Diverse-City: A look at the LGBT+ Forum
This year is a historic year for the LGBT+ community in the UK. 2017 will be the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, the Act that decriminalised homosexuality in the UK. The community has come on leaps and bounds since then, with countries around the world introducing more liberal laws.
“Despite recent wins, there is still a lot of work to be done,” says Matt Dumas-Bowden. Matt has been at City since 2004, working as a Course Officer in the Cass Undergraduate Programme. When in 2013, Dr Arti Agrawal, Lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Computer Science & Engineering, started City’s LGBT+ forum, Matt saw that as the perfect opportunity to get involved.
“I came out quite late, after I had finished university. There was no LGBT+ forum or any other support for LGBT+ staff and students when I was at university. If there was an opportunity to help people feel more comfortable about their sexuality, or help people that aren’t LGBT+ understand us better, I wanted to get involved,” Matt shares. “Since I’ve been part of the forum, I’ve seen it develop and grow. Not just in terms of size, but also in its goals and aims. Initially, it was a social group, but now it is so much more. We’re a lot more politically and socially active having taken part in several programmes and initiatives that spread beyond the walls of City."According to Matt, part of the growth is thanks to his colleague Jenny Aster, Service Coordinator in Learning Enhancement & Development (LEaD), who joined the Forum in 2013. “At first, I wasn’t sure if I would be welcome,” Jenny says. “At the time I was neither ‘L’, ‘G’, ‘B’ or ‘T’ (or +) but I have a big interest in the area and joined as a straight ally with my partner at the beginning of her transition. The people who were already there were so welcoming and keen to get me involved, I felt more and more part of the community,” she recalls.
“Not being LGBT+ allows you to step back and see the wider issues and how to address them and be someone that can promote and advocate for a community that has struggled and continues to struggle with discrimination. I think this has allowed me to contribute something new as does having a partner who was in transition. As part of our journey I realised I was now in a Lesbian rather than a heterosexual relationship. We have been together for 32 years and married for 20. We’re due to marry again as a same sex couple next year. It’s been wonderful to have the group to support me on my personal experiences,” Jenny recalls.
Matt reinforces Jenny’s importance: “People tend to group us together, but whatever letter you assign yourself to, you have your own interests and priorities. To be honest, I didn’t know much about the Trans community until Jenny joined. She helped me step back and gain a better understanding of something I didn’t have a huge experience with, so she really has been significant.”
The Network meet on matters to promote inclusivity, greater understanding and awareness of diversity at City. In addition, the group holds events during the year that promote the community and what they offer to staff and students. This applies to those who are out and proud and those who don’t feel comfortable about sharing their sexuality with others. “We’ve got the Network to quite a good place. I think we’re becoming fairly well known with staff and students. They know who we are and what we can offer which is great, but there’s still a lot we’d like to achieve which is quite difficult in addition to our regular jobs. But it’s a labour of love so we’re happy to make the effort,” Matt says.
“I think we have made huge strides in recent years and that’s something I’m really proud of,” says Jenny. “It’s so important to build the community and give everyone a voice. City’s LGBT+ voice is getting louder! Our Network was active in the introduction of the ‘Mx’ title for staff at City and we are hoping that soon this will also be available for students. The rainbow banner on the walkway between Northampton Square and College Building is now a permanent fixture. We are currently working with the Equality & Diversity Adviser, Nneb Akpom-Simon, Community Interest Company, Gendered Intelligence, the Student Experience team and the Students’ Union on trans, intersex and gender non-conforming people policy. We are hoping to launch this early in the New Year and are working hard with Nneb to roll out trans training for the University next year.
“We also assisted in the Trans Day of Remembrance which was hosted here for the second year on Sunday 20th November, organised by Sahra Rae Taylor, in her capacity as tutor and PhD student here at City. We also ran events for World Aids Day in December and will as always be putting on a variety of things for LGBT History Month in February and for Trans Awareness Day on Friday 31st March.
“We are getting to a point where diversity is actively being considered in things that affect our identity as a university, like the new Strategy. It’s something I’m hoping will make a huge difference to the future of City,” Jenny concludes.
Describing the future plans, Matt continues: “The main focus of the group was to support each other and that was really tested following the hate attack in Florida. That was felt by the whole community and we were all there for each other which is comforting during a difficult time. It has also been difficult to hear some of the hateful rhetoric targeted at minorities on the back of the US Presidential campaign and the EU Referendum. But this is the kind of thing that brings our community closer together.
“We don’t only want to be there for our own community, we want to be there for other groups and communities. City is an international institution and we respect people from all cultures and backgrounds. There are still 74 countries where same-sex sexual contact is a criminal offence, so we don’t expect that people are automatically in-tune with the freedoms we enjoy here. But we want to work with them especially to raise awareness and for us to learn and respect each other’s cultures.”