Category Archives: LGBT+

Homophobia is a thing of the past in UK blood donation

Last June I gave blood for the first time ever, though it wasn’t the first time I tried to give blood – that was 40 years ago. I was a seminarian back then, studying to be a priest, living in a rectory, while going to university. There was a blood drive on Sunday after mass. I stood in the queue with all the other parishioners while we completed our medical forms. There on the form it was made clear that as a ‘homosexual’ man I was not allowed to give blood. I was closeted at the time and already felt like there was something wrong with me for being a homosexual. The AIDS hysteria and rampant homophobia of the time only added to those feelings of self-loathing.  I had to think quickly on my feet and find some excuse to mark on the form so that I could get out of giving blood without letting on I was a gay man. My conscience wouldn’t let me fake being straight to give blood just in case I had the gay disease. I just accepted at the time that I was a risk to society, simply because I was gay. That was certainly the messaging in the press and government at the time. Gay men were dangerous. Full stop. As a class of people, we were tainted, risky, vile, poisoned and must be avoided. Of course, it wasn’t just us. It was also drug users and Haitians – but the vitriol was focussed primarily on us. 

Twenty years later and in a different, more progressive country, I thought I would give blood. But no, the blanket ban on gay men giving blood was still in effect in the UK.  By this time, I was a very out gay man and had really come to understand homophobia and all the other isms in society. I recognised this time that the problem was not me or my blood. The problem was homophobia. The original and continuing ban was based on prejudice and fear about an entire class of people. With the advent of reliable HIV testing, I could guarantee that my blood was not tainted. How did I know this? Well I had regular testing and completely changed my behaviour. I did not engage in ANY risky behaviour. Most of my friends at the time were doing the same thing. We went to safer sex parties, which were much like Tupperware parties – not parties to have sex, where we learned about safer sex practices. We used self-help and community development activities to educate ourselves and change our behaviour. These were also a lot of fun and a good laugh. During this period I had two 4-5 year periods of celibacy as well as a long-term monogamous relationship. My blood was safer than most sexually active straight people I knew at the time.

I had straight friends who didn’t believe they were at risk of HIV infection so got up to all sorts of unsafe sexual behaviours. How did I know there was lots of unsafe sex going on in the straight world? Well, as my gay male friends can attest, many straight women love to talk to us about their sex lives. I think sometimes it’s nice to talk to a man about sex, without any sexual feelings getting in the way.  Regardless of the reason, we gay men often know all sorts of things about what straight women get up to or what they want from their male partners. For example, some of my female friends practiced anal sex – both so they didn’t get pregnant as well as for pleasure reasons. Another friend was called “Head Queen” by her sorority sisters as she thought that oral sex would not transmit HIV or other sexual diseases. Others who used oral contraceptives had a range of partners without using protection. Still others used types of protection that were not really useful against HIV (e.g. lambskin condoms). Though straight men were not as likely to share these types of details with me as a gay man, I still heard enough straight men talking about their sexual exploits to know that they too were engaging in high-risk behaviour – though some of what I heard was likely made up or at least exaggerated! Because I had become a safe sex expert out of necessity, I tried to educate my straight friends about their risk for HIV. Often, I was ignored because in the messaging from governments and media outlets, most people heard only that AIDS was about being a type of person (e.g., gay men), and not about behaviours. This is homophobia. As long as you weren’t one of “them” you were safe. This is an example of how homophobia also hurt straight people….worldwide now 50% of new infections occur in women and currently in the UK more straight people than gay/bisexual people are being diagnosed with HIV. But getting back to the main point of this blog post, the ban on donating blood should always have been about behaviours….not sexual orientation. It took untilJune of 2021 for this to happen in the UK.  It is still not the case in the USA, despite the Red Cross believing the UK approach should be adopted.

As I gave blood last June during the 1st week gay people in the UK were allowed to, I let staff know what it meant to me to finally after 40 years be able to give blood. They were so welcoming and happy to see us coming in droves to give blood. They said lots of the gay men were saying the same thing as me. I knew I would be back. You are able to donate blood every three months, but I was unable to donate in September for a behavioural reason – I got a tattoo that month.  I needed to wait 4 months after my tattoo to be able to give blood again. This is a very sensible behavioural screening. After my 4 months were up, I gave blood the second time. Because I came back to give another blood donation, I got a special pin for showing up again, and I also got some information about my blood type. I have a rare blood type that is constantly in demand, and all I could think of was the number of people I could have helped save or help treat over the past 40 years if it wasn’t for the homophobia and fear that guided public policy for so long.  I plan on making up for lost time and giving blood as often as I can. I encourage others to do the same if you meet the now sensible eligibility criteria. Now if we can just tackle the rest of homophobia and the other isms too. 

Bathroom Police

This past week I’ve heard from two different female friends about their experience being accused of being in the wrong bathroom. Neither of them could be mistaken for being a Playboy Bunny, a Miss UK contestant, or a WAG, but I would never have guessed in a million years that anyone would assume that either of them were anything other than a woman. It’s true that neither of them fit an idealised, commercialised vision of western femininity or Hollywood fictional beauty. One is a butch lesbian the other is a very tall woman with an earth goddess type figure in a heterosexual marriage.  Both are physically lovely, but apparently neither are womanly enough despite having been born with ovaries, a cervix, vagina, uterus and a biology that was designed to make more oestrogen than testosterone.  Both were stunned and at a loss for words…though they both continued to do their business. My earth goddess friend was upset at herself for not having a trans-positive response at the ready to confront the woman policing appropriate gender appearance. She posted her experience on Facebook and I was taken aback by the well-meaning people who said things like, “I’m so sorry you had to go through this, “That’s awful”, or my favourite, “That’s terrible as you are every bit a woman”. The responses seemed to suggest there was something wrong or ‘less than’ with being trans. I’m sure none of these people are overtly transphobic, but the responses do suggest the inculcation of transphobic beliefs. It’s not surprising as we do live in a transphobic culture. My earth goddess friend is comfortable in her womanhood and was not upset about being mistaken for a trans woman (or a bloke in a dress as I’m sure the gender police assumed). She was upset she didn’t stand up for trans rights in the moment. I conceptualised her experience as one of collateral transphobia and she has nothing to regret about the encounter. Continuing to go for a wee was like pissing on that other person’s transphobia. Sure, in hindsight it can be fun to imagine coming back with a pithy saying or imagine flashing one’s genitalia to make a point, but carrying on as normal works just as well. Also, if you don’t belong to a specific oppressed group, you don’t typically have the previous experiences that help you develop coping mechanisms like instant come backs. 

Both of these experiences have really gotten me thinking about the difficulties the gender police would have if they began to police all bathroom usage. I do worry that we are not far away from that going by my friends’ recent experiences.  I began to think of all the gender non-conforming people I’ve met in my travels since 1980. I thought of Jai who took me in when I was made homeless as a young gay man because of homophobia. Jai was the 2nd butchest lesbian in Atlanta, and one could be forgiven for thinking she was a man, but she was all woman. I would have loved to see the bathroom police try to stop her and escape with their lives. Jai was fierce, but downright girlie compared to Brenda, who was the butchest lesbian in Atlanta. In fact, Brenda was the butchest person I ever met.  Brenda could have gone into any bathroom she wanted to, and no one would have dared stopped her! It’s not just butch lesbians that could cause some difficulty for the bathroom police. In Miami I had a straight cis-woman friend who had the deepest speaking voice I’ve ever heard. She had a strangely shaped body and didn’t quite know how to dress herself. Her gender appeared nebulous at best, but if you heard her speak it was even more confusing. The gender police would have had real difficulty deciding whether to inspect genitalia or not. Going back to Atlanta there was Sandi, who was what was called at the time, a post-operative transexual (gawd that sounds awful now). In today’s language Sandi was a trans woman who had had gender affirming surgery. Even with the surgery, years of hormones and buckets of makeup, Sandi always looked like a bloke in a dress. However, once you spoke to her for any time at all, her maternal, female spirit was enveloping. She stopped looking like ‘a bloke in a dress’ and simply was Sandi your female friend.  However, imagine the gender police’s consternation if they made Sandi show her genitalia before allowing passage into the women’s toilet.  Then there was Mandy – one of the most beautiful women you would meet anywhere in the world. She was drop dead gorgeous, and you would never look at her and think she was trans. She was one of the many trans women who can just pass. Unlike some of my trans friends who tried to pass, Mandy was loud and proud, announcing to strangers in her feminine strong Southern drawl that she had “her tree chopped down and her trunk split.” She loved to shock people with that one.  Imagine this scene: Mandy with all her womanly gorgeousness approaches the women’s toilets, the bathroom police take one look at her and say, “Come on in here honey. We can tell you are a girl.” I can just imagine the horror on the gender police’s faces when Mandy used her shock line! I do declare, I would love to see that!

So far my examples have been about the ‘confusion’ that women who ‘look like’ men or some trans women would cause the bathroom police. Let’s not leave trans men out of this crazy fun. Where should my friend John go to the bathroom? John has had top surgery and has been on testosterone for many years. He has a much better beard than me and does masculinity way better than me. He truly ‘looks like’ a man. However, he has not had gender affirming ‘bottom’ surgery so still has female genitalia. Would the gender police let him in the female toilets? They would definitely try to stop him yet would be in for quite a shock if he dared to bare all. Thankfully he’s able to peacefully use the stalls in male toilets. 

I don’t want to leave my intersex friends out of the picture. Where would the gender police have them go? I met Billy/Billie first as Billie. They presented as female. Billie was intersexed and assigned one gender at birth that didn’t really fit who they were. In the process of becoming clean and sober Billie started to present as Billy and was very androgenous.  I wonder which bathroom the gender police would want Billy/Billie to go to regardless of how they were presenting. 

All of these examples illustrate just how crazy all this bathroom hysteria is. My trans friends have been using the bathroom that is most appropriate to how they live since I started meeting them way back 1980. And trans people have been doing it way before I became aware of their existence. The world hasn’t come to an end because trans women use women’s toilets. Why has it become such a polarising issue in recent years?

The transphobic hysteria has been heating up in Scotland again with the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act. There are versions of the transphobic hysteria across the UK and people are getting themselves tied up in knots over it. I know that a lot of the moral panic that swept the United States was created by right wing Christian groups who were losing their battles against broader LGBTQ acceptance and human rights, and they have been funding that hysteria here in the UK now too. The right wing landed on using anti-trans messages to push back against the progress we were seeing across a wide range of issues including LGBT rights and women’s rights…and the anti-trans message was a winner. It whips up a moral panic and it creates strange bedfellows, reminding me of how some black Christian groups joined with right wing white Christian groups to oppose abortion or gay rights, when just years before the white right wing was fighting FOR segregation. The anti-trans movement has brought together some feminists, some lesbians with right wing groups who are homophobic, misogynistic, sexist or very conservative when it comes to women’s rights or what being a woman is. 

The discourse I hear coming from the anti-trans movement is that women like my two friends I began this essay about aren’t womanly enough. Real women are feminine and lady like. This discourse is part of what the feminist movement and many lesbians have been fighting against for generations. I find it odd that the moral panic has allowed some feminists and lesbians to crawl into bed with the right wing. 

I also hear discourse that suggests that women are weak, helpless, fragile victims and they must be protected from all the evil predatory men that are around every corner. This just strikes me as incredibly sexist. Yes, there are predatory and dangerous men in the world, but that doesn’t justify that some feminists and some lesbians should work with the right wing to oppress trans people. Again, the moral panic created by the religious right has led to some crazy bedfellows. I fear that the moral panic around trans issues has given momentum to conservative forces and we are beginning to see the rollback of hard fought progress. Just look at the Don’t Say Gay bill that has just passed in Florida (Think Section 28 – only worse). Or look at all the roll back on women’s reproductive rights sweeping the USA, or the strong pushback against the Black Lives Matter movement. If you don’t think this could happen in the UK, think again. Ask my friends who were told they were in the wrong bathroom…the ugliness that is so apparent in the USA is already taking root here in the UK. 

The importance of role models and allies: A personal reflection

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In September 2017 I was asked to speak at the University of Dundee Court Retreat on my experience as a gay man in academia. It was part of an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion awareness raising programme for Court members. I recently came across the text of my presentation and decided to publish here on my blog 4 years later. Though 4 years old now, the messages of that talk still resonate. Enjoy

Before I get to my talk I hope you will indulge me in a quick little exercise.

I would like you to turn to your neighbour and in 30 seconds say what you did last weekend without using a gendered pronoun; anything that might indicate boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife…and you can’t use the word partner either.

Now imagine having to do that every day as if your job (or life) depended on it. 

To further contextualise my personal comments and reflections tonight, here are some facts and figures from a UN Free and Equal Report:

  • In the US, UK and Thailand, between ½ and 2/3 of LGBT students are regularly bullied at school. Up to a third skip school.
  • Up to 40% of homeless young people in major US cities are LGBT
  • Gay and lesbian young people are 4 times more likely to contemplate or attempt suicide and trans young are 10 times more likely to attempt suicide.
  • 1 in 5 LGBT employees in European countries report being discriminated against in the past year
  • LGBT people have higher rates than their straight peers of joblessness, poverty, food insecurity and depression
  • On a macro level, a World Bank pilot study estimated that LGBT discrimination cost the Indian economy $32 Billion annually

Stonewall’s 2013 Gay in Britain report echoes the findings from the UN report. In the workplace 20% reported experiencing verbal bullying based on sexual orientation in the past 5 years, 13% did not feel confident reporting homophobic bullying and 25% say that they are not at all out to their colleagues. 

In 2009 a study of HE in the UK found that only 38% of LGB staff are out to everyone – those that aren’t out cite fears of employment discrimination and job security, students might respond in homophobic ways or that their research agenda may be compromised (ECU).

The same study also found that approximately a third of LGB staff experienced negative treatment by colleagues, 20% from students and 25% from those working in other parts of the university.

Trans staff report even higher levels of difficulties and 23% of trans staff reported being denied promotion due to their trans status.

The student experience is similar – but the fear (and experience) of losing financial support from family is an additional stressor for students.

So though we have recently celebrated 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK, there is still a long way to go and people are still being discriminated against and some are viciously attacked because of their sexuality.

I can say that I have experienced everything these statistics suggest (and then some), yet I have been successful in my career. Sometimes successful minorities are held up as examples of “how great things are now” or used to suggest “well she made it, why can’t you?” I want to push back at both of these. There is still considerable homophobia in workplaces and even more widespread  is heteronormativity.

I am going to give a fairly personal account of my career development as a Gay person with the aim to bring to life what the literature describes. I hope this will demonstrate the importance of working to increase visible diversity, equality and inclusion for people from all protected characteristics. 

I grew up in the foothills of the North Georgia mountains – in the deep south, smack dab in the middle of the bible belt. We were the only Catholic family in the southern half of a VERY large county. My immediate family protected me and taught me how to survive in a culture that allowed discrimination as well as open hostility toward us. This is a key point – most other minority groups are raised in families that share the minority status and these families socialise children in ways of survival. The majority of LGBT people do not have families to teach protective skills when it comes to homophobia. Role models and allies are needed to teach these skills. 

I kept my sexual orientation hidden but lived in terror of other people finding out. I went away to University and found a bit of freedom and slowly started to come out – but I lived in fear that my roommates would find out. A lot of energy was spent on trying to cover up. My first 3 university years were fraught with personal and emotional difficulties all tied up with my sexual orientation, my studies suffered greatly – and I almost flunked out. Here’s where a bit of dumb luck comes in. I got a part-time job as a secretary in the Dean of Student Service’s office. He was an openly gay man and introduced me to some other gay students and kept a watchful eye on me. I also was assigned an academic advisor who, though straight, was comfortable with gay people. When things fell apart for me in my 3rd year due to issues with my sexuality, they were both there for me and helped me get back on track. My experience is an example of what the literature says –  LGBT students need visible role models and allies. 

After graduating I had a partner who died of AIDS in the early days of the AIDS crisis. I faced extreme discrimination due to my sexuality and status as an “AIDS widow” and these experiences informed my decision to stop hiding and really be out. This was a political decision on my part, but I didn’t realise that this would increase my chance of being successful in my career. Anyway, during this period I started my post-graduate education, enrolling on an MSW programme. I was a “bit” of a militant gay person during this period. “Hi I’m Tim I’m Gay and and AIDS widow…get over it” Again as luck would have it, I was assigned to an academic advisor who turned out to be a LGBT ally. Lockhart was an African-American woman who had experienced huge prejudice to get where she was. Lockhart was somewhat alarmed by my in your face approach and shared with me her strategies for tackling racism. She helped me begin to think about how to survive in an oppressive and sometimes dangerous environment. An ally was able to provide me with survival socialisation as I did not have that naturally in my own life. 

There was also an older lesbian on faculty who took me under her wing. As was the way for many in her generation, she wasn’t exactly out, but she wasn’t really hidden either. These two women – one a role model and the other an ally – helped me learn how to be gay AND a professional. As the research suggests, LGBT students and those early in their careers need visible role models and allies. 

My first job after my MSW was in a rural mental health centre. I did not hide my sexuality from my boss or co-workers.  However, it was suggested that the clients might have some difficulty with my orientation so I shouldn’t self-disclose, after all, they said, they didn’t disclose their sexuality. These same people would, when with clients, casually and naturally refer to their husband or wife, wedding anniversary, children, etc. Or they would have a family picture in their office, or wear a wedding ring or have some other outward and implicit disclosure about who they were – this is heteronormativity. Though I loved the job, after a year it became very tiring and the emotional cost of trying to not self-disclose was too much, and so I found a job where I could be authentic.

This experience mirrors what the research suggests. Not being able to be authentic at work impacts negatively on productivity. Also, organisations that make it difficult for people to be authentic at work face a talent drain.

I went back to do my PhD and Lockhart and Ruth were both still there. But now there was also a “modern” lesbian also on faculty. We ended up doing some research and teaching together – Nancy saw it has her responsibility to help the next generation along a wee bit. The leaky pipeline, which we see very clearly for women in academia, also happens for LGBT and BME people. Nancy demonstrated the value of having open LGBT people to help plug the leaky pipeline.

As I was finishing my PhD I had already published several articles, had taught for a couple of years, and also had good clinical experience and as such I was a rare hot commodity on the job market–– and it was all because a couple of lesbians and an informal LGBT ally took me under their wing. One of the interviews I took, against Lockhart’s advice, was a great job for me. However, the offer of the job was blocked as the chair of the search committee said “they weren’t interested in gays and refujews”. This discrimination was lawful then and still is in many places.  Of course it is illegal now in the UK, but discrimination does still happen in more subtle ways.

Other interview processes were exceedingly heteronormative, and draining. 

Here is an example of a typical conversation that I experienced back then (and I’ve had similar ones here in the UK)

What does your wife do? I don’t have a wife

Oh you are single, there are lots of places to meet women here. 

I am not single, I am dating someone but I’m not sure if he will be joining me or not. 

What does she do? 

He, Marcus, is a fund raiser for a charity. 

I’m sure she’ll find something similar here….. 

Lockhart put me in contact with a University because she knew the Dean was a great guy, he was building the kind of school I was looking for, and she knew my orientation wouldn’t be an issue. She was right. I was hired and it was a great fit. Again I was taken under people’s wing and my career was advanced. This time by the Dean who was openly gay and the woman who became my mentor – an ally. They both opened doors for me, allowed me to be authentically me and this enabled me to thrive and flourish as an academic. Under their guidance I rose to prominence in the US and Canada in my area of expertise before moving to the UK. I am an example of the research that shows that people who are able to be comfortably out at work are more likely to have positive career progression than those who are not.

When I moved to Scotland in 2003 I immediately had legal protections that were unavailable to me in the States. My working life in Scotland has been free from homophobia on a formal organisational level. Heteronormativity, however, is still very present. But at this point in my career it does not take up psychic strain, sometimes it is an irritation and sometimes it can actually be humorous. To younger academics or professional services staff, it can be more than an irritation. 

My experience at the University of Dundee has been neutral, positive and negative in different ways and at different points.

During my interview for Chair of Social Work, the then Principal Alan Langlands immediately picked up on my use of pronouns for my Civil Partner (now Husband), and used the appropriate gender whenever referring to my spouse. Strangely though it took me about 4 years to actually meet another gay or lesbian person. If an out gay man like myself didn’t easily find others like him, how hard must it be for those members of staff who are afraid to come out. What might this be doing to their ability to be truly authentic at work? What kind of productivity or creativity loss are we experiencing as an organisation? What will happen to the LGBT students who might be struggling as I did as a student if we are not more visible?

Unfortunately, over the past year I have experienced some homophobia in the workplace. Luckily for me, the University Executive has been incredibly supportive and clear about my experience being homophobic, and they have also been very clear about intervening. This experience has demonstrated to me that the top level of management at the University is values driven, and are prepared to do the right thing. Their recognition, naming and willingness to act and provide support have been incredibly affirming. Not only has this increased my loyalty to this organisation, but I am even more committed to delivering on the University vision. As the research suggests inclusivity and LGBT support are good for productivity and retention. 

In my experience, the senior management has shown itself to be welcoming and inclusive of LGBT people. However, there is still work to be done to make sure that inclusive spirit and practice filters all the way through the organisation. Though times are better in many respects, our society still has a lot of ISMS – whether its racism, sexism, ableism, classism, ageism or homophobia. Those isms still emerge is subtle ways. A concerted effort is required on all fronts.

The re-energised Staff LGBT+ Network has been an important step to demonstrate the University’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion.  The Network is working with the Stonewall organisation to help make the University uniquely welcoming and supportive to LGBT staff and students. Using their yearly Workplace Equity Index as a baseline we have developed an action plan to strengthen LGBT inclusion at the University. As a member of Stonewall’s Diversity Champion Programme the University is benefiting from consultation, workshops and access to a wealth of resources to improve policies, processes and culture practices – not just for LGBT people, but for all protected groups. The action plan is now embedded in the University’s Equality Outcome Plan.  Stonewall suggest a 5+ year journey for tackling workplace discrimination – beginning with ensuring organisations have the essential ingredients: Strong values, driven diversity leads, and senior buy in. The University has the right values and is getting diversity leads in place. Senior buy-in also exists, but we could be better at making that visible across the organisation. After this Stonewall recommends organisations work to improve inclusivity and visibility for LGBT people (and other protected characteristics too) in policies, monitoring, training, procurement, communication & marketing. Working with the E&D Office and the E&D Structures we are engaging in this process. Having the Court’s explicit support for these efforts will demonstrate one of the essential ingredients – buy in at the highest levels of an organisation. 

Thank you.

The Importance of Visibility and Institutional Support for LGBT+ People

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

In June of this year (2018) the Univeristy of Dundee’s LGBT+ Staff Network hosted a Trans Awareness Session delivered by Stonewall Scotland. The seminar was designed to give attendees knowledge about the lived experiences of trans people in Scotland. It also focussed on how to step up as an ally to support trans colleagues and students, to help ensure that the University of Dundee is an inclusive and accepting place to work and to study. The seminar was really good – informative, interactive and practical. But the quality of the seminar is not what has provoked this blog entry. Two things did.  Firstly, it was the mere fact that the Trans awareness seminar occurred at all and that senior members of the University (including two University Executive Group members) were in attendance and participating meaningfully.  Secondly, shortly after this workshop (though not related to the workshop), the University agreed to be a Gold Sponsor of the first LGBT+ Pride event in Dundee. These two actions have moved me in surprising ways. Here’s why:

I made the personal and political decision to be an out gay man during the early days of the AIDS crisis after experiencing significant homophobia. Being out both prevented and ensured that I would experience homophobia.  An example of how this worked is that  I was told I did not get an academic job because the institution was  not interested in gays or “refujews”. (Interestingly John Boswell in his 1980 book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality traced and linked anti-semitism and homophobia in the Catholic Church. Oppression of a group, it seems, seldom comes alone.) If I had not been out in my interviews, it would have been horrible to be employed in an organisation that held such blatant homophobic views. As it turned out I ended up working for a university that was informally supportive of LGBT staff members and my academic career blossomed. However, there was not a LGBT staff network, we did not have seminars on LGBT inclusion, policies were all heteronormative, and there was no official mention of LGBT people that I was aware of in the decade I was there. The support was informal, it could have changed at the drop of a hat, and there was no formal recognition that people like me existed or were part of the organisation.  At the time, this informal support seemed good enough and as much I could hope for.

Fastforward 20+ years and I now find myself in an organisation where there is plenty of informal support, but people at the very top of the organisational chart are also committed to making the organisation a welcoming, accepting, inclusive and supportive place to work and study. The institution wants to do more than its public sector equality duty. This combination of informal support and a commitment to embed equality, diversity and inclusion in all policies and practices is mind boggling to me.

The seminar and Dundee Pride sponsorship agreement had me reflecting about how much the world has changed in my lifetime.  LGBT+ people experience many more freedoms and protections then we did when I was an 18 year old going to university. Yet LGBT+ people (especially T people) continue to experience considerable prejudice, discrimination, violence, and a host of other negative outcomes. I found myself reflecting on and almost moved to tears thinking back to the 18 year old I was. What would he have thought had he known back then that there would one day be a university that was willing to sponsor an LGBT+ Pride event or  where the Director of HR would be committed to ensuring that policies were trans inclusive or where someone could be disciplined for calling an LGBT person a derogatory name? If such a place existed back then, how much easier would that 18 year old have had it when he experienced hatred and homophobia as he moved into and through early adulthood?  That is why visibility matters. Homophobia, bi-phobia and transphobia still exist and damage the young people of today and prevent LGBT+ staff from reaching their full career development.  Having visible institutional support and visible LGBT people and allies provides a beacon of hope to LGBT+ young people (and to this older gay man too).