Is there religion in your Christmas?

By Rowan Watson, Chaplaincy Assistant, University of Reading  

A picture of three dolls depicting the nativity scene

Through working at the Chaplaincy, we experience a great variety of world views. Some students explain their strong belief in monarchy as the best form of government, others assure me that all life on Earth is evolving into crabs. One of our favourite topics of conversation is simply asking ‘What do you believe God is like?’. 

A popular answer is the description of a distant and uncaring being, living in the clouds. Occasionally God has been described to me as apathetic to our pain, watching His creations suffer and disdainfully refusing to do anything about it. It is no surprise that people with these views see Christianity as easily separated from the Santa Claus, Christmas Movies, Turkey and Roast potatoes parts of Christmas, but I don’t think this is entirely true. 

At Christmas, we Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, who we consider to be God on Earth. The key part of this for me is that God did not choose to be a distant being in the clouds – He saw His creations suffering and refused to ignore it. 

Christmas is about the incarnation. This means part of the indescribable God-ness of God being funnelled into human form. Jesus was fully God whilst also being fully Man. In easier terms, the incarnation is about God taking a human shape and moving into our neighbourhood, right next door. God draws near to us.  

Over the centuries, this idea has morphed into traditions about being generous to one another, opening our homes to guests and giving them the best we have. God is a close friend and treats us better than we deserve, so let’s treat others that way too!  

This part of Christmas has something more to say to those who experience a less joyful Christmas. When the night draws in and the cold confines us to our houses, winter can leave some of us withdrawn from our social circles. International students can find this time particularly challenging because of their UK friends returning home and campus shutting shop for the holidays.

A stained glass window depicting an angel and the Star of Bethlehem

Those with difficult family relationships face a different sort of loneliness. Being estranged from those who are meant to support you unconditionally can cause a lot of pain at Christmas. In the UK our cultural focus is around families and generosity, but these are not a light in a dark time for everyone. 

Not to mention that ‘isolation’ has taken on a whole new meaning recently. As I write, it is uncertain to what extent this will be a feature of our collective Christmases. I personally experience some of these issues, albeit not as severely as some, and so Christmas time can bring about a feeling of loneliness.  

I find that Christmas, at its core, sets out to tackle issues like these. We believe that God is so fond of His Creations that He chose to walk among them, and that this love continues. When I find myself feeling isolated, afraid and pessimistic about the future, I remind myself of that God comforts me by sitting beside me. I am loved by the Creator of everything in existence.  

And it is not only through God that we can find this comfort. Many Christians take this time to reach out to those in the community who are struggling. Some members of our community are offering places at their Christmas table for the most important meal of the year in this spirit, details on how to take a place at a local person’s table, are below. 

Beyond that, participating in Christmas festivities can bring opportunities to meet a new side of the community. If family cannot be part of your Christmas celebrations, a ‘friends’ style family embodies the spirit of the season and is just as joyful and fulfilling. I find that online celebrations can feel distant, but when a loved one is the other side of the world, it can bring them into your living room and allow you to celebrate together. 

Check out the University Chaplaincy list of What’s On in Reading this season, and go and seek God while He is near, either through religious ceremony or through a bottle of mulled wine with a friend on Facetime. He’s in both places. 

 

 

What’s on this Christmas? 

Events collated by the University Chaplaincy and shared in good faith. For more events see: https://www.whatsonreading.com/ 

 

Market Yard 

When: 26th November – 23rd December  

Where: Reading Printhouse 

What: Market Yard is transforming into a unique space to socialise, eat and drink 

Cost: Free 

More information here: https://www.marketyard.co.uk/ 

 

Winter Wonderland 

When: 13th November – 3rd January 

Where: Hills Meadow by Reading Bridge 

What: An exciting Christmas adventure for people of all ages that includes ice skating, Santa’s grotto and a variety of food and drink 

Cost: From £12 

More information here: https://www.facebook.com/outdooricerink.co.uk/ 

Book tickets here: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/ice-skating 

 

The Invisible Dress Exhibition 

When: 28th November – 5th January  

Where: HUMOS, Caversham 

What: ‘The Invisible Dress’ refers to the scents that we use to complete our look. This exhibition combines fashion illustration, perfume and floral arrangements. 

Cost: Free 

More information here:
https://whatsonreading.com/venues/humos/whats-on/invisible-dress 

 

Twilight Trail: Biscuit Town 

When: 3rd – 31st December 

Where: Abbey Ruins and Forbury Gardens 

What: An accessible open-air light trail experience 

Cost: From £8 

Book tickets here: https://web.livingreading.co.uk/twilight-trail-2021 

 

The Snow Queen 

When: 3rd – 24th December 

Where: South Street Arts Centre 

What: A new play, based on the original story by Hans Christian Anderson about two best friends and a dangerous journey across Scandinavia  

Cost: From £12 

Book tickets here: https://whatsonreading.com/snow-queen 

 

A Christmas Carol 

When: 3rd – 31st December 

Where: Reading Rep Theatre 

What: A live performance of the Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol, performed by Reading Rep Theatre 

Cost: From £14 

Book tickets here: https://www.readingrep.com/a-christmas-carol/ 

 

Forgetful Elf Trail 

When:4th – 23rd December 

Where: Reading Museum 

What: Help the Elf find his lost belongings around the museum. Includes writing letter to Santa and Christmas craft pack 

Cost: £3 per pack 

More information here: https://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/holiday-fun-reading-museum 

 

Beauty and the Beast 

When: 4th December – 3rd January 

Where: The Hexagon 

What: An exciting pantomime featuring Justin Fletcher, also known as Mr Tumble 

Cost: From £15 

Book tickets here: https://whatsonreading.com/beauty-and-beast 

 

Student Christmas Day Lunch 

When: 25th December, 1-2.30pm 

Where: Our Lady of Peace church hall 

What: Turkey lunch hosted by Chaplain, Sister Vivian (10 spaces). Booking essential: email with food allergy details before Friday 17th December 5pm to: v.onyeneho@reading.ac.uk 

Cost: Free 

 

For times of (free) Christmas and Carol services, Google your nearest church. 

 

General

Reading Museum 

What: Archaeology, Art, History and Natural History. Café and shop. 

Cost: Free 

Opening times and more information here: https://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/ 

 

Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) 

What: History of English farming and country life. Garden, café, and shop 

Cost: Free 

Opening times and more information here: https://merl.reading.ac.uk/ 

 

Want to be hosted for a meal or receive hospitality from a local family during the break? 

Friends International connects international students with local hosts. Download the App: https://www.friendsinternational.uk/international-student-app/ click on “Local Link”. 

 

International Human Rights Day

International Human Rights Day (IHRD) is observed every year on 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document, which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

To mark International Human Rights Day (IHRD) 2021, several staff members across UoR have written blog pieces about protected characteristics and their importance.

 

 

Sex

Professor Rosemary Auchmuty, Professor, School of Law

 

When the Equality Act was passed in 2010, it swept up all existing non-discrimination legislation into one statute. Of the categories of discrimination it encompassed, sex was the first to be recognised.  Until just over a century ago, women – members of the female sex – were barred from a whole range of jobs and public offices, excluded from educational and social opportunities, and could not exercise the vote or stand for Parliament.  In 1918, thanks to long feminist campaigns, some women got the vote, and could become MPs; in 1919, thanks to more long feminist campaigns, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed, opening many professions (including law) to women for the first time.   But the Act said nothing about treating them the same way as men were treated: so women continued to be paid less than men and were routinely dismissed (or passed over for appointment in the first place) because they were or might become pregnant.

Twentieth-century feminists built on the legacy of nineteenth-century feminism by campaigning not only for equal educational and job opportunities but for legal measures that took account of the actual physical differences between men and women. For example, women’s reproductive role meant that, in order to enter the workplace, they needed access to contraception and abortion as well as childcare arrangements.

Only in 1975 did the Sex Discrimination Act make it illegal to discriminate against women in education, employment, and the provision of services.  These provisions were subsumed in the Equality Act 2010 in recognition of the fact that sexist discrimination was still ongoing, and that it would take many more years for women to catch up with men because of their long history of exclusion and discrimination.  (These are similar arguments to the justification for ‘race’ to be a protected characteristic.)  Not only this, but earlier victories tend to be lost in bad times or through backlash: if the current pandemic has shown us anything, it is that women have suffered worse in terms of pay and job security than men and that they still carry the heaviest burden of care and domestic work.  Differential treatment is still often justified precisely on the basis that only members of the female sex get pregnant and give birth.  So this is one reason why we need ‘sex’ to be a protected characteristic in law.

A second reason to protect sex in law is the recognition that women suffer disproportionately from sexual abuse, violence, and exploitation, and that these are acted out by male bodies on female bodies.  (Here, too, we see similarities with racist abuse and violence, also protected by the ‘race’ category in the Equality Act.)  Every woman on this university campus is alert to the possibility of sexual danger and probably all have experienced it.  Having a ‘sex’ category permits the provision of female-only spaces for women’s safety and protection and also to meet the needs of religions (religion is another protected characteristic in law) that require the segregation of male and female bodies in certain contexts like toilets or changing rooms.

There have been moves to replace the category of ‘sex’ in the Equality Act with a new category, ‘gender identity’.  But gender identity is quite different, since it does not necessarily map on to biological sex.  It does not recognise women’s long history of exclusion and discrimination on biological grounds or the specific roles of female bodies in reproduction and as objects of sexual abuse.  So we need to keep ‘sex’ in the Equality Act and, with it, the recognition that being a woman is more than simply an idea: it is a physical reality, with social consequences; and for both those reasons it needs protection.

 

 

 

 

 

International Human Rights Day 2021

International Human Rights Day (IHRD) is observed every year on 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document, which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

To mark International Human Rights Day (IHRD) 2021, several staff members across UoR have written blog pieces about protected characteristics and their importance.

 

 

LGBT+

Dr Ruvi Ziegler, Associate Professor, School of Law

 

Ruvi Ziegler is the Chair of the University’s LGBT+ Staff Network. In this piece, he reflects on his own experiences and how this shapes his work with the network.

 

In May 2019, I convened an international conference at Reading on ‘Contemporary Challenges facing LGBT+ asylum seekers: UK and Global Perspectives’ which brought together practitioners, NGOs, and academics. For LGBT+ asylum seekers, there is often a double whammy: their predicament means that are unsafe both in their home countries and among their fellow nationals in the country of asylum who, having fled persecution on other grounds, may share the dominant social norms of their home country in respect of LGBT+ rights.

I recently got married in a progressive (vegan) Jewish wedding in South Africa, which has legalised same-sex marriage in 2006 (the fifth country to have done so). For many people across the world, marriage remains unattainable. Even for those who live and love in political spaces where they are legally able to marry, there are many who would not have their families celebrate with them, and who still experience shame around their sexuality. Indeed, some of our staff come from communities where such public affirmation for their love is out of reach -alarmingly, a recent survey reveals that 26% of UK adults would be ashamed to have an LGBT+ child.

The grim legal, political, and social realities across the globe mean that my husband and I have to modify our behaviour when we travel together: from LGBT+ free zones, to countries where advocating for gay rights may constitute ‘propaganda’, to hotels where requesting a double room may lead to vigorous questioning, to outright criminalisation on pain of imprisonment or worse – the experience of a same-sex couple is materially different than that of other couples. Simply being visible as same-sex couple is a potentially risky (and forced) political statement.

It is utterly infuriating that, what is publicly celebrated in one country is criminally condemned in another (you need only look across the South African border to Zimbabwe or to its neighbour Zambia). I believe that, we all have a responsibility to try to mend the world – the Jewish notion of Tikkun Olam. I have reached out to the newly formed All-Parliamentary Party Group on Global LGBT rights – its establishment in this Parliament is an encouraging development which demonstrates that, on this issue, cross-party cooperation is possible. Over years of public engagement, including as Chair of the Board of Trustees of New Europeans Association UK, as Chair of the Oxford European Association, and as an advisory council member of the Jewish human rights organisation Rene Cassin, I have developed a network of colleagues beyond academia –  in civil society, the bar, and national politics- which I hope to utilise for the benefit of the staff network.

 

 

 

 

International Human Rights Day 2021

International Human Rights Day (IHRD) is observed every year on 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document, which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

To mark International Human Rights Day (IHRD) 2021, several staff members across UoR have written blog pieces about protected characteristics and their importance.

 

Reflecting on Disability targeted violence

Dr Yota Dimitriadi, Associate Professor, Institute of Education

 

I was born with a physical impairment, the result of medical complications during labour. My twin sibling did not survive. I never thought of myself as Disabled and grew up in a family that encouraged me passionately to explore the world and try things out (a social model of disability) in spite of the world around me telling me what I could not do (a medical model of disability). Some family friends called me ‘hook arm’ or ‘The Beggar’ in a loving attempt for me to change the way I used my impaired arm and fit in! The personification of difference and vulnerability became the language they used to encourage me to fit in. These were considered acts of love rather than ableist attitudes that needed to be challenged.

 

My physical impairment is not too obvious and over the years I also became very good at covering it. Covering became my norm and I did all I could not to draw attention to my difference. Whether my approach as a young person was right or wrong I do not know but it shaped me and made me good at problem solving. I did not want to be pitied for the physical things I could not do [though it got me out of P.E. sometimes]. I did not want to be seen as ‘weak’, as history had shown to me what happens to the ‘weak’. Over centuries the economic justification for forced sterilisation, overmedication, involuntary euthanasia, killing of Disabled people happened as they were seen as less worthy and their lives less valuable or as a solution to wider social problems. The Eugenics movement and the pass of the ‘The Mental Deficiency Act (1913) in the UK encouraged further ableist approaches that some people are better than others and as a result their lives are worth more than others. The ‘idiots, the ‘imbeciles’ and the ‘feeble minded’ were ostracised and institutionalised.

 

Negative and overgeneralised portrayals or accusations of Disabled people in the press, especially during times of economic crises, as ‘welfare recipients and favoured in access to resources’ (Hall, 2019: 9) contribute to demonisation and mistrust towards disabled people that can lead to further discriminatory approaches and hostility. Such press coverage isolates Disabled people more, perpetuates stigma around disability and becomes part of a wider set of barriers of a disablist society.

It may also lead to microaggressions, that unfortunately several disabled people experience every day. Sometimes it can also lead to more overt expressions of disapproval in private and public spaces: from name calling to physical attacks on them, their property or their support dogs. 10 out of the 21 crimes that were reported to the police daily in England and Wales in 2019-20 involved an act of violence against a disabled person, including assault and harassment (Leonard Cheshire, 2020). Quarmby’s study (2015) reported on offender motivations ranging from disabled people been seen as ‘benefit scroungers’ to ‘jealousy of the perceived ‘perks’ of disability’, such as having an adapted car or being accused of being ‘in the way’, for instance on the buses. For some Disabled people violence, harassment and exploitation is not the result of random hateful strangers but happen systematically within institutional care and domestic contexts (Sin et al, 2009).

Targeted violence and abuse against Disabled people are not new and research into disability hate crime is in its infancy. However, while disability hate crime incidents have increased by 11.5%, only 1.6% of all cases receive a charge (Leonard Cheshire, 2020). Many times disability hate crimes go unreported because Disabled people may be scared, isolated or because they have no trust that they will be taken seriously, treated with respect or supported when they report these incidents. The idea of vulnerability associated with Disabled people also positions them as having to expect some degree of discrimination as part of their daily lives and shifts the focus away from the impairment in such crimes. Roulstone and Mason-Bish (2013) discuss that as a result, assumptions can be made by the police that perpetrators are motivated by an individual’s perceived vulnerability rather than their impairment and the motivated crime is a result of disablist attitudes.

 

I am here today having a voice because of the actions of other people before me who were imprisoned, castrated, killed because of their difference or in their attempt to fight for equal rights to life and work. As we are celebrating the UN International Human Rights Day in 2021, we are celebrating the otherness that we all have. Recognising, reporting and raising awareness about disability hate crime may not change the prejudice against Disabled people but it will highlight that disability rights are human rights. Disabled people have been in the periphery of social action for centuries. Without their active involvement in challenging misconceptions and in decision making processes, prejudice, mistrust and hostility against them will remain. This is why the disability movement motto is ‘Nothing about us, without us’.

 

 

 

 

References

Hall, E. (2019). A critical geography of disability hate crime. Area, 51(2), 249-256. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12455

Leonard Cheshire (2020). Reports of violent disability hate crime continue to rise as number of police charges fall again. https://www.leonardcheshire.org/about-us/our-news/press-releases/reports-violent-disability-hate-crime-continue-rise-number-police

Quarmby, K. (2015). To combat disability hate crime, we must understand why people commit it. The Guardian, 22 July. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jul/22/combat-disability-hate-crime-understand-people-commit

Roulstone A., & Mason-Bish, H. (2013). Disability, hate crime and violence (eds.). Routledge, London

Sin, C., Hedges, A., Cook, C., Mguni, N. & Comber, N. (2009). Disabled people’s experiences of targeted violence and hostility. Equality and Human Rights Commission, London

 

International Human Rights Day 2021

International Human Rights Day (IHRD) is observed every year on 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document, which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

To mark International Human Rights Day (IHRD) 2021, several staff members across UoR have written blog pieces about protected characteristics and their importance.

 

Age

Professor Arlene Astell, Professor in Neurodegenerative Disease, School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences

 

If anyone doubted the need to include ‘Age’ as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a harsh spotlight on the needs of a large sector of the population. First, as we all know the majority of excess deaths from COVID-19 have occurred among older persons. The loss of life has affected millions of people across the world, with many heart-wrenching stories of families unable to visit their loved ones or even attend their funerals. Yet a shocking analysis produced by the UN Secretary General in September 2021 examining the impact of COVID-19 on older people, reported a rise in ageism and stigma towards ageing and older persons. The scale of this problem is quantified in another UN publication, their Global Report on Ageism, which suggests that half the world’s population is ageist, yet this is somehow regarded as “more acceptable” than discrimination against other groups. These findings indicate a major need for continued education and challenging of negative stereotypes and attitudes towards ageing.

 

Evidence of ageism is widespread in all aspects of life. For example, older workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic are finding it difficult to get back into employment as employers prefer younger candidates. This has major implications for an individual’s identity and sense of purpose which are increasingly important as we live longer and need to plan for life after paid employment. There is a huge difference between being able to proactively decide to reduce the time one works and being forced into early retirement, not least from a financial perspective. Additionally, older people actively resist stereotypes of ageing and try to continue to live the life they want.  For example, in my work around technology adoption, we have found that most people want to remain independent and be able to look after themselves and will use technology that helps them to remain at home. They are well aware of ageing stereotypes and will reject devices that make them look or feel dependent, frail or incapable.

 

In terms of ageing stereotypes, one condition – dementia – seems to epitomise the negative attitudes towards old age. I have worked with people living with dementia for my whole career, and it is a topic surrounded by myths and misconceptions. These are always unhelpful, and some are even harmful in terms of the lack of understanding about what people living with dementia experience and what they need. In terms of their human rights, people living with dementia struggle to enjoy them because they are excluded in many different ways. Dementia is an irreversible progressive brain disorder which means that over time people have difficulty looking after themselves. As with many other conditions, they come to rely on other people to provide care and support. However, the way people with dementia are viewed and treated is very different to people living with cancer or diabetes.

 

The explanation seems to because dementia relates to losing memory and other aspects of cognition, such as attention and concentration. From this we see the adoption and perpetuation of attitudes towards people with dementia that they are incapable and infantile, and viewed as unaware and unknowing of how they are being treated. What is most concerning is how easily these attitudes are taken on board and persist across society, suggesting that dementia matches and reinforces prevailing views of old age.

In respect of technology use, the pandemic has highlighted global inequalities associated with ageing. Specifically, the pandemic has seen the movement of many services including healthcare and banking, to online. Whilst this has been driven by the necessity of reducing human contact to reduce transmission and some would argue this is a positive change,

older adults are most likely to not have internet access or necessary equipment for using online services. For example, a report released by the Older Adults Technology Services, Inc. (OATS) and the Humana Foundation in January 2021 found that 42% of the over 65s in the United States, roughly 22 million people, lacked broadband access at home. In the UK, the picture is even more stark. Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that 67% of the 3 million people who are offline are aged 70 or over with another 32% aged between 50-69. These figures reflect the picture worldwide.

 

In recognition of the importance of addressing the ‘Digital Divide’, the theme for 2021 International Day of Older Persons was “Digital Equity for All Ages”. This highlighted economic and social inequalities as the major drivers of the digital divide as individuals largely rely on self-paying for devices and internet access. The widespread implications of this digital divide include lack of access to digital healthcare (including telehealth and apps for managing chronic conditions), social services and public health information, plus increased risk of social isolation. Challenging digital exclusion requires political will to ensure equitable access to the Internet and devices. It also requires training, resources and support for reaching older people and tackling of persistent stereotypes that they do not want or cannot use digital tools. IN 20 years of working with technology and older adults, including people living with dementia, I have always found them keen to try anything new.

 

 

 

 

 

Trans Day of Remembrance 2021

 

Trans Day of Remembrance 2021 
 

Trans Day of Remembrance is on Saturday 20 November every year. Each year this day is a solemn reminder to honour those who have lost their lives in acts of anti-trans violence.  

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that trans people are significantly more likely to be a victim of crime (one in four trans people (28%) experienced crime in the year ending March 2020) compared with 14% of people whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were registered at birth.
 

This year, we marked Trans Day of Remembrance with a flag raising event and speeches from staff and students on Whiteknights Campus.   

This year we had speeches from the Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Dr Allán Laville; RUSU President, Ben Knowles; RUSU Trans Officer, Charlie Dennis; LGBT+ Staff Network, Representative, Quincy Bastow; Guest speaker, Rose Taylor and closing remarks from Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Pro-Vice-Chancellor UEB LGBT+ Champion, Professor Parveen Yaqoob.   

 

 

Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Dr Allán Laville 

Hello everyone, I’m Al Laville, the Dean for Diversity and Inclusion. 

Trans Day of Remembrance is held every year on 20th November to honour the memory of those who have died as a direct result of transphobic hatred or prejudice. 

Trans Day of Remembrance was founded in 1999 to honour Rita Hester, an African American trans woman, whose murder sparked the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil. Rita Hester’s murder — like most transphobic murder cases — has yet to be solved. 

Over the past 12 months, for trans and gender-diverse people, there has been 375 registered murders between October 2020 and September 2021. This represents a 7% increase from the 2020 update. 

Remembering those who’ve been killed or driven to suicide cannot bring them back. However, by remembering those who had their lives cut short this year, we are reminded that it starts with hate.  

I would like to read out a Nelson Mandela quote, which encapsulates my main thoughts today: 

 People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. 

So, what can we do? We can be allies for each other. We can listen to and uplift trans people’s voices. We can allow no space for bigotry and hatred. We can create a society in which every person can live a dignified life.  

 Thank you for listening, I will now handover to Ben Knowles, RUSU President. 

 

RUSU President, Ben Knowles 

On behalf of everyone at Reading University Students’ Union, I am proud to join friends and colleagues in commemorating this incredibly poignant and important date in our calendars. Transgender Day of Remembrance is a time for us to come together in recognition of the challenges still faced by the transgender community, whilst remembering the individuals who have lost their lives throughout the last year as a result of their gender identity. 

At RUSU, we are committed to continuing our stance as a passionate ally of the transgender community, both in our work on campus and beyond. We will always strive to ensure the voice of all transgender students is represented at Reading, whether that’s through our Trans Part-time Officer, through myself and my Full-time Officer colleagues, or through our fantastically supportive LGBT+ student society. As a full member of the National Union of Students, we will continue to support nation-wide campaigns that work towards a more gender-inclusive society, by providing a dedicated platform for transgender students to participate in NUS’ democratic processes at their annual Liberation Conference. 

As an ally myself, I understand the importance in recognising my own privilege, and taking the time to educate myself on the everyday challenges that the transgender community faces. We all have a role to play in eradicating transphobia and making our society a more inclusive place – whether that’s by challenging anti-transgender behaviour, or by setting a tone of inclusivity through the language we use in our daily lives.  

I’d just like to finish by thanking everyone who has joined us today to honour Transgender Day of Remembrance. Together with my colleagues at RUSU, we want to make sure everyone feels supported by their students’ union – regardless of their gender identity. Thank you. 

 

RUSU Trans Officer, Charlie Dennis 

I was around 16 when I first went to an event for Trans Day of Remembrance, and every year since then I have attended one. I am about to turn 22, and yet already I feel as though I have mourned enough for a lifetime. If I must attend a Trans Day of Remembrance event every year for the rest of my life, I will, but I truly hope I do not have to.  

Every year we see these figures, the names, the ages, and it doesn’t really get easier to digest. Sometimes people get caught up in numbers and figures, there’s this percentage of trans people in the world, there’s this many stuck in waitlists, there’s this many of us who died this year- and we forget that all of those one’s are people. Every name on that list was someone. Someone who should still be here. There really is no way to sugarcoat the fact that transphobia kills and will continue to if changes aren’t made. But the thing is, I want trans people to do more than just survive, I want them to be able to flourish, to be happy.  

I know and love a lot of trans people, and they all have dreams- whether that be to own a house with a beautiful garden, or to help others, or to open a club, or to start a family. They all hope for something else as well though, they all want peace. Often people will say that we should feel lucky to be in this country, that it could be worse. And it is true in a way, there are other countries where being trans is much more high risk. It is also important to not ignore that the most vulnerable within the community are black trans women and sex workers, who make up a large proportion of the names read out each year.  

However, it is possible to both recognise these facts and recognise that privilege whilst also being aware that the situation for all trans people in this country is worsening. Transphobia is found within both our main political parties, access to trans healthcare is becoming more difficult, and gender critical ideologies are appearing in almost every field. If there is anything that you take from me today, I would like it to be that if you don’t already, now is the best time for you to commit to standing in solidarity with the trans community.  

Educate yourself on not just the issues we face, but on how diverse and wonderful the community is, and do what you can to show kinship consistently. 

 

LGBT+ Staff Network, Representative, Quincy Bastow 

Hi, my name is Quincy my pronouns are they/them and I am speaking on behalf of the LGBT+ staff network. Tomorrow, 20th November, is Trans Day of Remembrance, a day that honours the memory of the trans people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-trans violence, but also a day in which we remember those who took their own life due to continual abuse and harassment.  

 More than one in 27 percent of young trans people have attempted to take their own life and 89 percent have thought about it. I am one of those many trans people that are a part of that statistic. As trans siblings, we face continual backlash from society on social, continual misgendering, disconcerting looks, inappropriate touching, or physical abuse. Shockingly, half of trans people have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination. I have been a victim of many of these phenomena. 

 Such behaviours towards trans people negatively affects their mental health, sometimes leading them to take their own lives due to harassment and abuse. Such instances may not all appear in the statistics, but trans are people aren’t a statistic to be summed to be placed in an equation we are all individuals we are people, and we should all be treated as such. These people are from around the world but also in the UK, which is currently one of the worse places for trans people to live: even though we have an inclusive community here at the University of Reading, many forms of abuse still happen and get unreported.  

 As a staff network, we are here to support you, so look for the rainbow postcards and if you see or are a victim of abuse and harassment report to RUSU or to inclusive staff member hashtag it’s never okay.  

 Trans people are people and trans rights are human rights; today and tomorrow we must remember not just those individuals that have died to violence but those who have died due to abuse and harassment.  

I want to remember those who are forgotten, those who aren’t remembered because they should be and will be remembered 

 

Guest speaker, Rose Taylor 

Transgender Day of Remembrance (TSOR) was started in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith to honour the memory of Rita Hester – a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. The vigil commemorated all the transgender people lost to violence since Rita Hester’s death, and began an important tradition that has become the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.  

“Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people – sometimes in the most brutal ways possible – it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice” – Transgender Day of Remembrance Founder, Gwendolyn Ann Smith 

Today we continue this vigil and remember those who have been lost to violence in that last year. I am struck by the words of Gwendolyn Ann Smith when she talks about the right to simply exist. This fight is still true and with the things we see in the media here we are reminded of it every day. My hope is that we will one day not need to read these lists of names. 

 

In her closing remarks, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Pro-Vice-Chancellor UEB LGBT+ Champion Parveen Yaqoob thanked those who spoke and those who took time out of their day to share a few moments of reflection and reminding colleagues that we all have a part to play in standing up against bigotry and hatred. 

 

 

 

List Of Names Of Those Who Have Died In The Last Year 

Kiér Laprí Kartier, USA 

Nuray Nuriyev, Azerbaijan 

Bryan Gallan, Philippines 

Ivanna Angeline Macedo, France 

Iratxe Otero, Spain 

Vika Basakovskaya, Russia 

Dimitra Kalogiannis, Greece 

Surya, India

J A. da Silva, Brazil

Kadir Murat Sözübir, Turkey 

Jeffrey Bright, USA 

Bubbli, Pakistan 

Tiara Banks, USA 

Jaqueline Saviery Silva, Brazil 

Claudia Madonna Ramírez, Colombia 

Santiago Cancinos, Argentina 

Ambre Audrey Istier, France 

Adrieli, Italy 

Mia Zabala, Honduras 

Soledad Rojas Paúcar, Peru 

Cristina Hernández Castillo, Mexico 

Thaw Thaw, Myanmar 

Lupita da Silva, Brazil 

Angelita Seixas Alves Correia, Brazil 

Vivianne López, Chile 

Alessandra Ferrati, Bolivia 

Diamond Kyree Sanders, USA 

Mumtaz, Pakistan 

Krys Brandon Ruiz, USA 

Paula Migeon, France 

Cecy Caricia Ixpatá, Guatemala 

Elizabeth Rondón, Venezuela 

Oliver Taylor, USA 

Darla, Brazil 

Dakshayani, India 

Dzhakonda, Kazakhstan  

Kelly Alves, Brazil 

Chyna Carrillo, USA 

Pam, Turkey 

Nelly Garcia, Mexico 

Fabiola Pamela Ramírez, Argentina 

Marcinha Vaz, Brazil 

Yeray Hurtado, Colombia 

Lala Contreras, Nicaragua 

Tiffany Thomas, USA 

 

 

Trans Day of Remembrance Staff Portal piece: https://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/staffportal/news/articles/spsn-861476.aspx  

 

 

Celebrating Diwali!

Our staff and students at UoR have shared their Diwali celebrations with us in this blog! 

 

NHSF Reading 

Diwali is a very important festival for me. This allows me and my family to be together and celebrate. Last year, for Diwali we put Diyas around the house and got some sparkles to play with in the garden. Additionally, at university we had a Diwali ball during my first year which made me realise that this festival allows people to unite and have fun. It was full of dancing and taking loads of pictures. 

– Saumya(Co-president) 

 

Diwali is a time where all of my extended family get together. We play games and eats lots of freshly prepared Indian snacks and sweets. 

– Raj(Co-president) 

 

Diwali for me is about spending time with my family eating Indian food, playing games and watching the fireworks.  Growing up in Leicester I was surrounded by the biggest Diwali celebrations outside of India, I am so grateful to have celebrated and still celebrate in such a huge manner. 

– Bhavani(Sewa and Sanskaar) 
 

For me Diwali is about spending time with family and friends. Me and my family celebrate it by lighting Diyas(candles) outside our house and eating plenty of Indian Sweets. During this time, we also do fireworks and make rangoli which is a special type of art using different colours of powders to make beautiful designs. 

– Priyan(secretary and media) 

 

 

This Diwali, light a candle for hope 

Santosh Sinha (Staff Engagement Manager; Co-Chair of BAME Staff Network) 

 

What a difference a year makes! 

Diwali (the Hindu festival of lights) feels much brighter this year. Earlier this week, I was taking my son for his taekwondo class when the sky lit up with colours and sounds of fireworks.  

I am sure that the private school, which put on this display, was either celebrating Guy Fawkes Night a bit early or trying to cheer up its pupils. However, for me – and to some extent, my son – fireworks at this time of the year mean that other are joining in, in the celebration of Diwali (though some Indian friends suspect that this year it might also be English and Pakistani cricket fans celebrating yet another disappointing performance by India at the T20 Cricket World Cup). 

There is something about the fireworks that cheers you up. Over the years, we have toned down our use of fireworks. As parents, a sparkler seems to be the safest device your child can handle and the rest has to be done in moderation to be a good neighbour. 

Unlike last year, when the celebration were non-existent, this year’s celebrations started over the weekend for us. We had invited some families for dinner and Diwali celebrations with us. With COVID19 continuing to cast a shadow, we had to go for a much smaller gathering that we are used to.  

It did feel like Diwali. We had sweets. We had terracotta lamps. We had firecrackers. But most importantly, we had friends to celebrate the day with – friends who understand how important Diwali is and how it brings people together. 

It was nearly two in the morning by the time we wrapped up, but the clocks were changing that night and we were able to gain an extra hour of sleep. Definitely my best Diwali gift ever! 

Tonight we will be setting out to be with our friends, who we have celebrated Diwali with every single year that we have known them. The children look forward to it every year, and we enjoy spending Diwali with friends who are almost family to us. 

My wife and I have been able to see our mothers after almost three years – she had to visit India to see hers and mine is visiting us at the moment.  

As I wrote last year, most of us were hoping to meet up “soon” while being acutely aware that “soon” may be months away. Increased vaccination and the easing travel restrictions mean that the hope is now a reality. 

So let’s light a candle tonight to hope that the next year is an even better year than this one! 

 

Happy Diwali!

Prof Vimal Karani S (Professor of Nutrigenetics & Nutrigenomics) 

http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/diversereading/files/2021/11/Diwali-2_Trim2_1-Prof-Vimal-Karani.mov 

 

 

 

Diwali – Celebrating The Light Within 

Shweta Band (Lecturer and PhD Candidate, School of Law) 

 

The fragrance of sandalwood incense sticks and listening to the song ‘Uthi uthi Gopala’ in the blissful voice of Pandit Kumar Gandharva ji, the doyen of Indian classical vocal music- this is my earliest memory of a Diwali morning growing up in India. It was a decades-old family ritual and something that I miss every year celebrating Diwali away from home. As immigrants from India, I always find myself making eager attempts to relive and recreate all cultural traditions and rituals as an experience-legacy for my children. But there’s something magical in celebrating Diwali back home- surrounded by family and amidst the millions of lights and colours everywhere!  

I’m sure you all know Diwali as portrayed by social media, but if you’ve ever wondered how an actual Diwali day in India looks like- join in this visual journey- from my Diwali trip to India in 2019 (something I had managed after eight long years).  

As we celebrate Diwali away from home every year, we try and live the beautiful spirit of the festival- of the value of celebrating with family and friends, of the joy of gifting, of being thankful to the wealth (in whatever form!) that life has given us and of the eternal hope that good triumphs over evil and light over darkness. Diwali isn’t just about the light from the sparkles of the diya-lamps, or the lanterns or from the firecrackers. On a spiritual level, Diwali is all about being enlightened by the light within! It’s a beautiful reminder that one whose heart is filled with light, will brighten all lives around! This is what I love about my favourite festival.  

So here’s the Diwali wish I leave you with –  

Roshan karo, roshan raho!  

May you spread the light. May you be the light!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All About Diwali

What is Diwali?  

Diwa, also known as Divali or Deepawali, is a festival celebrated by people of different faiths including Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Muslims and some Buddhists across the globe. 

Diwali originates from the Sanskrit word ‘deepavali’, which means ‘rows of lights’. 

Diwali is often referred to as the festival of lights. It celebrates the triumph of good over evil, and light over darkness, marking the start of the Hindu New Year. As one of the prominent festivals of India, celebrations take place together with family and friends, whilst new and old relationships are kindled through Indian sweets, delicacies and laughter.

 

When is Diwali?  

Diwali takes place over 5 days. The main festival day falls on a different date in the autumn each year, in line with the Hindu lunar calendar, in the Hindu lunar month Kartika. Usually, Diwali falls in October or November in the Gregorian calendar. This year, Diwali is on Thursday 04 November 2021. 

 

How is Diwali celebrated?  

Diwali is a five-day festival, with the height of the festival being celebrated on the third day, which is Thursday 04 November 2021. 

Preparations for the festival involve people cleaning and decorating their homes in the lead-up to the festival.  

Diwali is celebrated with joy, sweets, and also fireworks, string lights and candles. Many towns celebrate as a community by throwing parties. Traditional celebrations include lighting diyas (oil lamps) in workplaces and homes. Diyas are a guidance for Goddess Lakshmi to find her way home. They also act as a spiritual reminder that inner light can protect homes from spiritual darkness.  

Each day of Diwali has it’s own significance:  

Day 1, Dhanteras – Cleaning homes and shopping  

Day 2, Chhoti Diwali / Naraka Chaturdasi / Kali Chaudas  – Decorating homes with lamps and creating design patterns called rangoli using coloured powders or sand.  

Day 3, Diwali / Deepawali / Lakshmi Puja – The main day of the festival! Families and friends gather for prayers to Goddess Lakshmi, often followed by feasts and festivities – sometimes fireworks!  

Day 4, Govardhan Puja / Padva – The first day of the new year. Friends and families often visit each other with gifts and best wishes for the season.  

Day 5, Bhai Dooj / Yama Dwitiva – A day for brothers and sisters to honour one another. Siblings often pray for one another and participate in a ceremony called tilak. Often also followed by feats and festivities!  

  • Diwali Ball  

Date/Time: 25th November, 7pm-11pm
Location: 3sixty, Reading University Students’ Union 
Find out more by contacting NHSF Reading at nhsfreading@gmail.com  

 

 

Further Resources:  

Diwali.org – https://www.diwalifestival.org/ 

25 Facts About Diwali – https://parade.com/1116817/marynliles/diwali-facts/  

17 Indian Street Food Recipes – https://parade.com/843981/manuzangara/17-indian-street-food-recipes/ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proud to be: Celebrating Black History Month

 

October is Black History Month and this year’s theme is Proud To Be. The campaign is aiming to make Black History Month 2021 unique and personal to individuals, families and communities. In addition to this aim, this theme also focuses on the achievements and contributions of Black people throughout history.  

 At the University of Reading, we are proud to be celebrating Black History Month and continuing conversations around race beyond just the month of October. In this blog piece, we’ve compiled a list of resources in various formats that encourage thinking and discussions on race for more than just a month.  

 

 

Books

on Black British History: 

on Anti-Racism: 

  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge  
  • So You Want To Talk About Race – Ijeoma Oluo 
  • The Good Ally – Novara Reid 

On Race:  

  • Afropean: Notes from Black Europe – Johnny Pitts
  • Biracial Britain: A Different Way of Looking at Race – Remi Adekoya
  • Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging – Afua Hirsh
  • In Black and White: A Young Barrister’s Story of Race and Class in a Broken Justice System – Alexandra Wilson
  • Mixed/Other: Explorations of Multiraciality in Modern Britain – Natalie Morris

 

 

Podcasts 

American Podcasts: 

 

 

Videos about Black British History: 

 

 

Videos about Anti-Racism: 

 

 

Resources & events:


 

Other resources: 

 

 

 

 

 

Bi Visibility Day is 23 Years Old!

Trigger warning: This article contains references to self-harm and domestic violence.  

 

Bi Visibility Day is marking it’s 23rd Year and we are excited to acknowledge and celebrate our Bi colleagues and students and remind our Ally colleagues and students that even after 23 years of marking this day, there are still challenges to overcome for this community within the LGBT+ community.  

As it falls on the 23rd of September, we thought we could go through 23 things to remember this Bi Visibility day:

 

23 Things to Remember on Bi Visibility Day:
 

  • No more erasure! 

Bi Erasure is a pervasive issue where the legitimacy and/or existence of bi identities is denied. Here are some ideas to help your bi friends fight invisibility and erasure. 

 

  • Avoid assumptions 

Avoid making assumptions based on someone’s previous or current partner. Follow their lead on language they use to define their relationship or identity and be aware that this could be fluid and subject to change.  

 

  • ‘Bi’ is an umbrella term   

Bi is a word we can use to describe several identities, attractions, and orientations.  According to bi.org: 

“Terms that fall under the bi umbrella include pansexual (attraction to all genders, with a political emphasis on nonbinary gender identities), polysexual (attraction to multiple sexes), omnisexual (attraction to all sexes), and multisexual (attraction to multiple sexes). Some people prefer the term fluid meaning that their attractions are not fixed and include people of more than one sex over time. “  

 

  • Be an Ally! 

You can join the LGBT+ Staff Network as an Ally, as well as signing up to our Bi inclusion training and learn about ways to support your bi colleagues. You can also pick up an UoR LGBT+/LGBT+ Ally lanyard and pronoun badge when you’re on campus to be a visible Ally! These are free to pick up at various places across campus including Whiteknights House reception and the Students’ Union reception. 

You can also check out this ‘10 Ways You Can Step Up as an Ally to Bi People‘ article over on the Stonewall website.

 

  • One in two 18-24 year olds in the UK do not identify as 100% straight 

study by YouGov, using the Kinsey scale, allows people to place themselves along a sexuality scale. Taken as a whole, 23% of the British public do not identify as straight.   

 

  • Bi people make up nearly half of the LGBT+ community 

According to a 2013 Pew research centre survey, bi people make up 44% of the LGBT+ community. MyUmbrella, who champion inclusion within the LGBT+ community in Reading, made this podcast last year talking about why we still need Bi Visibility day. 

 

  • Recognise and challenge biphobia 

If you witness biphobia or bi erasure, and you feel safe to do so, challenge this behaviour. You can use the University’s method for calling out (or calling in) detrimental behaviour, the UHT method – Getting involved – call out bad behaviour. 

You can also report this behaviour using the University’s reporting procedures – Harassment reporting and support.  

 

  • Uplift and support marginalised bi people 

This can be done by everyone within the bi community, as well as all allies.  

BAME bi people are further marginalised and discriminated against within the bi community,  Ace bi people are erased and excluded, bi men face stigma from the LGBT+ community and  so on. Intersectionality within the bi community often leads to further inequality. You can  help fight this by seeking out and supporting bi groups who explicitly support those people  who identify as having multiple, or intersecting, protected characteristics.  

Bi’s of colour, an organisation created “cos bisexuality isn’t just for white folks” sadly shut down operations this year, but you can read Bi’s of Colour History report in 2015.   

 

  • Bi people have always been here 

Being bi isn’t a new way to identify, nor is it a phase or a trend. Take a look through some of the iconic bi people throughout history – Historical figures who are bi icons  

 

  • Use inclusive language 

Be aware of, and curious about, the language you use. Do you use the word ‘gay’ as a catch-all term? Could this be inadvertently erasing someone’s bi identify? Remember that asking lots of questions so that you are clear on someone’s identity can be harmful, so keep an open, empathic mind. The Stonewall Glossary of terms is a useful resource.   

 

  • Bi people face unique mental health challenges 

In a review of depression and anxiety among bi people, meta-analysis of approximately 52 eligible studies, found that: 

“consistent pattern of lowest rates of depression/anxiety among heterosexual people, while bisexual people exhibit higher or equivalent rates in comparison to lesbian/gay people.” 

 

  • Bi people face unique parenting challenges  

Bi people are almost twice as likely to be parents than gay or lesbian people, and some may find it tricky to know how or when to ‘come out’ to their children. You can read about some of the lived experiences of bi parents in this article How Do Bi Parents Come Out to Their Kids?   

The parent and family network recently held an event in conjunction with the LGBT+ staff network, focused on LGBT+ parenting.   

 

  • The majority of people of all generations in the UK now accept the idea that sexual orientation exists along a continuum rather than a binary choice  

YouGov states that overall 60% of straight people support this idea, and 73% of those who identify as LGBT+. 

 

  • Young bi people and self-injury

According to University of Manchester researchers, young bi people are up to six times more likely to engage in non-suicidal self-injury. Further research is being done into this issue, you can find out about the study here Self-Injury in young Bisexual people: A Longitudinal investigation (SIBL)  

 

  • Bi people face high levels of discrimination at work  

Stonewall report on bi people in the workplace, found: 

“Bisexual staff are, they felt, subjected to assumptions that they may find demeaning or inappropriate.” 

 

  • Make LGBT+ spaces inclusive 

It is important that LGBT+ spaces review their inclusivity and recognise any challenges. We introduced a position of ‘Bi role model’ into our LGBT+ staff Network  

 

  • 61% of bi women and 37% of bi men experience intimate partner violence.  

According to a study, bi people experienced the highest rates of violence by an 

intimate partner. In Reading there are several organisations you can reach out to including Trust HouseAlana House, and Berkshire Women’s Aid 

 

  • Support bi organisations and campaigns 

Find national and local organisations that you can support, such as:

Bi Pride UK  

The Unicorn project  

BiCon 

 

  • Make sure your workplace, university or school is inclusive 

At the University of Reading, some of the ways you can support bi people are joining the LGBT+ Staff Network, taking Bi inclusion training, joining RUSU LGBT+ society. 

In Reading town, SupportU are and LGBT+ organisation who can offer a professional consultancy and tailor training for local businesses and organisations. 

Stonewall are a larger organisation who share best practice and toolkits, provide training and a benchmarking tool. The University of Reading continues to be among Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers, according to the 2020 Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. 

 

  • The Bi Pay Gap  

‘INVISIBLE MAJORITY’ a US report on the disparities facing bi people, shows that 48% percent of bi respondents report a lower annual family income compared to 28% of all adults in the United States.  

 

  • Support bi people to live full and complex lives, like everyone else! 

Bi people can be further stigmatised if they are seen to ‘fit’ into stereotypes. Bi people can live every bit as complex and nuanced lives as those who do not identify as bi. Affirm your friends, colleagues and family members identities and relationships and remember the harm that can be caused by stereotyping.  

 

  • Positive Bi representation in the media  

Representation is so important because of the link between societal attitudes towards bi  people, and their portrayal in mainstream media.  GLAAD’s ‘Where we are on TV’ report.  

 

  • Celebrate bi people! 

Amplify the voices and experiences of bi people. Celebrate days like Bi Visibility Day. Search social media for bi content creators, learn and share their content.  

 

 

 

 

Further Resources: