I am the Equality and Diversity Advisor for Students at the University. My role provides support and intervention on student-related equality issues as an institutional lead in the area. A core part of the job is to work in collaboration with stakeholders as we constantly move forward in areas where practices could be more inclusive or students from under-represented groups could participate further.
Before joining the University of Birmingham, I was the Chair of the LGBT Staff Network at another university. I lined up quite a few staff networks within the Higher Education community in West Midlands, including Birmingham’s Rainbow Network, to develop conversations and peer support. This led to the creation of the LGBT+ Network of Networks in Higher Education which is now a national group of more than 180 staff networks officers and equality practitioners from about 80 universities and research institutions across the UK.
For me, being ‘out’ at work as a gay man was partially helped by the fact that I had joined the LGBT Staff Network. I think that being ‘out’ at work is a personal choice. One thing we need to be reminded of is that as much as an institution can be a very inclusive environment, there are other aspects of life that can result in an individual being unable to be ‘out’. As long as we can demonstrate that our workplace is a safe space, whatever decision people make, the institutional message of our commitment to inclusivity would be tremendously reassuring for everybody.
I believe that LGBT profiles are important, not just for staff, but also for students to see that the University is an inclusive environment and there are figures who they can relate to. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not like other characteristics such as race, which is very explicit. You do need to talk about them to raise visibility. I would particularly hope to see more profiles from individuals of ethnic minorities and under-represented characteristics in the future.
In my view, the University of Birmingham is an LGBT friendly institution. The University’s pledge for equality is enshrined in the University of Birmingham Charter. Our research and knowledge sharing on LGBT inclusive practices are well recognised in the sector. We have an award-winning LGBT staff network and several active student groups. We also have the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) as an LGBT ally champion on the University Executive Board.
I would encourage people within the LGBT community to reach out to other individuals. There are many people who are not able to ‘come out’ and people whose life experiences or cultures did not give them the chance to understand more about the LGBT community. A lot of cases of discrimination happen due to lack of understanding. If LGBT people are more open about it, those myths or ignorance can perhaps be broken up.