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:
- Being visible – making visible our commitment to the LGBT+ community, by displaying for example LGBT+ Ally plus postcards, wearing rainbow laces or lanyards; and
- Being informed – through attending the various events and training, including the next Stonewall One-Day Allies Programme; and
- 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!