Cross-border recognition of same-sex marriages in the EU

Guest post by Dr Alina Tryfonidou, Associate Professor in EU Law, University of Reading

Since 2001, when the Netherlands opened marriage to same-sex couples, a number of other countries have taken the same step. At the moment of writing, marriage is open to same-sex couples in 24 countries around the world, with 15 of those being in Europe, and 13 in the European Union (EU).

Photo: Mr Adrian Coman (right) with his spouse, Mr Claibourn Robert Hamilton (left)

As more and more countries have opened marriage to same-sex couples, the number of same-sex couples who are married is increasing every year. What happens, however, when a married same-sex couple moves from a country that recognises same-sex marriages to a country that does not? Is the latter obliged to recognise a same-sex marriage contracted elsewhere? This question has been answered affirmatively in the US context: in 2015, in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, the US Supreme Court held that marriages lawfully performed in one US State must be fully recognised in all other US States.

Although the above question has been lingering in the EU context for almost two decades now, the EU’s highest court (the European Court of Justice ‘ECJ’) has only recently been called to adjudicate on this matter, in a case (C-673/16 Coman) where a same-sex couple that married in an EU Member State (Belgium) was faced with a refusal by the EU Member State to which they wished to move (Romania) to recognise their marriage. Mr Coman (a Romanian national and thus EU citizen, who had left Romania and was living abroad for a number of years) married his same-sex partner (a US national) in Belgium in 2010. The couple wished to move to Romania and when they contacted the Romanian authorities for this purpose, they were told that Mr Coman’s spouse could not join him in Romania, as same-sex marriages are not valid in that state. The couple brought an action before a Romanian court arguing that this refusal amounted to a breach of EU law. The Romanian court referred a number of questions for a preliminary ruling to the ECJ, asking it, in essence, whether EU law requires Romania to recognise the same-sex marriage of an EU citizen who has exercised his EU free movement rights.

EU law provides nationals of EU Member States (i.e. EU citizens) with the right to move freely between EU Member States. In order to ensure that this right can be exercised without any restrictions, EU law requires the State to which an EU citizen moves to accept within its territory certain family members of the latter; these family members include ‘the spouse’ of the EU citizen. This is laid down in secondary EU legislation, namely Directive 2004/38.

Given that the word ‘spouse’ is sex- and sexual orientation-neutral, one of the main questions that the ECJ has been called to answer in Coman, is whether this term (as used in the above Directive) includes both the opposite-sex and the same-sex spouse of an EU citizen who has exercised his/her EU right to move freely between Member States.

As argued elsewhere, it is clear that this should be answered in the affirmative, and this is so for the following reasons.

  1. Directive 2004/38 provides (Recital 31) that it ‘respects the fundamental rights and freedoms and observes the principles recognised in particular by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union’. Accordingly, the provisions of the Directive, including the provision stating that the ‘spouse’ of an EU national must be allowed to join the latter in the host Member State, must be read in a way which does not violate fundamental human rights, including the right not to be discriminated against on the ground of sexual orientation, as this is laid down in Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This means that the term ‘spouse’ in this instrument, must be interpreted in a way which does not discriminate on the ground of sexual orientation and, thus, it should not exclude same-sex spouses from its scope.
  2. Directive 2004/38 requires Member States to implement it without any discrimination on, inter alia, the ground of sexual orientation (Recital 31). Therefore, national legislation which provides for the family reunification rights of EU citizens must include the ‘spouse’ of EU citizens within the category of family members that can automatically accompany them in its territory, and must make it clear that this includes both opposite-sex and same-sex spouses.
  3. The refusal of an EU Member State to recognise the same-sex marriage of an EU citizen who wishes to move to its territory and the consequent refusal to accept within its territory the spouse of that national, can clearly discourage EU citizens from exercising their right to free movement and residence in any EU Member State, which is a right that is bestowed on them by the EU free movement provisions . Accordingly, such a refusal can constitute a breach of the EU free movement provisions.
  4. The failure of an EU Member State to recognise the same-sex marriage of an EU citizen who moves to its territory may, also, amount to a breach of a number of fundamental human rights, as these are protected under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, namely, the right to family life (Article 7 of the Charter) and the right to human dignity (Article 1 of the Charter).

The hearing of the Coman case was scheduled for November 2017, and it is expected that the Opinion of the Advocate General and the Court’s judgment will be delivered in 2018. The case has attracted extensive media coverage and a number of LGBT NGOs have intervened. The judgment is, therefore, awaited with great interest as the question at issue involves a delicate matter with huge constitutional implications

A Personal Take on Asexuality and Asexual Awareness Week

Guest blog by Mark McClemont, Technical Services

For Asexual Awareness Week (22-28 October) I’ve been invited by Simon Chandler-Wilde, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, to write this piece to provide some information for those who might be interested or are, or think they might be, asexual.

What is asexuality? Quite simply: an asexual is a person who does not experience sexual attraction.

Asexual (or “ace” for short) people are quite rare, the most common estimate I’ve seen is around 1% of the population. Based on this there could be 30-40 ace staff members at the University, more amongst the Student population. I’m definitely not the only one here as I met another UoR staff member who is asexual at Reading Pride this year. Another University staff member I met at the same event identifies as pansexual but has asexual friends.

There is an asexual flag:

(There are a growing number of flags in the LGBT+ community – click on “Identities” on My Umbrella’s site, link below.) Black signifies asexuality, grey: greysexuality, white: sexuality and purple (purple is my favourite colour: win!): community. Greysexuals are those who rarely experience sexual attraction and/or only do so in specific situations. For example demisexuals – a subset of the greysexual population – only experience sexual attraction after a strong emotional bond has been formed.

The asexual community itself makes up a spectrum ranging from those who don’t experience any notable attraction for other people, through those who experience one or more non-sexual attractions for others, to greysexuals; these latter could be described as sitting in the boundary area of the asexual community with the wider sexuality spectrum. Non-sexual attractions include aesthetic: attraction to a person’s appearance without it being romantic; romantic: a desire to be romantic with someone, and sensual: a yearning for non-sexual physical contact. I’ve met quite a few asexual people of many types from across the spectrum from aromantic asexuals to greysexuals and, only a few weeks ago, someone who had lost their sex drive and wished to meet and chat to asexual people and another who had looked at the AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network, see link below) site and wanted confirmation that asexuality is actually “a thing”- I was happy to confirm that it is, indeed.

Isn’t asexuality like celibacy? No: a celibate is someone who chooses not to act upon their sexual desires whereas an asexual person doesn’t have those desires in the first place – celibacy is a choice, asexuality is an inherent orientation.

Is asexuality some kind of medical condition that can be cured? Interesting question – in some cases, yes. There are a number of physiological and psychological factors – e.g. trauma, abuse, medications/drugs, hormonal imbalance, hyposexuality (very low sex drive) etc. – that can affect libido and so can render a person, by simple definition, asexual. Asexuality is also a naturally occurring, inherent orientation which people are born with. I was born this way.

Can asexual people fall in love and have relationships? Yes, in fact two of my ace friends, who both identify as homoromantic asexual, got married earlier this year and in a recent media interview revealed that they do everything most people would expect couples to do apart from have sex.

My story? I identify as homoromantic asexual: I find some people of my gender to be aesthetically, romantically and sensually attractive. I would enjoy doing romantic “couple stuff” with someone I fancied but have no desire, at all, to interfere with their reproductive impedimenta (yeugh!) or have my bits and pieces played around with in turn. I can experience arousal but in a separate context such that it doesn’t translate into an ability to be sexual with another person and, yes, I have tried.

I knew I was “different” from quite early, lack of sexual attraction at puberty made me consider that there was something wrong with me. Finding members of my own gender to be attractive was an additional problem at a time – mid ‘70s – when casual homophobia was socially acceptable and being “different” in school was an open invitation to be picked on: I kept my head down. Thinking that I might be gay I socialised on the gay scene for most of the ‘90s reasoning that, perhaps, in the right situation and context something would “click” and it would all make sense. It didn’t: people lost interest, fast, when they realised that there was no sex in the offing – merely confirmed what I already knew inherently. It was about this time that I started to use the term ”asexual” to describe myself and theorised that there must be other people like me out there and just got on with life. On the 14th October 2004 I experienced an epiphany: there, on the front of The Guardian, was an article about asexual people – I spent the rest of the day punching the air chanting “I was right” and a weight was lifted from my shoulders, gone! That and other articles in national newspapers that day were likely inspired by an article about asexuality in that month’s New Scientist featuring an interview with a Californian, David Jay, who founded, with others, AVEN.

I became a member of AVEN in November 2004 and in January 2005 knowingly met other asexual people for the first time – another high point. Knowing what it was like to find out about others like me I became active with visibility and media projects, for a time I was AVEN’s UK media contact and have been on television (daytime telly…), national and local radio (including BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live) newspapers and magazines. I also took part in the Asexuality Conference which took place the day after World Pride in London 2012.

I consider that visibility is particularly important for asexual people – there will be plenty still thinking that there’s something “wrong” with them in our fairly heavily sexualised society and media. Recently, I was accepted to be a part of this University’s Faces of Reading project (link below) which I saw as a great opportunity for some visibility for University staff and students and that led to, well, this blog: I hope some people find this helpful.

P.S. Sticklers for punishment may wish to know that I’m due to be interviewed for BBC Local Radio covering Coventry and Warwickshire on November 2nd

Useful links:

AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network – resources, information, FAQs and forums): https://www.asexuality.org/

My Umbrella (a Reading-based, volunteer-led support group for the lesser known LGBT+ identities): https://www.myumbrella.org.uk/

Support U (a Thames Valley-based resource service for those needing help with LGBT+ issues – they are ace-friendly and participated in Asexual Awareness Week here at the University in January 2016): http://www.supportu.org.uk/

Faces of Reading (a project highlighting the diversity of staff and roles at the University of Reading): http://www.reading.ac.uk/about/faces-of-reading.aspx

Seeing the B in LGBT

Guest blog by Dr Allán LavilleSchool of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences

Bi invisibility

In 1998, Michael Page designed the Bi Pride Flag to increase the visibility of bisexuals within the LGBT community and within society as a whole. In a BiFlag.com blog, Page discusses the symbolism of the components of this flag:

The pink color represents sexual attraction to the same sex only (gay and lesbian), The blue represents sexual attraction to the opposite sex only (straight) and the resultant overlap color purple represents sexual attraction to both sexes (bi).

The key to understanding the symbolism in the Bi Pride Flag is to know that the purple pixels of color blend unnoticeably into both the pink and blue, just as in the ‘real world’ where most bi people blend unnoticeably into both the gay/lesbian and straight communities.”

In the above quote, Page discusses how bi individuals are often invisible within various communities and this has been termed ‘bi invisibility’. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that bi individuals are visible and supported within our society.

Bi visibility

In relation to bi visibility, from 1999, Bi Visibility Day has been celebrated annually on the 23rd of September. There are various events held across the UK (as well as internationally) to encourage and promote bi visibility. This day also highlights biphobia which is the fear or dislike of someone who identifies as bi.

When considering biphobia, Stonewall, the largest LGBT charity in Europe, state that bi individuals suffer from dual prejudice. This is from within the LGBT community and outside of it. This prejudice can lead to mental health problems and risk taking behaviours. Therefore, the aim of Bi Visibility Day is a reminder that we need to address biphobia whenever and wherever we see it.

 

Bi visibility in the workplace

Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers Report 2017 found that only 18% of bi men and 14% of bi women are comfortable being out to all colleagues, managers, and customers or service users. Furthermore, the same report identified that only 23% of bi people could identify a bi role model in their workplace. In summary, this report highlights the need for bi individuals to feel more comfortable with bringing their authentic selves to work as well as having identifiable bi role models in the workplace.

I was fortunate to be funded by Diversity and Inclusion to attend Stonewall’s Bi Workplace Role Models Programme on the 13th of September.

The Stonewall Bi Workplace Role Models Programme promoted a safe space for individuals, including myself, who identify under the ‘Bi umbrella’. The day was very experiential and provided a lot of time to discuss ideas with others who identified as Bi.

Throughout the day we were encouraged to think about our own role models and what it means to be a role model in the workplace. We completed a range of activities that provided us with the opportunity to consider what we can do within our own organisations as a Bi Role Model. We explored barriers to being a Bi Role Model within an organisation as well as potential solutions to this.

One key learning point for myself was that it is very important to be visible as a Bi Role Model at the University. I have taken steps towards being more visible such as being profiled for the Faces of Reading project. As a bi person who has experienced biphobia outside of work, I hope that my level of understanding may be of benefit to others who have/are experiencing the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diversity and Internationalization

Guest blog by Vincenzo Raimo (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement)  

I’m a passionate advocate for the benefits that we all gain through the internationalization of our universities. Among the reasons that I was particularly keen to rejoin Reading University as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement in 2014, was its very strong and long-standing international relationships and its extensive global footprint. As a student, here in the 1980s, I remember a very international population of staff and students, like we have today, and living with students from a very diverse set of countries including Sudan, Oman, Rwanda, India, Cyprus and elsewhere. Almost 30-years on I’ve been privileged to visit most of these countries and to have met Reading graduates all over the world who, like me, have been profoundly influenced by the international experience they enjoyed as students here.

 

I’m sometimes met by skepticism in my belief in the benefits we all gain through greater internationalization on our campuses – a belief that by bringing students and scholars together from across the world we can share knowledge as well as developing a greater understanding and mutual respect for our fellow citizens of this planet. There are also significant benefits in terms of economic flows and in diplomatic relationships, but most crucially in creating a better and safer world which we can share together.

Internationalization does not, however, come without its challenges: the current challenges at home in relation to government policies, including the immigration and Brexit debates played out daily on our news screens, but also those challenges pertinent to operating as a transnational organization. Here in the UK we are home to more than 16000 students and 3700 staff representing most of the world’s nations, and a large number of the world’s religions and faiths. We need to be supportive of the diverse communities which we welcome to our campuses and ensure that we are sensitive and receptive to their particular needs.

We also have almost 3000 University of Reading students on our campuses and study sites outside of the UK including in South Africa, China and Malaysia as well as growing staff populations in those countries and an increasingly mobile staff travelling between Reading’s campuses.

Among the most significant challenges we face as a transnational organization are the very different legal and cultural environments we encounter in some of the countries to which our staff and students travel and in which the University of Reading is located today. It’s important to stress that while we obviously work within the different legal and cultural environments in which our people travel and in which we are located, our core values and principles as a University community remain unchanged – values of respect, tolerance and freedom of expression.

The University’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy is, as the name says, about being inclusive and welcoming to all people, irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or disability. It is about ensuring that our practices do not exclude, marginalise or disadvantage people and that we create environments, as Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has described, in which “students and staff feel confident expressing who they are and what they believe in”.

The fact that we have a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, recognises that we still have work to do at our campuses in the UK to ensure our values are fully embedded. But this work also goes beyond our UK shores. While recognising that we can’t control the experiences of our staff and students away from the University, our campuses themselves, wherever they may be located, must be open and inclusive places. That may mean challenging assumptions and local cultures  – in part this is what universities have always done – but we must also be sensitive to the safety and the feelings of our people within the contexts in which we operate.

To support our Global Engagement Strategy, the University has signed-up as a Stonewall Global Diversity Champion as from 1st June 2017. This will help us to assess more accurately how we are meeting our University Values in our overseas sites, as well as helping us to provide the best possible advice and support we can to our staff and students who are currently working or studying at one of our branch campuses, or considering doing so.

Lesbian Visibility Day

by Simon Chandler-Wilde

Today, April 26th, is internationally celebrated in the LGBT+ community and beyond as Lesbian Visibility Day. Stonewall, the UK’s leading representational, campaigning, and support organisation for LGBT+ people and their allies – the University is a Stonewall Diversity Champion – has used today to launch a new video with many lesbian voices advocating the importance of lesbian visibility – and visibility of a variety of lesbian voices and backgrounds and intersectionalities. Here are a couple of stills from the video. These show first Stonewall and mental health advocate Yvonne Stewart-Williams, and then Ruth Hunt, Stonewall’s Chief Executive. We’re really excited that Ruth will give our inaugural Wolfenden Lecture next week 4 May at 7pm – booking is still open here.

The voices on this video advocate powerfully for the importance of visible role models across society – and this message is taken up in Stonewall’s publication ‘The Double-Glazed Glass Ceiling: Lesbians in the Workplace‘, with a key recommendation that: ‘Having visible, open lesbian and bisexual female leaders in the organisation reassures lesbian employees that they won’t be discriminated against and encourages them to be out at work.’ The report also advocates strong support for role models, which is why we are so keen to support our LGBT staff financially and otherwise on Stonewall’s LGBT Role Models Programme. Watch the Staff Portal and the LGBT Plus network’s Twitter feed next week for details of funding for 8 more places, or talk for more info to my favourite lesbian and gay role models Deb Heighes and Calvin Smith, the co-chairs of LGBT Plus, who are both graduates of this one-day programme.

Talking this over this evening, my teenage daughter has emphasised to me the importance of visibility of younger role models. She means here role models at School and University  – RUSU and its LGBT+ Society do a great job locally at Reading of providing many role models, not least Nikki Ray our RUSU LGBT+ Part-Time Officer – but, equally, visible role models in the media and in the programmes that teens watch – a great example is Emily in Pretty Little Liars – that make clear that lesbian identities are normal, everyday, and across our diverse society.

Feedback on our Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2017 submission

by Simon Chandler-Wilde

I’ve blogged before about the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index and Reading. On the LGBT Plus network’s blog I’ve talked about what is involved in a submission and talked about why – encouraged by our LGBT Plus network – we think being part of this charter mark is really worthwhile. Then last month on this blog I reported on the results of our submission into the Stonewall WEI 2017, resulting in our best marks ever and our best ever placing at 168 out of 439 submissions, compared to 204/415 last year.

In that last blog I promised an update after our face-to-face feedback meeting with our client manager Jessica James from Stonewall. We had that meeting on Tuesday, Jess meeting with me, Deb Heighes and Calvin Smith (Co-Chairs of the LGBT Plus staff network), and Alison Hackett and Yasmin Ahmed from HR. Jessgave us a breakdown of our marks and a comparison with other employers, and feedback for two hours on where we did well and where we can improve.

The 1st picture above summarises our rank over the last three years, and our score this year and how this compares with averages over:

  • all submissions;
  • all submissions in our Education sector (mainly universities but also a few further education);
  • the Top 100 submissions.

We have made significant progress from last year, both in our score (up from 78 to 102), and in our ranking in the sector (up from 27/54 to 22/56). To get into the Top 100 we would need to make the same improvement in score again – this year the Top 100 had scores of 125 and above – and we would need a further significant improvement to hit the Top 100 average. (The University’s target is to be in the top 50 by 2020, so roughly the Top 100 average.) To avoid any complacency, its worth noting that we have to make some improvement each year just to stand still, as more employers enter each year and scores get better – overall average was 78 last year and 85 this year, while Top 100 average has increased from 143 to 148.

OK, so where did we do well and where is there room for improvement. Well let me start with a sample from the Staff Survey that Stonewall carries out electronically across all the employers who enter the Stonewall WEI – and Jess says our response rate was comparatively good, with 452 responses, of which 62 from LGBT employees, 390 non-LGBT.

The above tables are what the survey has to say about the experiences of our LGB staff (there were too few responses from trans staff for Stonewall to give us any data back). The above data I think speaks for itself. The lower table is very encouraging compared to elsewhere, except that our LGB staff are rather less comfortable declaring sexual orientation. There is work for us to do on encouraging declaration of sexual orientation on employee Self Service for all our staff, and in understanding why our LGB staff feel less comfortable than elsewhere in declaring. Our current sexual orientation declaration rate at 60.7% of our staff is low compared to many other employers, though hugely higher than this time last year.

The upper table suggests that we have more to do to make our LGB staff feel comfortable about being out at work. But I’m hopeful that our recent efforts on recruiting visible LGBT+ Allies – and I spotted over 20 LGBT+ ALLY postcards on office doors in my own department earlier this week  – plus our efforts to encourage visible LGBT role models, and to make senior UEB and Leadership group LGBT role models and allies visible, will have an impact here.

My last table summarises in what areas we did well, and where we have significant room for improvement. There is a very positive story in policy – though even there we have work underway, not least HR leading a major update of our trans policy and guidance with much consultation to come in the next few months.

Equally we have done very well in the line managers section, in the information we push out to the leadership group (and ask to be pushed out to line managers further down), that our criteria for promotion to higher grades value commitment to diversity and, for our academic staff, explicitly value leadership in D&I and significant roles in staff network groups, including LGBT Plus. It was also very positive that we have School-level diversity KPIs, and that a number of our line managers, including in the Leadership group and UEB, have undertaken Stonewall role model or allies training, or have been very visible as LGBT role models. We have also done well on all staff engagement.

There is a lot of room for improvement in several areas, but particularly training, the work of our staff network group (which only formed in 2014), and community engagement. In these three areas we have the largest gaps between our scores and the maximum scores, and also between our scores and the Top 100 average.

On training we are frankly at a relatively early stage as an organisation in diversity and inclusion-related training, though with some bright spots in our training around recruitment and selection, in some of our induction training, and in our work on unconscious bias. We know we have much more to do here, much planning and implementation, and to be fair have only just in the last few months recruited a significant people development team who are leading on thinking through, with input from the Deans for D&I and others, what our training provision should be in the D&I area. Some work is kicking off already, e.g., very relevant to Stonewall concerns, work on Bystander Training, but we have further reflection to do on the many detailed Stonewall comments in this area, jointly with people development and our LGBT Plus network.

Related to the Staff Network Group category there is more that we can do in many areas if we can find the resource within the network and within the University to support the work of the network, and both of these should be possible. The network group, having been formed only in 2014, does a lot of good work already, but possibilities for further development include:

  • involvement in mentoring or reverse mentoring – but this needs work on our mentoring opportunities at University level which I know is underway in the people development team;
  • collaboration with other network groups, e.g. Women@Reading, our Cultural Diversity Group;
  • initiatives, seminars and events addressing more of the L – G – B and T, and addressing intersectional issues: an example pushing in this direction was the excellent event in LGBT History Month last month with Jane Traies on her research work with older lesbians.

On community engagement, while we have already upped our game, e.g. strong use of social media, Uni/RUSU presence at Reading Pride, collaborations between MERL and Support U, LGBT Plus engagement with the LGBT STEMinar, our hosting a new Thames Valley LGBT+ Workplace Network, ideas for doing more include training for staff in supporting LGBT students, consulting with our LGBT students on their needs (and action on this is in train), doing LGBT-focussed recruitment and media work, taking more of a leadership role within our sector or with our partners, and supporting campaigning or training to tackle hate crime or homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying.

So, overall, very encouraging progress, and a lot of constructive feedback on what more we can do. I look forwards to working with staff and students across the University, but especially the LGBT Plus staff network, the RUSU Diversity and LGBT+ Officers, our VC as the UEB LGBT+ Champion, and our new University LGBT+ Action Plan Group, with the goal of making Reading one of the most supportive and inclusive of workplaces for our LGBT+ staff and students.

Being an LGBT+ Ally – Hear it. Stop it.

#NOBYSTANDERS

Guest blog by Rachel Helsby, Vice-Chancellor’s Office  

Having been fortunate to one of the first colleagues to go on the first Stonewall Allies programme back in the summer, I was keen to attend the official launch of the University’s LGBT Ally scheme on February 10th.

So what is an ally? Very simply, it is a term used to describe heterosexual people who believe that lesbian, gay and bisexual people should experience full equality in the workplace. They recognise that it’s not just the responsibility of gay people to create a workplace culture that is inclusive of everyone and they take action to make a difference.

With Ellie Highwood, Diversity and Inclusion Dean as host, the well-attended event kicked off with the Vice-Chancellor talking about his personal reflections and commitment to being an ally. As University Executive Board champion for LGBT+, his central message was that allies actively champion full work place equality rather than just being passively accepting. As allies, he also challenged us to regularly reflect on what we’ve done to put equality at the very heart of what we do at work.

We then heard the personal and very moving stories of Deb Heighes, LGBT+ Network Co-Chair and Nikki Ray, LGBT rep for RUSU.

Deb talked about how tough things had been for her friends and her as gay teachers in the era of Section 28, how things have improved for now that she is, and I quote, ‘professionally gay’. She mentioned that allies are now the ‘icing on the cake.’

Nikki spoke about the challenges still faced for her as student, how little gestures can make a big difference and how her straight friends have become her biggest advocates, by supporting her at RUSU LGBT+ events.

Last but by no means least, we heard from Peter Chamberlin, a lecturer in Maths and fellow LGBT+ Ally. He talked about his motivation to become an ally – inspired in part by his wish to ensure that his four children grow up in an environment where they could be who happy whoever and whatever they are.

He talked about the practical things we could do as allies including:

  1. Being visible – making visible our commitment to the LGBT+ community, by displaying for example LGBT+ Ally plus postcards, wearing rainbow laces or lanyards; and
  2. Being informed – through attending the various events and training, including the next Stonewall One-Day Allies Programme; and
  3. Making a personal commitment not to be a bystander. He spoke about a really helpful approach to tackle bullying and teasing language in the workplace – known as the UHT approach a framework which can be adapted to any given situation:

“I UNDERSTAND why you said this and that you didn’t mean any harm.

HOWEVER, this language/behaviour is not appropriate and is offensive…

THEREFORE, I respectfully ask you not to do it…”

The event ended with many of us signing our own pledge to not being a bystander – a powerful and visible commitment to standing up for fairness and kindness. Hopefully we will start to see these personal pledges dotted around the University – I am proud to say that there are already a few in the Vice-Chancellor’s Office!

Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2017: the results

I’m blogging following the release yesterday by Stonewall of the results for its Workplace Equality Index 2017.

The headline is that we’ve made significant progress, increasing our University of Reading ranking from 204 out of 415 submissions last year, to 168/439 this year. Perhaps more importantly we’ve increased our score from 39% last year — which sounds poor, but was last year’s average across all submissions, and the average score across the Education sector – to 51% this year. To put this in context, the Top 100 in the WEI – and it is this group that Stonewall celebrates publicly – achieved 62.5% and above, with an average of 74%.

Regarding our own sector, we know at this point that 46 (of approximately 160 UK universities) submitted into the Stonewall WEI this year, and that 12 universities are in the Top 100, with Cardiff (23), Swansea (31), De Montfort (39), and Manchester Metropolitan and Manchester University (joint 41) in the Top 50. Sir David Bell, our Vice Chancellor, committed us publicly in February last year, as one of our staff Diversity and Inclusion targets, to achieve a Top 50 ranking in the WEI by 2020. This is certainly a challenging goal, but one that I see as entirely achievable with hard work and commitment collectively – and we need to learn from our very successful University colleagues elsewhere!Stonewall_WEI_2017

Taking a step back, does any of this matter? Is this ranking, indeed the WEI as a whole, important to us? Is it related to the experiences of our LGBT+ staff and students on the ground?

An important part of the answer to this question is that our participation and progress in the Stonewall WEI is valued by our own LGBT+ staff. We surveyed on this point to our LGBT+ staff through our LGBT Plus staff network in March last year, asking whether it is a good use of our time to submit into the WEI each year, and the feedback was resoundingly yes. This, by the way, was a non-trivial question. It is a significant piece of work to make the submission. The pro forma we complete probes in detail across nine areas of our work, asking questions about our Policy, Training, Staff Network Group, All-Staff Engagement, Career Development, our Line Managers, our Monitoring, Procurement Practices, and our Community Engagement — see my earlier blog for what exactly they are interested in. And in addition to the pro forma we submitted a portfolio of 91 pieces of evidence, and ran the standard Stonewall all-staff survey.

A second answer to this question is that it seems to me, having had the experience now of leading our 2017 submission that went in last September, that the Stonewall WEI and the probing questions it asks focuses our thoughts and activities on exactly the things that we should be thinking about and doing anyway. I’ve written previously about the actions that we took in advance of our submission last year, that have led to the improvement in our score, but briefly these included lots of useful work and activity, for example consultation with our LGBT Plus network on changes to policy, allies training for our staff (with some emphasis on senior management), new development opportunities focussed on our LGBT+ staff (role model and leadership training), and our first ever UoR presence at Reading Pride.

So where do we go now in terms of hitting our Top 50 Target by 2020, and before that reaching the publicly visible and celebrated Top 100 by 2019? Well, we have our results now but not yet our detailed feedback which we will get at our feedback meeting with Stonewall at the end of Feb (and I will blog again after that). Also, we know that the WEI methodology will change somewhat for the three year period 2018-20. The details are not published yet, but we do know that there will be more emphasis on supporting our Trans staff, and more emphasis on how employers work with their customers, which for the University sector means support for and joint working with our students (we have good relationships with RUSU to build on). So the way ahead is not completely clear yet.

However, we do already have plans and actions in place. In particular, we are kicking off work on updating our guidance for and about our Trans staff and students. We are planning for more substantial engagement with Reading Pride (2nd September) and other community engagement, including our first annual Wolfenden Lecture to be given by Ruth Hunt, the CEO of Stonewall, in the year that is the 60th anniversary of the Wolfenden report, and the 50th of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act and its legalisation of homosexual sex. We have more allies training planned, and are starting to think through work on supporting our staff and students working globally.

But there is much more to do and think about. To drive this work forward we have created a new LGBT+ Action Plan group, with substantial representation from the LGBT Plus staff network, including its Co-Chairs Deb Heighes and Calvin Smith, plus on the student side the RUSU Diversity Officer Sed Joshi and its part-time LGBT+ Officer Nikki Ray, with the first meeting just before Christmas. This group is tasked with developing (and monitoring the implementation of) a programme of actions that ensures that the University is, and is perceived to be, nationally leading in the welcoming, inclusive and supportive environment that it provides for LGBT+ staff and students – and explicitly the action plan developed should also take us to our target of Top 50 in the WEI by 2020.

Across the University we will welcome and need wide support and involvement in the actions we develop, and in the staff and community engagement events that we run. A great way to stay in touch and get involved is to join the LGBT Plus staff network as an LGBT or as an LGBT Ally member, and of course we will blog again here regularly on an LGBT+ theme!

Simon Chandler-Wilde, Dean for Diversity & Inclusion