQ+ students in higher education in Scotland
Hazel Marzetti, University of Edinburgh
Trans inclusion: exploring the experiences of trans and gender diverse students and staff in HE
Stephanie McKendry, University of Strathclyde Workshop
This is your trans* life: trans inclusivity in medical education
Evan Wilkins, Cardiff University Workshop
Bisexuality issues in higher education
Rosie Nelson, University of Bristol
5:00 pm CLOSE DAY 1
Conference Dinner at the Swansea Marriott Hotel. Schedule:
● Arrival and Drinks reception at 6:30pm;
● Seating at 7:15pm;
● First course served at 7:30pm.
Dinner entertainment: music by Welsh singer/songwriter Bronwen Lewis (from the film Pride)
Programme Day 2 – 6 September 2017
9.30 am – 10.30 am
CHAIR – ALYS EINION Keynote address: Professor Martin Stringer, Pro-ViceChancellor, Swansea University
Herding dragons, intersectionality and the teaching of religion
10.30 am – 11.00 am Comfort Break
11:00 am – 12:00 pm
CHAIR – ERICH HOU Papers: trans research, and psychology
“Can I touch you? I’ve never met a real non-binary person”: the importance to inclusive curricula of equipping trans-identified students with research skills
Edith England, Swansea University
Queering the psychology curriculum: reflections on doing LGBT activism in the context of academic psychology
Nuno Nodin, Royal Holloway
The unicorn in the room: the impact of gendered expectations in clothing in Healthcare/HE environments
Josie Henley, Cardiff University Workshop
How to develop successful strategies for implementing change in your institution to enhance the experience of LGBTQ students and staff
Sean Russell, Get Out Stay Out Workshop
Bi exclusion and inclusion in higher education
Ele Hicks, Bi Cymru
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
CHAIR – Catherine Emmett Papers: teaching health & social care
Developing and advancing LGBT inclusivity in higher education curriculum
Maurice O’Brien, Caroline Ellis & David Clarke, Cardiff University
Gender and Sexual Diversity in Professional Practice Learning: Early Lessons from the DAPPLE Project
Nicki Ward, University of Birmingham
Medical students exploring gender through art
Zarabeth Newton & Tonya Neame, Cardiff University Workshop
Over the rainbow: small symbol, big impact, and uncovering ‘untold’ stories
Spectrum (LGBT+ staff network), USW Workshop
GO Wales employability scheme at Cardiff University and the University of South Wales
GO Wales for Cardiff and USW
1:00 pm – 2:00 pm Lunch Break
2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
CHAIR– ALYS EINION Plenary session: David Donovan, Negotiations Officer, BECTU
PRIDE: A Study in Solidarity
3:00 pm – 3.30 pm Afternoon Coffee Break
3.30 pm – 5:00 pm
CHAIR – Prof Martin STringer The Great Debate
Panel session with speakers from the conference
5:00 pm CONFERENCE CLOSE
Thank you and goodbye!
Alys Einion September 4th, 2017
Posted In: Uncategorized
Last week I spent 5 days in the city of Mannheim, Germany, for a twin-city exchange on LGBT+ issues, accompanied by Network member Daf. Mannheim invited representatives from LGBT+ organisations from all of its twin cities to apply for a place at the event, and Swansea University’s LGBT+ Staff Network was offered 2 places on behalf of the city of Swansea. The other organisations and twin cities represented were LISTAG (Families and Friends of LGBTIs in Turkey) from Istanbul (Turkey), GENDERDOC-M Information Centre from Chisinau (Moldova), Haifa Rainbow Association from Haifa (Israel), and Community House from Haifa (Israel).
On Thursday 10th August, I participated in the city’s Rainbow Reception event, which was the official city reception for all LGBT+ activists to celebrate Pride Weekend. The event was opened by the Major of Mannehim, Dr Ulrike Freundlieb, and was followed by a 40-minute interview with the twin city representatives. In the interview, I spoke about LGBT+ equality in the UK, including the Equality Act 2010 and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. When asked if the fight for LGBT+ equality is over now that legal equality has been granted, I spoke about the importance of continued activism, particularly focusing on trans issues and intersectionality where significant barriers still remain, as well as the importance of being active allies to those in the community. Allyship is not just for those who are straight and cis, it is also for those of us within LGBT+ communities who have relative positions of privilege that we can use to affect positive change.
Afterwards we met the Mayor and the Twin City Commissioner Dr Ludovic Roy, and spoke with some press representatives about our organisations and LGBT+ activism work. Read more about the Rainbow Reception event on the official Mannheim website.
On Friday 11th August, all twin city representatives met with various LGBT+ organisations and activists from Mannheim to share best practice and discuss ideas for how the twin cities could work together to advance LGBT+ equality in Europe. We talked about the situations in our own countries, the work we do, and ways to work together – suggestions that we’ve taken away include setting up a shared resource website, a Twin City LGBT+ Equality Network, and joint events including film festivals and Pride visits (watch this space!).
The aspect of the workshop that had the most value for me was hearing the other delegates talk about their experiences in their countries – e.g. in Turkey, the question Metehan hears the most from people who come to his LGBT center for help is “can you please cure my son/daughter?” and if he answers “no”, they will just go to a Doctor who will claim they can cure their child. In Moldova, Anastasia and Slavi’s organisation GENDERDOC-M is the only LGBT+ organisation in the whole country, and are entirely funded by European grants and donations – they receive zero government support, and in fact, Anastasia later told me that the reason she got into LGBT+ activism is because she received first-hand police discrimination for being queer where she was detained against her will by the police and had her ID confiscated. This served as a reminder to me not only of how far we’ve come in the UK, but also that there are still enormous barriers for LGBT+ people on our doorstep in Europe. But what was inspiring was the activists’ determination and courage to keep campaigning for equality despite discrimination, prejudice, and burnout.
On the Saturday, the twin city delegates were the guests of honour at the Mannheim Pride Parade – after being welcomed in the opening speeches, all twin city reps were invited to cut the ribbon and begin the parade, and then we marched at the very front through the city centre. The march had such a fun, uplifting vibe full of floats and lavish costumes and loud music, and the city was filled with members of the public taking photos and cheering us along the 1.5-hour parade route. The march ended at a street party in the Mannheim Palace grounds containing 70,000 visitors over the course of the day, where the university had a table – we made sure to promote our upcoming LGBTQ Inclusivity Conference there too!
Later in the afternoon a minute’s silence was held at the party in commemoration of the victims of homophobic violence in Chechnya, and the twin city reps were invited to read out the English translations of the German words of commemoration. A little while later, we were all invited back on stage to be interviewed about our LGBT+ activism work for the Pride audience.
One of the main things I learned from this visit was how much I overestimate perceived barriers to equality. It was fascinating to speak to people from other countries where human rights violations and discrimination against LGBT+ people is routine, or where their culture is so closely linked with religion in which many followers have deeply-entrenched resistance to LGBT+ rights. In the UK sometimes we perceive religion to be such an enormous barrier, when in fact we’re fortunate to live in such a pluralist and tolerant society by comparison to others in Europe. The experience has helped me see my own work through new eyes.
It was an incredible experience, and I’m honoured and grateful for the opportunity to have met so many inspiring LGBT+ activists from other nations and share our stories and ideas. The visit has inspired me to keep working towards LGBT+ equality in our own community, and to use our relative privilege here in the UK to support those who are still fighting for their civil rights in Europe and beyond. We’ve achieved a lot in the UK in regards to LGBT+ equality but there is always more that can be done.
LGBT+ Staff Network co-chair, Equality Advisor
Alys Einion August 25th, 2017
Posted In: Uncategorized
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.
PVC (Academic, Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences)
Alys Einion February 29th, 2016
Posted In: Uncategorized
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
Alys Einion February 22nd, 2016
Posted In: Uncategorized
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
Alys Einion February 16th, 2016
Posted In: Uncategorized
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 email@example.com
HAPPY LGBT HISTORY MONTH!!!!!
By Alys Einion, Co-chair of the Swansea University LGBT+ Staff network.
Alys Einion February 1st, 2016
Posted In: Uncategorized
As many LGBT+ people will tell you, coming out is never one solitary event – as though I once said “hey everyone, I’m bi!” and then everyone knew. It’s a constant process, and for bisexual people especially so.
The first time I came out, rather nervously, was at university after getting involved in the LGBT+ Society. It prompted me to read more about sexuality, discuss sexuality with similar people, and I came to the realisation that I was allowed to identify as bisexual. During this time I managed to debunk all the myths about bisexuality I had acquired through my teens – that in order to be a “real” bisexual, you needed to:
I had always felt bisexual, before I fully understood the word, but never felt as though I was allowed to identify as such. In my teens I had a boyfriend, and then in college I started a relationship with another man, which lasted through my university years. On the outside, I appeared to be heterosexual, and this felt convenient in some ways. I didn’t want to grapple with my sexuality, so I ignored it – I decided that unless I really fell for a woman, it wasn’t actually an issue. Being in an opposite-sex relationship was pretty much straight, right? Did it matter how I felt on the inside?
This was further complicated by my mental health and my social anxiety at the time, which meant that for a while my boyfriend was the only person I spent time with so I didn’t meet new people to be attracted to – thus reinforcing the idea that I wasn’t really bi, otherwise I’d have loads of crushes on people of all genders.
Once I realised I was ‘legitimately’ bisexual, in my 2nd year of uni, I started attending LGBT+ events regularly where it was assumed that I was not-straight (what a relief!), and I didn’t formally come out for a while. Actually, the first person I ever came out to was one of my lecturers in my second year – during a meeting with her, I said in passing “as a bisexual woman…” and it felt terrifying and freeing.
Then I came out to my boyfriend, who responded in a loving and supportive way – we were in a monogamous relationship so it didn’t affect the way we were with each other anyway. Then, 2 years later, when my uni boyfriend and I had broken up, I came out to a friend by blurting out that I wanted to date more women.
From there on, I was pretty much out – I referred to myself as queer or bi online, I changed my Facebook “interested in” to “men and women”, and I got more involved in local queer activism. I realised that I liked the word “queer” too (which means “not-straight” and has a more political slant), and started using both words interchangeably to describe my sexuality.
But a few months later, I met and fell for another man. And so I felt as though I was back in the closet – worse, I felt like a fraudulent queer because my only long-term relationships had all been with men.
But I resisted this urge to define myself by these biphobic ideas – this time, I still considered myself to be bisexual, and I continued to hold onto this part of my identity. I met other queer people, openly attended queer events, came out to new colleagues and new friends when the opportunity arose naturally, and a year ago I became the co-chair of the LGBT+ Staff Network.
Then, 3 years after that, I finally came out to my parents. It was early 2015, I was about to be featured in the South Wales Evening Post for my work with the Network, and I figured it was time for them to know. I knew rationally that it would be fine, that the worst I’d get would be prying questions and perhaps disbelief (to which I had an answer prepared: “It’s ok if you don’t fully understand, it just meant a lot to me that you knew”), but still I was terrified. I didn’t want my parents to be freaked out, or angry, or embarrassed. The evening came – after my Dad brought us all cups of tea, while we were sat around the TV half-watching Jurassic Park, I awkwardly blurted out “I have something to say…” and then I told them.
They looked a bit taken aback, but said words to the effect of “ok cool. We had a feeling.” My dad gave me a long hug, I had a bit of a cry, and then we went back to watching Jurassic Park. My dad made a joke about the family dog liking both ham and chicken, and I knew everything would be fine.
Sometimes bi people in opposite-sex relationships are accused of having “straight privilege” – that is, we have a certain amount of privilege because we can pass as straight. But this assumption of “straight-until-proven-queer” is another form of heteronormativity, which is something that hurts all LGBT+ people.
I celebrate coming out day because in a world where LGBT+ people still experience discrimination, harassment and violence, coming out and sharing our stories matters. But like many other LGBT+ people, I hope that eventually we no longer need a coming out day because the assumption won’t be that everyone is automatically straight. Hopefully one day, someone revealing their sexuality (whether that’s queer, straight, asexual, or anything else) will be as commonplace and unremarkable as someone revealing that they prefer donuts to cakes, or that they only like donuts with coffee and cake with tea, or that it depends on the topping, or that they actually prefer pie.
LGBT+ Staff Network co-chair
Alys Einion October 13th, 2015
Posted In: Uncategorized
In honour of National Coming out day on 11 October 2015, we at the LGBT+ Staff Network here in Swansea University are sharing some coming out stories. I hope that these will interest, inform and empower people and help raise awareness of how important, and challenging, it is to ‘come out’ as LGBT+.
To start the ball rolling, here is my coming out story.
The Yo-Yo Effect – a Coming Out Story
When people ask me about coming out, it seems they expect me to tell them about some huge incident or occasion when I declared my sexuality to the world, and dealt with the consequences. It’s a romantic vision, I admit, of someone making a huge statement, with subsequent life changes and, somewhere along the way, that ‘American Schmaltz’ moment when the estranged family welcome the black sheep back into the fold.
Sorry, but my coming out story is not really like that. It’s more like one of those annoying, serial adverts we used to get a lot of in the 80s and 90s, where, against your will, you have to keep watching them to find out what happened.
Coming out is huge. It really is. Even now, with so much more acceptance and legal protection for LGBT+ people, coming out makes you vulnerable. But it is really important, because it is a form of empowerment. It is an act of strength. It is an act of self-love. And it is a mark of respect to others that you trust they will deal with it appropriately.
For me, it began in the murky shadows of the 1980s. I had known for years I was . . well . . . not exactly straight. I had passionate crushes on my female friends. I snuck home from school when my mother was in work to watch Martina play Wimbledon, and disguised my urgent desire to watch the final as a burgeoning interest in the sport. But it was hard to admit, even to myself, that I was gay, in a valley where homophobia was the norm and local lads regularly took trips to Cardiff on a Saturday night to go gay-bashing in Sophia Gardens.
I was fifteen when I told my best friend. She acted cool, but assured me that she was straight, by the way, in case I had any ideas. Well, I had plenty but I knew she wasn’t interested. I was 18 before I had my first girlfriend, rapidly followed by my second, both schoolfriends, and both of whom ran back into their respective closets when the rumours about us started. Oh dear…but this was the first toe out of the closet. Those rumours brought some difficult questions, and then, my first coming out experience.
My sister, a year older than me, was very involved in my life. Being in a small town, we shared some of the same friends and often socialised together. And so one day, I was sitting on her bed whilst she put on her makeup. We got on well, despite her propensity for borrowing my clothes (she was 3 sizes smaller than me so I could never borrow hers!).
“So,” she says, carefully applying her mascara. “I heard some funny rumours. About you and Clarice.”
“Oh?” My stomach turned over. It’s a strange feeling, that burning desire to be known, to be truly known for who you are, but the terror of losing the love and support of those closest to you. It’s all very well for your head to tell you that if they can’t love you for who you really are, you’re better off without them. I didn’t want to lose my sister. And I definitely didn’t want her to freak out, tell my parents, and engender the worst case scenario, being kicked out on the street. That was a very real fear for me, the withdrawal of parental support, of the chance to have a carefree few years at university before real life began its full demands on my time and energy.
“Yeah,” my sister went on. “They say she’s your girlfriend!”
“Funny, isn’t it?” My sister grinned at me in the mirror.
I took a breath. “Yeah. The funniest thing is that it’s true.”
She gasped, then stood stock still, the mascara brush still in her hand, frozen half way to her eye. Then she said, “Oh, okay. That’s nice.”
I felt like I breathed out the biggest sigh of relief. It was okay. She wasn’t freaking out (though I learned later that she was, but she was determined to show me the love and positive regard she knew I would not get from my parents.) We agreed that day not to let on to the parents, and even though she asked for no details, her acceptance made a huge difference.
Not so my schoolfriends. As soon as the rumours began to surface in school, Clarice dumped me. Then there was Amy. More rumours. Another dumping. And then I ran back into my closet and firmly shut the door behind me. It was cold and lonely out there, and I didn’t like it. I got myself a boyfriend, proved I was straight, and carried on as ‘normal.’
Ditto my life in University. After one term on the gay scene, I was totally disillusioned by all the bed hopping, infidelity, and the phalanx of older barfly dykes who preyed on the ‘fresh meat’ but always went home alone. I didn’t want it. I wanted the white picket fence, the 2.4 cats. So after one term, one glorious term, I ran back into my closet again.
Years later, I finally came out to my parents. Well, to my mother. Living with a girlfriend in the early 90s, I felt that it was necessary to at least broach the subject with my mother. I was living a 4 hour drive away, completely independent, and rarely saw my family, but still. It mattered. That was the point. It mattered that my family knew me. So I rang my mother one day from a payphone (remember those?). This was during my second stint at university, as I embarked on my career and built a life for myself. I was secretary of the LGBT society in the students’ union, had run for Women’s Officer, and was a sexual health activist. I thought, at the very least I should come out to my mother. When I told her, she said, “you can’t be gay, you want children,” and I laughed. I think she had known all along, but for her generation, it was easy to leave things unsaid. Then she asked if I was happy. And I knew it was going to be okay. Her final words were “we won’t mention this to your father.”
Many more Years laterafter my mother died, the law changed, and I married my partner on the first day that civil partnerships became legal. It was like the biggest coming out story ever. Every day I came out, to the teachers in my son’s school, to my colleagues, to a new friend, I felt like I was breaking new ground. I always faced that fear. Yes, sometimes there was rejection, yes, family disappeared for the most part (except for my stalwart, always loving sister), but I dealt with it. Better to live as myself than suffocate in a blanket of self-deceit and invisibility. But I learned, as do many of my peers, that coming out is never one step, one act, one experience, it is a constant process of revelation, and requires strength, self-respect and the love and support of people who matter.
Coming out matters. It’s not easy, despite all the changes in the law and in society. People still have a hard time of it. Coming out means being vulnerable, but it also means truly being yourself, whatever the cost. People have died for the right to be themselves, to call themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and every other permutation of identity that makes us all so wonderfully diverse. It’s always frightening, it’s always a risk. But it matters.
Alys Einion October 10th, 2015
Posted In: Uncategorized
This has been a very interesting week, particularly as it has been my first set of activities as co-chair of the LGBT+ staff network here at Swansea University. Having been welcomed into the role by the out-going co-chair, Tracy Maegesuku-Hewitt, and by my current co-chair, Cath Elms, I’ve spent a lot of time simply in awe of the amount of things that relate to the network. And then . . . there was Bivisibility day.
Having hit the ground running, so to speak, caught up in the whirl of the new term, my own new students, courses starting, I hadn’t realised how quickly this day would arrive. I had never before realised how important such a day would be on the LGBT+ calendar, but as soon as we started getting the information out there, I could see how important it is. I think it comes down to the simple fact that we all live our lives in relative isolation, and sooner or later we look outside ourselves for recognition. We look around for people who reflect our own identities in some way, so that we can get a sense of solidarity and belonging. If the world around you doesn’t present many opportunities to see parts of your identity reflected back at you, it can seem like a very lonely place.
I guess it’s even more important when considering working life and student life. The workplace, well, we don’t choose our colleagues but it is a bonus if we get on with them. And being able to be yourself at work, or whilst studying, is fundamental to happiness, and to being good at your job. I’ve experienced a lot of challenges along the way, but one of the key factors in choosing an academic role here was knowing that I would never have to hide any aspect of my identity in order to feel safe, secure and supported in my work role. This really is a very positive and inclusive place to work. But Bivisibility day helped me to see how it might not always be easy for people to express their identity in a similar way.
It was a real pleasure, therefore, to spend an hour staffing the Bivisiblity information stall in the library foyer, and to meet a few brave souls who came to talk to me. It was also entertaining to watch people look at the stall, realise what it was about, and hurry on past. In between these two extremes were the students who looked like they were interested, but didn’t have the courage to stop and talk to me, and of course, the ones who thought I was working for the library and could tell them where the tours were!
So, why do we have a Bivisibility day? Because largely, bisexual people get overlooked. I don’t know why. Maybe simply stating that you are lesbian or gay is a stronger statement in the eyes of the average person. Who knows? Maybe bisexuality is still largely misunderstood, or not accepted as a clear and defined identity. I am not sure. But it is important to recognise that there are many, many ways in which sexuality, sexual identity and gender identity are expressed – as many as there are people in the world. And it is important as well to challenge the stereotypes about people who identify as bisexual, because this is something that is often misrepresented in the larger world.
I was amazed by the display, put together by my co-chair, of famous bisexual people. David Bowie! Annie Lennox. And one of my favourite authors, Alice Walker. Who knew? I thought if anything would make people feel better about bisexuality it would be knowing that many highly creative, intelligent and expressive people are happily open about their identities. It can only help to be in such august company.
I felt immensely proud to hang the bisexual flag from Fulton house this week, and even prouder to sit on the stall and be visible! I felt that I reached out to some of the people who were brave enough to approach me, and if me sitting there made a difference to one person’s life, then it was worth it.
So all in all it’s been a good start to the term and to my new role, and I am really looking forward to all the other events and activities that we have planned.
The network is here for anyone, staff and students, who want more information, support, advice or solidarity, about LGBT+ issues. We’re all one family, highly diverse and often radically different in our ways of seeing the world, but we have one thing in common. We all want the world to be a better, more inclusive place.
Contact the network on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alys Einion September 25th, 2015
Posted In: Uncategorized
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