Dr Sophie Cook on supporting Trans+ Students and Staff at the University of Reading


Dr Sophie Cook is a writer, speaker, actor, broadcaster, photographer and author, as well as being an LGBT+ and mental health campaigner. Sophie transitioned in 2015, and became the Premier League’s first transgender woman to work as a photographer for a football club (AFC Bournemouth). Since transitioning, Sophie has been working to educate people regarding LGBTQIA+ concerns, mental health and diversity, often delivering specialist talks on LGBTQ+ Awareness for Healthcare, Transgender Awareness Training, and Hate Crime Awareness Training. For this inspiring work and support for LGBTQIA+ persons, Sophie was awarded the LGBT Awards’ Outstanding Contribution to LGBT+ Life Award in 2020, and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Bournemouth. Sophie also published a book on her life, and her overcoming her fears and doubts, titled ‘Not Today: How I Chose Life’, aimed at helping others struggling with their mental health and identity.

Sophie delivered a talk at the University of Reading’s annual flagship LGBTQIA+ event, the Wolfenden Lecture on Tuesday 27th February 2024. For the Wolfenden Lecture, Sophie shared her life story and experiences of navigating the world and her work in Premier League football as an openly transgender woman, including experiences with mental health and discrimination. Sophie’s talk articulately presented the concerns and experiences of Trans+ and LGBTQIA+ persons in speaking on her journey to self-acceptance and resilience. Sophie’s frank yet warm and positive nature in exploring her experiences offered the audience space to contemplate and relate to her life story. This talk was greatly moving and emotional, with the audience both laughing and crying at various points.

Sophie was invited to deliver our annual Wolfenden Lecture this year, as we admire Sophie’s dedication to assisting organisations to create a psychologically safe and open cultures where everyone is welcome and encouraged to thrive. At the University of Reading, we are continuing our important work on becoming a more inclusive and supportive space for all LGBTQIA+ persons and allies. The Diversity and Inclusion Team, Events Team, LGBTQIA+ Staff Network and Reading Students’ Union are working on several initiatives to meet the same goal. These initiatives include Allyship Training, Active Bystander Training, Trans Awareness Training and Bi-inclusion Training.

We are going to continue our work with Sophie as a consulting critical friend to the University of Reading. We have invited Sophie to provide answers to the questions below, to improve our approach to supporting Trans+ students and staff:

Questions posed to Sophie

  1. Could you speak a little on your experiences (for those who did not attend the Wolfenden Lecture 2024)?

I’ve had the privilege to have experienced many diverse paths in my life. Some of them were joyous, some traumatic, but all of them contributed to the person that I am today. Whether it was growing up in a time when we had no knowledge of Trans identities, struggling with Post Traumatic Stress, self-harm and addiction following traumatic events while in the Armed Forces, or coming out as Trans in Premier League football.

For me, the exciting aspect of this is the way in which these experiences can lead to self-awareness, empathy and an openness towards others. Our pain and trauma has the ability to destroy us, or it can make us.

I have a number of tattoos, all mean something to me, but there is one in particular that encapsulates my beliefs on this matter. It’s a quote from Roman poet and philosopher, Ovid, and in Latin it reads: “Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim.”.

Which sounds very highbrow, but I saw it painted on the wall in an episode of Walking Dead. The way in which the filmmakers paused on it told me that this was important, and it was! In the English translation, it reads: “Be strong and patient, someday this pain will be useful to you.”


  1. What are the motivations for delivering your talks and sharing your experiences?

For me, the sharing of personal stories helps to increase understanding, by tapping into the shared experiences of the human existence we can engender empathy and trust. Through this we connect with each other on a level that helps us all to grow together.

When I first started speaking publicly about my mental health journey, I had a great friend who had recently lost someone to suicide, and they said that, perhaps, if their friend had heard me speak it would have made a difference. She supported me in the early days of this work, and shared a story with me that I carry to this day:

“There’s a woman walking along the beach and it’s covered in starfish. She begins throwing the starfish back into the sea, when an old lady approaches her, and says ‘There are miles and miles of beach, and millions and millions of starfish. You can’t hope to make a difference!’ The woman thinks, bends down to pick up a starfish, and throws it back in the sea. Turning to the old lady she replies, ‘I made a difference to that one.’”

Very few of us have the chance to change the world with a single act, but each one of us can make a difference every single day with incremental acts of kindness and support for others. The acts send out ripples, and we will never know where they will reach.

I spent 50 years of my life struggling with suicidal ideation, but every single day when I can help one starfish is a day when it’s worth me still being alive.


  1. What advice would you give to Trans+ students and staff?

We are living in challenging times. Many of the advances that we had made in building an inclusive society that was open to the amazing diversity of the human race are being destroyed for short-term political gain. Playing on the fears of others in order to deflect from other issues. My greatest advice to any Trans+ person is to hold on to the belief that these days will pass.

Remember that you are unique and wonderful. Celebrate that. Work on your resilience and strength, engage with and empower your community.

The Stoics said that there are some things in life that we have complete control over, some that we have some control over, and some things over which we have no control. The wisdom is in realising which is which. We can educate people about diversity, we can raise awareness, and in that way we have some influence on those that may otherwise be swayed by the hate. But it is important that we realise that there are times when the wise course of action is not to engage with hate. That we have no control over it and that, for our own wellbeing, we turn away from it. This isn’t to say that we ignore hate and allow it to go unchecked, but it is about understanding that we are the only people who can decide how much power it has to harm us.

Ultimately, hate is a form of trauma directed towards others. Happy people seldom hate, and people who propagate hate are seldom happy.


  1. What are the best ways to demonstrate visible allyship with Trans+ people that is not performative, works for their benefit, and enhances their safety?
  2. How can people with Trans+ family members best support them through their transition?


I’ll answer those 2 questions together…

We talk a lot about allyship and how best to support people, and I could easily write a list of the 10 top tips to be a Trans Ally, but ultimately it’s important to remember that every single Trans+ person that you meet is totally unique. With unique experiences, a unique identity, and with unique needs.

The greatest expert on any of our identities is ourselves. Appreciate that the person in front of you knows infinitely more about who they are than you ever will. If you need to know how to support them, ask them. When I came out while working as a photographer at AFC Bournemouth the greatest support I received was when our manager, Eddie Howe, asked me “What can I do to make this easier for you?” It’s a simple question but it does so much. It creates a safe environment in which you can be authentic, and it lets you know that it’s OK to ask for help.

Ultimately, the key to support and allyship is respect. Go into every single interaction with complete respect for the person that you’re talking to. It is only by starting from respect that we can ensure that we give the interaction the greatest possible chance for a positive outcome.


  1. How best do you think that institutions such as the University of Reading can reach their potential to become a safe and supportive environment for Trans+ students and staff?

The key to safety in any environment is belonging. To know that you belong in a place you need to feel respected, you need to feel part of something bigger than yourself. By building respectful communities that celebrate their diversity we build safe spaces.

Where there are differences, work to raise awareness of different identities, but it’s not enough to be pro-diversity, we must also be anti-discrimination. Work together with our people to build the values of the community, give people ownership of those values, and when you have them, allow these values to guide your path.

Ultimately, in a world where division seems to be the aim of so many, the way in which we join together can be a force for positive change. One starfish at a time. One incremental step towards a future in which everyone belongs.



If you wish to get in touch with Sophie, please visit her website: Contact Sophie – SOPHIE COOK TALKS

Reflections on LGBTQIA+ History Month 2024 – Our most comprehensive programme yet!

LGBTQIA+ History Month is an annual period marking LGBTQIA+ achievements, challenges, campaigns and rights, with reflections on past and continuing discrimination, ostracization and othering. Founded in 2004 by Schools OUT UK Co-Chairs, Paul Partick and Professor Emeritus Sue Sanders, LGBTQIA+ History Month is observed every February across the UK.

Legal progress in the UK includes the legal decriminalisation of homosexuality in the Sexual Offences Act 1967, the repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act (the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill) in 2003, the passing of the Gender Recognition Act in 2004, the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ identities under protected characteristics by the Equality Act 2010,  and the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act in 2013.

Although this progress displays positive changes towards a more LGBTQIA+ inclusive society, it must be noted that legal changes do not necessarily beget social and cultural acceptance. The unfortunate reality for many LGBTQIA+ persons is not as comfortable as these progressions would suggest. Of the 145,214 hate crimes recorded by police in the year ending March 2023, there were 24,102 hate crimes recorded on the basis of sexual orientation. Meanwhile there was an 11% increase in hate crimes recorded against transgender persons to 4,732 within the same time frame (see: UK Hate Crime Stats 2023 – GOV.UK). Despite these shocking figures, in April 2023 the UK Government and the Law Commission agreed that sex or gender should not be added as a protected characteristic in the reform of hate crime laws, for the purposes of aggravated offences and enhanced sentencing (Government response to recommendation 8 of the Law Commissions’ review of Hate Crime Legislation – GOV.UK).

These realities and lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ persons are precisely why LGBTQIA+ History Month is so important to observe. It is a chance to celebrate past triumphs, but also facilitates opportunities to consider, organise and mobilise regarding current LGBTQIA+ concerns. LGBTQIA+ History Month is for everyone! Whether you identify with any of the LGBTQIA+ communities, are an Ally, or love someone who is part of an LGBTQIA+ community.

The University of Reading has a rich history of LGBTQIA+ support and campaigning, including our previous Vice-Chancellor Lord Wolfenden’s contributions to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1957 via the Wolfenden Report. The LGBTQIA+ Staff Network was established in 2014 and has since been growing from strength to strength to support our full-time, part-time, and sessional staff, including postgraduate researchers.

The University of Reading’s Diversity and Inclusion Team, Events Team and LGBTQIA+ Staff Network would like to thank all speakers, contributors, organisers and support staff who helped to make our most comprehensive and inclusive LGBTQIA+ History Month to date possible. A special thank you to the Creative and Print Services for all of the marketing materials, and the Communications Teams for assisting us with advertising and capturing each of the events. The 2024 LGBTQIA+ History Month calendar was packed with a wide range of events – meaning that there was something for everyone – from social events, to training sessions, to a series of talks and seminars, and of course our flagship Wolfenden Lecture!

Starting LGBTQIA+ History Month off with opportunities to mingle and connect, we had a range of social events. Firstly, we had a series knitting and crochet sessions where attendees could learn to knit or crochet an LGBTQIA+ flag of their choice. These sessions were aimed at both beginners and people showcasing their talents. Next we had drop-in sessions with the LGBTQIA+ Staff Network which ran throughout the month. This was a chance for people to sign up for the network, as well as for members to come down and meet us (and each other), make anonymous suggestions for the Network, and collect merchandise. We also had a screening of the film Pride (2014) in our impressive Minghella cinema auditorium, with popcorn and networking to follow. As well as these social events, the Students’ Union hosted a suite of events throughout the first week of LGBTQIA+ History Month, including clothes donation and swapping, a fashion show, gender-affirming makeup workshops, a queer friendly sexual health information session, games and club nights, and a queer academic networking advice event.

Regarding training for LGBTQIA+ History Month, the Diversity and Inclusion Team ensured that the LGBTQIA+-orientated training we run was available to attend. Starting with the Allyship Training, delivered by Dr Michael Kilmister (LGBTQIA+ Staff Network’s Lead Ally), and Ceara Webster (Diversity and Inclusion Advisor), which covers definitions of allyship and how to be an effective LGBTQIA+ ally in the workplace. Next came our Bi Inclusion Training, delivered by Professor Al Laville (Dean for Diversity and Inclusion) and Gabe James (RSU Inclusion and communities Officer), which explores lived experiences of understanding Bi+ identities, mental health outcomes for Bi+ persons, and how to navigate Bi-erasure, biphobia and Bi+ allyship. Finally, we had Trans Awareness Training, delivered by Christian Owens (GenderSpace), which reflected on Christian’s own personal journey as a transgender speaker, focused on empathy and greater understanding of transgender people. All future Allyship, Active Bystander, Bi Inclusion and Trans Awareness Training dates can be found on UoRLearn.

We also had a collaboration with the University of Reading’s library, which collated LGBTQIA+-orientated resources. These resources were signposted all month to ensure that interested parties could stay informed.

We hosted a range of talks from speakers contributing to the positive work in LGBTQIA+ spaces. These talks began with the Research Showcase, which featured talks from Eleanor (Ellie) Benford (MSc Student in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience) and Gabbi Wallace (PhD Student in Film and Theatre). Ellie delivered a talk on her work supporting the LGBTQIA+ community through a three-part event focused on the past, present, and future of LGBTQIA+ experiences through challenging disciplinary stigma created by the pathologizing of LGBTQIA+ persons in the discipline of psychology. Gabbi delivered a talk on her PhD project involving representation of transgender people in testimonial performance and digital film.

Secondly, we hosted the ‘Bowie Love’ Lecture, delivered by Professor Alex Sharpe (School of Law, University of Warwick). This audio-visual talk explored how the work of David Bowie embodies love, covering the three love lessons of: letting go, humility, and posthuman/ queer love. The talk was focused on the notion love is linked to freedom, and included music and iconography from Bowie’s catalogue. This in-person lecture was well-attended, including by many members of the public, some of whom reflected on their life experiences seeing Bowie perform and how they relate to his music.

Next we had the Micro Rainbow talk, delivered by Moud Goba (LGBTQIA+ Activist and National Director of Micro Rainbow). This talk was hosted in collaboration with the University of Reading’s Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic (B.A.M.E.) Network, and focused on the work of Micro Rainbow – an organisation dedicated to supporting LGBTQIA+ asylum-seeking refugees by promoting social inclusion, increasing employability, and providing safe housing to those arriving in the UK.

We also had an insightful talk titled ‘Beyond Liberation or Assimilation’, delivered by Professor Jonathan Bell (UCL). This talk was focused on the history of identity politics and struggles for bodily autonomy in the United States, including debates over access to funds and care, how consumer rights have shaped the terms of identity politics and the social disparities within the gender rights movement.

Returning this year, we had the LGBTQIA+ UK Asylum Workshop organised by Dr Ruvi Ziegler, followed by rehearsed readings of queer asylum-seekers testimonies – a theatre act called ‘This is who I am’ . The performance by the theatre group ‘Ice and Fire’ UK gave the audience a glimpse into the lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ persons escaping persecution and trying to navigate the UK asylum system. These testimonies explored themes such as sexual and physical violence, isolation, and mental health challenges.

To conclude this series of talks, we had a seminar hosted by the School of Mathematics, Physical and Computational Sciences (SMPCS). This talk was organised by Dr Fazil Baksh, and featured talks from Dr Luciano Rilla (School of Mathematics, UCL) and Maya Carlyle (National Physical Laboratory). Luciano delivered a talk on the lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ persons despite legal progress, and the development of the first UK ‘GaySoc’ at UCL in 1972. Maya delivered a talk on navigating the STEM disciplines and the tech world as an openly transgender woman.

In the lead up to our flagship Wolfenden Lecture, for 2024 we reintroduced the Wolfenden Seminar, aimed at showcasing the LGBTQIA+-orientated work developed within the University of Reading. The Wolfenden Seminar was delivered by Dr Frances Hamilton (Associate Professor, School of Law) and Tahlia-Rose Virdee (PhD Student, School of Law) on their creation of the LGBTQ+ International Travel Tool – an interactive tool with personalised outputs for each user to refer to as a basis for improving the quality of LGBTQIA+ safeguarding for colleagues in their institution travelling internationally. This talk also included guest speakers reflecting on the state of international LGBTQIA+ rights and recognition, and their support for the tool; Seth Atkin (University and Colleges Union), Dr James Greenwood-Reeves (School of Law, University of Leeds), Professor Richard Harris (School of Education, University of Reading), and Dr Ruvi Ziegler (School of Law, University of Reading).

Our flagship LGBTQIA+ event at the University of Reading, the Annual Wolfenden Lecture, was delivered by Dr Sophie Cook. Sophie is a writer, speaker, actor, broadcaster, photographer and author, as well as being an LGBTQIA+ and mental health campaigner. In her moving address, Sophie shared her life story and experiences of navigating the world and her work in Premier League Football as a transgender woman, including experiences with mental health and discrimination. Her talk navigated the difficult terrain of self-loathing and risk of self-harming leading to self-acceptance. In the Q&A that followed her talk, Sophie offered words of encouragement and advice to young LGBTQIA+ persons facing similar challenges and emphasised the need for the university to be a space of inclusion and community.

You can see a short video of reflections on the Wolfenden Lecture and LGBTQIA+ History Month 2024.

We hope to see you next year!

All the best,

The LGBTQIA+ Staff Network

X: @UniRDG_lgbtplus

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UORLGBT

Email:  lgbtplus@reading.ac.uk

A grey logo for the staff LGBTQIA+ network. The background is grey with the progress pride flag in a circle. In the centre of the circle are the words "staff LGBTQIA+ network"