I feel very fortunate to have been able to attend a day of training around being a better ally to the LGBT community today at GSK House. I thought I’d try to distill the day, though I’ll do a bad job of it - my key takeaway today was that anyone who feels they would like to be a better ally should do a number of things. In particular:
- Don’t hesitate - reach out to folks in your network, catch up for a cuppa, and ask how you can help
- Learn - there were some phenomenal materials shared via Stonewall, but there is so much information out there (see resources at the bottom of this post) to really just make a start
- Be active - your voice is important. Fear of sharing, fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of the uncertainty of the space is normal. Reach out and talk to someone from Spectrum - please don’t be afraid. If we’re all trying to help, we will multiply each other.
I’ll try to distil the day’s key activities and key learnings below - a lot of the content here is directly from the Stonewall slides. Any statistics reported below are direct from Stonewall also.
I want to offer my sincere thanks to Dilraj Sura, Jason Sloan and Annie Newman for the opportunity and the organisation of the day. I feel like I made an incredible connection to the subject, the people from GSK, and our colleagues from Diageo and Astra Zenica.
Warning: This post is not short - I’ve tried to share a whole day of learning. Please, if you have any questions, reach out to the Spectrum ERG group on workplace. There are so many people who want to help anyone interested in being the best ally they can be.
LGBT RIGHTS SINCE 1969
Although not exactly the same, the timeline presented at stonewall is indicative of the struggle that still exists in the community.
- We talked about Stonewall and the origins of that - The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson was highlighted as a good documentary that documented the Stonewall story.
- We covered Section 28 - a pivotal act implemented in 1988 that prevented local government and schools from “promoting” (read: teaching) even the possibility of same-sex relationships. It was repealed in 2003, but teaching is still impacted by it today.
- The 2018 Gender Recognition Act (GRA) discussion has highlighted just how complex and difficult trans equality is to achieve, and how overtly complex it is to those who are going through attempting to legally change their gender.
- It was highlighted that our expectations and norms are perhaps not always fair - Pakistan’s position on transgender people and recognition of gender is in advance currently of the UKs
THE GLOBAL CONTEXT
The figures are, as you can imagine, shocking - and there are many more - Stonewall publish a number of annual reports and it's really worth reading them.
- 68 countries criminalise same-sex relationships
- 2,982 trans people were murdered between 2008 and 2018
- 25% of the worlds population believes that being LGBT should be a crime
It was also felt that we are “experiencing a rolling back of rights globally currently” which is incredibly worrying.
A CULTURE OF RESPECT
We talked about creating a safe and respectful place for the day, but these rules apply well to all of our conversations around the LGBT+ community:
- Mistakes - making genuine mistakes is fine, deliberate misuse of people’s pronouns or misgendering is not
- Questioning - asking questions is valid, but ensure questions are not personal or intrusive
- Cultural Sensitivity - being sensitive to this is crucial, denying peoples experiences is not
- Assumptions - don’t make any about a person’s gender, race, class, etc. Be led by them
- Self-awareness - sharing is encouraged, but be mindful of your contribution and give others a chance to do so
- Debate - exploring issues is encouraged, debating peoples identities isn’t. All identities are valid
A few key terms here - have “kind eyes and be a generous listener”.
If giving feedback, the UHT method was highlighted as useful (one I hadn't heard before):
- What I understand you said is X
- However, I feel that Y
- Therefore, Z
We also talked about ‘Calling in’ vs. ‘Calling out’ - try to bring the person who is having issues into the conversation and engaging them, rather than publicly ‘calling out’.
We explored a number of terms and matched them up to their definitions:
- Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Pronoun, Bi, Non-Binary
- Gender Expression, Coming Out, Cisgender, Trans, Transitioning
- BAME, Genderfluid, Queer, Gender Dysphoria, Pan
There was a statement here that I hadn’t anticipated, and it blew my mind:
“people come out all the time - coming out isn’t a one shot deal”
The LGBT+ community really have to consider in every context, in every new job, in every new social situation whether to be ‘authentic’ and come out if they haven’t done already. This level of consideration is terrifying as someone who aspires to allyship, but can’t possibly relate to the complexity of this.
One of the attendees talked about “Ethical Pragmatism” - assessing spaces as you enter them, assessing yourself in that space, and making a decision about how much you can share.
LGBT PEOPLE’S EXPERIENCES IN THE UK
These stats are tragic - as highlighted, this is just the tip of the iceberg - the links to the stonewall reports above really do give an even more broad set of figures:
- 1 in 5 black, Asian and minoriy ethnic LGBT people have experienced abuse online
- 1 in 3 LGBT people don’t feel comfortable walking down the street holding their partners hand
- 1 in 6 LGBT people who visited a cafe, restaurant, bar or nightclub in the last 12months have been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity
- Almost 1 in 2 trans people don’t feel comfortable using public toilets
- 1 in 3 bi people don’t feel able to be open about their sexual orientation to anyone in their family
- 1 in 5 non-binary people have experienced discrimination while looking for a new home
LGBT PEOPLES EXPERIENCES AT WORK
- 18% of LGBT people have experienced negative comments or conduct at work because they’re LGBT
- 35% of LGBT people have hidden their sexual orientation or gender identity at work because they were afraid of discrimination
- 38% of bi people aren’t out to anyone at work about their sexual orientation
- 12% of trans people and 10% of BAME LGBT people have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues because of their sexual orientation or gender identity
THE WEEKEND EXERCISE
This was incredibly powerful, and really helped me understand a little of what it’s like to be someone who wasn’t able to share everything of their life. Try it!
Spend a few minutes explaining what you did this past weekend. BUT
- You cannot use pronouns
- You cannot use names
- You cannot use gender specific nouns (e.g. wife, boyfriend)
- You cannot use place names
“I ran parkrun with one of my best friends and had coffee, then I had some drinks in the evening with my partner, then on sunday I had a family dinner”
It was impersonal, it was non-engaging, and it was VERY hard to focus on. People who are forced to cover their identity are doing this ALL THE TIME. The impact is easily quantified and measured (even if you only measure economic output).
The next exercise we talked about when we had felt included or not included. Ultimately, we talked about safety, being yourself, meaningful relationships, and talked about the impact of doing this in a non-inclusive environment with words like ‘bullying’, ‘wasted energy’, ‘isolation’, ‘fear of being outed’, ‘career development hindered’, etc.
The positive impacts, personally, culturally, and commercially were obvious to see.
WHEN HAS SOMEONE BEEN AN ALLY TO YOU?
I struggled with this one.
- When has someone been an ally to you?
- How were they an ally to you?
- How did it make you feel?
There were amazing tales from across the room, and my immediate thought was that of a cisgendered, white, male and an acute awareness of the privilege that has given me. I then recalled a time a few years ago when I had struggled with my mental health (a brush with significant depression and suicide) and the allyship I received from my team at work was pivotal. They checked in on me, they included me more actively, they checked on my spoon levels - ultimately, they created an environment where I didn’t need any time off work, and I felt utterly included and valued throughout.
DEFINING AN ALLY
I think there were a number of things in this, but key among them was the last point:
- An ally understands that people face discrimination and exclusion because of their identity
- An ally recognises when they have privilege and uses it to positively impact others
- An ally focusses on how they are towards others, and what they can do to create a more inclusive culture
- An ally commits to being positive and active in their values and behaviours
This was broken down into 3 categories:
- Gender identity - A person’s sense of their own gender, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth
- Sexual orientation - A person’s emotional, romantic and/or sexual attraction to another person, or lack thereof
- Gender expression - How a person outwardly expresses their gender, within the context of societal expectations of gender
It was highlighted that there are many facets to our identities - including (but not necessarily limited to): gender identity, nationality, trans status, race, class, gender expression, age, faith, sexual orientation, dis/ability
We mapped these our for ourselves, and I found personally:
- Class is quite a defining characteristic for me - I’m from a working class background, and that is incredibly important to me in keeping me grounded and reminding me of who I am
- Sexual orientation/Gender identity and Gender expression have become more important to me as I attempt to be a better ally (and my recognition of being the stereotype for privilege)
- Age is, as I hit 46 in tech, something that becomes more important in defining self - at some point I should probably end this silliness? :)
- Nationality played a small part too - but only when in another country. “Oh, you’re a brit?”, “Why, yes... yes I am!”
- I didn’t feel faith, disability, trans status, race, or education really had any significant bearing on my own identity
This was powerful, and I've loved the works of Peggy McIntosh in this space (it was called out by the speakers too).
- Society is setup to benefit some people more than others
- People are advantaged or disadvantaged by society and other people within it based on elements of their identity
- It is rarely one or the other. All elements of someone’s identity contribute to the levels of privilege and discrimination they experience
- This changed from culture to culture and context to context
We were asked to consider a number of questions around gender identity, sexual orientation, faith, nationality, disability, race, gender expression, trans status and class.
It really highlighted what privilege was for me (as did the Peggy McIntosh article). I’ve never been ridiculed at work because I’ve mentioned my partner, I’ve never felt victimised because of my religion, I’ve never felt unsafe to use toilets... these are all worrying norms in those with less privlege.
WHAT DOES PRIVILEGE LOOK LIKE IN THE WORKPLACE?
There were a number of things, but in recognising it, you will certainly see some of the below:
- Feeling welcome
- Accepted as ‘normal’ by your colleagues
- Able to say things to more senior people that others would not be able to
- Seeing people who are like you in and around the office
- Feeling able to contribute to a meeting or creative discussion
- Seeing people like you in positions of power
- Not being held to negative stereotypes of race, class, sexual orientation by your line manager
- Referred to by your correct pronouns
- Trusted and listened to by colleauges on elements of your identity not your skills
- Not worrying about elements of your identity being a barrier to your career progression
THE PRIVILEGE EXERCISE
We were asked:
- When have you lacked privilege and therefore power at work?
- What has been the impact of that on you?
- Have there been times where you’ve had more privilege than others at work?
This one as complex - again given my stereotypical privilege, the first two parts to this were almost impossible to answer. I’ve not experienced a lack of privilege in the workplace in my memory.
I’ve certainly expreinced situations where I’ve had more privilege than others at work. A great example of this is my ‘Director’ job title - I often joke that it means I make a better cup of tea. It opens doors, it gets things actioned, and it’s utterly wrong that it does so. Calling people out on it is to want to change the organisational structure and hierarchy (which I do!).
BEING AN ALLY
I loved the way the day was broken down into 3 areas:
- Value everyone’s experiences and identities equally
- Recognise that valuing different identities does not devalue yours
- Understand that you sometimes are privileged because of who you are
- Be self-aware and recognise your own fallibilities
- Listen to others stories and experiences
- Value other people’s interpretations and perceptions
- Listen to others’ point of view openly without comparing against your own
- Embrace being challenged and learning from LGBT people
This area is pivotal - thinking and relating without acting puts us in the ‘passive’ ally role.
- Share your opportunities with others
- Be visible in celebrating and valuing diversity
- Influence other non-LGBT people to be allies to
- Call out homophobia, biphobia and transphobia when you see or hear it
Please, when you're thinking about allyship, think about the 'ACTING' role - the LGBT+ community still benefits from passive allies, but active ones really maginify the voice.
This was a grid of:
- Active → Passive (X axis)
- Negative → Positive (Y axis)
Naturally, being active/positive was key and that gave:
- Embracing difference and acting to create a more inclusive environment
As you can imagine, the alternatives were:
- Active/Negative: phobic, racist, sexist
- Passive/Negative: not challenging
- Passive/Positive: marking elements of identity as irrelevent
We were asked:
- Actions you will take to step up and be an inclusive ally
- What we can do to be an ally to others
- What we can do to create a more inclusive culture
As an inclusive ally, I am enthusiastic to leverage my privilege and the one thing I commit to is (more than one thing). I commit to do more, to share more, to speak more, and to listen more.
I will also reach out to see if Proud Science Alliance can find an effective sharing mechanism where we can all share good practice, learnings, etc.