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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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20th November is Transgender Day of Remembrance, something that I had never heard of until a few months ago. But that’s not surprising. Not many people have heard of this. And the whole world that transgender people live in seems to be largely invisible to the wider population as well, something which I feel is a significant sign of the prevalence of social invisibility in our society today. We are an inclusive University, here at Swansea, and have a strong commitment to combatting inequality and supporting diversity. We’ve all had the training, but how many of us can begin to truly understand what it is to be transgender and to live in a word where there is a constant threat of abuse? I decided to write my blog to celebrate and mark this day not by looking at statistics and public messages, but to explore some issues relating to this in our current political context.

The rates and prevalence of attacks against trans people are high, unacceptably so. Today, I note with grief the death of a transgender woman who was detained in a male prison. My heart goes out to her friends and family. I am saddened. That could have been my friend, my lover. Anyone of these people who lose their lives is the same as my sister, my brother, my friend. We are all human beings, members of the human race. Any abuse against another individual, any physical or other aggression, is unacceptable. That we have a day to remember the trans people who have lost their lives, or been seriously injured, due to prejudice and ignorance, is a sign of the injustice which still persists in our own society. In the wake of global tragedies, and the resulting global outrage, it seems that these ‘small’ deaths are invisible, except to the loved ones of the victims. But we should be just as outraged, just as appalled, to hear of anyone being injured or murdered, especially when that is motivated by hate. Hate crimes destroy our society and undermine the fabric of equality that we continue to weave.

I was shocked, reading on article today, that most trans people fear abuse when they go out in public, and some will stay at home rather than risk going out. No one should live in fear. Today I heard a man on the radio saying that a reporter should not be speaking out against terrorism, in order to avoid provoking them. I disagree. We should always stand up to bullies, and never limit our activities, or silence our voices, just because someone threatens us. But I understand that fear of leaving the house. My family suffered four years of ‘neighbourhood abuse’ with no redress. Eventually we moved until we found a place we could live our life in freedom. But that is not always an option for people. And for our transgender friends, colleagues, family, and all those we do not know but claim kinship with by our shared diversity and humanity, all that can be said is that everyone should be free to live their lives without harm. Standing up to bullies is hard. How much harder is it when you have to prepare yourself to do that every single day of your life?

We can only work towards equality if we look straight into the eye of prejudice and hate and say, “no more.” Today, Transgender Day of Remembrance, is a chance to do just that. You may not understand but you can open your mind, you may fear what you do not understand, but knowledge is power. You may not agree with the views and lifestyles of everyone, but you can practice tolerance, compassion and acceptance regardless of difference. It breaks my heart that we have a day to raise awareness of hate crime and violence against a particular group of people in society. Our only way forward, as a University community, is tolerance.

These are my personal views, but as co-chair of the LGBT+ Staff network, I fully believe they are applicable to us as an academic community. We all contribute to the furtherance of knowledge and understanding: through research, through education, through collaboration, through publication. We are all part of something bigger. And no one plays any more important a role than anyone else. We are all equally important, and every single one of us counts.

In memory of all those who have lost their lives to violence and hatred.

Dr Alys Einion
LGBT+ Staff Network co-chair

November 20th, 2015

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