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"

Time to Talk Day – 1 Feb 2024

Time to Talk Day is the nation’s biggest mental health conversation and takes place on 1 February. We have conversations with our family, friends and colleagues on a daily basis, but how often do we really listen to what they are telling us? How often do we actually open up and talk about anything that is really important? Would you be able to recognise if someone was struggling with their mental health?

A national survey in 2018 of over 2,000 people highlighted that asking “How are you?” just once often prompts nothing more than a meaningless exchange. A campaign encouraging people to Ask Twice shows that you genuinely care about their response and means they are more likely to open up about how they are really feeling.

Norwich City football club put this short video together which highlights the importance of talking to those around you – a simple conversation could save a life.


If you want to talk, the University provides many resources which are listed on our wellbeing pages. And if you are talking to anyone today, make a point to Ask Twice, and give them a chance to answer honestly.

Introducing the LGBTQ+ Travel Tool – An Interactive Policy Development Tool

Primary Investigator Dr Frances Hamilton (Associate Professor, School of Law) and Research Assistant Tahlia-Rose Virdee (Postgraduate Researcher, School of Law) are proud to introduce the LGBTQ+ Travel tool. This interactive tool has been designed to assist both Higher Education Institutions and businesses in the development of policies and processes which are mindful of the concerns and experiences of LGBTQ+ colleagues (both students and staff), who are considering travelling internationally for the purposes of work or education.

As an ally and advocate of LGBTQ+ communities, Dr Frances Hamilton has been conducting a number of research projects recently, concerning the manner in which Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in England and Wales reconcile their responsibilities of protecting their LGBTQ+ staff and students when implementing globalisation initiatives. Together with co-author Dr Cameron Giles (London South Bank University), Frances published a research output detailing their findings from Freedom of Information requests sent to all UK Higher Education Institutions, Nationwide. These findings detailed that advice given to LGBTQ+ staff and students considering international travel for the purposes of work or education is lacking, and often does not consider the specific concerns and experiences of LGBTQ+ persons (See Frances Hamilton and Cameron Giles, ‘International Academic Mobility, Agency and LGBTQ+ Rights: A Review of Policy Responses to Internationally Mobile LGBTQ+ staff / students at UK HE Institutions with Recommendations for a Global Audience’ Policy Reviews in Higher Education (2021) 1 -22. DOI: 10.1080/23322969.2021.1969990).

This research was furthered by a project conducted by Dr Frances Hamilton and Postgraduate Research Assistant, Tahlia-Rose Virdee, concluding in March 2022. This second phase project explored the lived-experiences of fifteen LGBTQ+ academics at UK HEIs, and was concerned with interviewee observations and conceptions of institutional globalisation initiatives and the inclusion of LGBTQ+ stakeholder concerns and experiences in policies and processes regarding international travel. The cumulative findings of these research projects highlight that there is a distinct lack of effective policy which includes consideration of specified LGBTQ+ risks, dangers and concerns. These circumstances have been exacerbated by several factors, including: LGBTQ+ stakeholders not being consulted or having their concerns dismissed in the process of institutional policy formation, a lack of or poorly informed policy to safeguard against specific risks to LGBTQ+ persons, and the use of objective risk assessments which do not produce thorough and well-considered plans of action for LGBTQ+ international travellers.

Said distinct oversight on policy considerations can cause barriers to access for LGBTQ+ staff and students considering international travel for work or education purposes, including concerns on how to stay safe and avoid discrimination, violence and even prosecution in jurisdictions that are legally culturally, and socially hostile towards LGBTQ+ individuals, and a lack of redress for discrimination faced in receiving international jurisdictions upon their return home. These omissions of specific LGBTQ+ experiences are particularly concerning when considering the disparities in the treatment of LGBTQ+ persons on a global scale, where presently over 70 countries worldwide retain criminal sanctions for consensual same-sex sexual activity between men, over 40 countries criminalise sexual activity between women, and many other jurisdictions discriminate on various grounds against LGBTQ+ persons (Human Dignity Trust, 2019).

Operationalising these findings and using Research England’s Rapid Response Policy Engagement Fund, Dr Frances Hamilton had proposed to produce an electronic toolkit to assist HEIs, and public and private sector companies to pursue their duty to safeguard their LGBTQ+ stakeholders and commit to their globalisation initiatives, simultaneously. The development of the LGBTQ+ International Travel Tool was completed by July 2023, in accordance with the parameters of the funding. The key deliverable, the interactive tool and its host website, can be viewed here: LGBTQ+ International Travel Tool (lgbtqtraveltool.com).

This interactive and freely accessible toolkit guides both LGBTQ+ persons who may have concerns about travelling abroad, and their employers or organisations who owe duty of care to potential travellers to minimise risks to their safety and wellbeing. Upon completion of the tool, users are provided with personalised feedback and suggestions (dependent on their input into the tool) to consider when developing international travel polices for stakeholders with protected characteristics, with a particular focus on the safeguarding of LGBTQ+ persons.

It is hoped that the data entered into the interactive LGBTQ+ Travel Tool will provide further clarity on the polices and processed in place at HEIs and within businesses to safeguard LGBTQ+ persons, whilst providing these organisations with suggestions on how to improve these measures and protect the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ persons travelling internationally for the purposes of work or education.

Dr Frances Hamilton has also developed a policy brief with recommendations for LGBTQ+ stakeholder safeguarding, which she is sharing with potential policy decision makers in a bid to ensure that there will be standards implemented for LGBTQ+ persons travelling internationally, with clear and concise duties to LGBTQ+ persons for their employers and education providers to follow.

Contact details

If you have any questions, queries or suggestions, please direct all correspondence to Dr Frances Hamilton via email: f.r.hamilton@reading.ac.uk.

The logo for the LGBTQ+ International Travel for Work Policy Development Tool Website. The logo is the rainbow flag in a square shape with rounded edges. On the flag is a white circle in the centre and within the circle is an icon of a black aeroplane.

Black History Month 2023: Saluting our Sisters through Celebrating and Remembering

Black History Month is officially underway and this year the national theme is ‘Saluting our Sisters’ to pay homage to black women who have had their contributions ignored or voices silenced. You can read more about the theme this year on the Black History Month website.

A banner for Black History Month with the University of Reading logo on the left and the words Black History Month: More than just a month' on the right


The Black History Month flagship event flyer. The content is described within the text copy.

The University of Reading is hosting a number of events this year to honour Black History Month. The flagship event will be on the 19th October, In Conversation with Dr Deborah Husbands. Dr Husbands will be joining us from the University of Westminster to share her expert insights and lived experiences, the impact of the BME Network she founded and its impacts on colleagues, as well as covering PhD research and the focus on BME students and their sense of belonging. This event is open to all – public, staff, and students.





Black History Month is more than just a month. The stories, experiences, and achievements of Black women are numerous and long in their history and the resonances of the impact are felt today. I hope to introduce some of them to you.

Sister Olive

Olive Morris passed away at the age of just 27, but during her short life, she campaigned for the rights of Black people across England in Manchester and South London.

Olive was a founding member of groups like the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) and the Brixton Black Women’s Group and is known as an important civil rights figure.

We remember her.


The Black History Month Saluting Our Sisters event flyer. The content is described within the text copy.

Another event we are excited to deliver is our Saluting our Sisters event. This is a collaborative event between Women@Reading and the B.A.M.E. and Allies Network. In order to honour the National Black History Month theme this year, we are learning from the experiences and celebrating the accomplishments of our Black female community members here at Reading. This event takes place on the 26th October and is open to all. We hope to see you there.



Sister Phillis

Take the story of Phillis Wheatley, a young girl born in West Africa in 1753. She was sold into slavery to work for a family called the Wheatleys and was put onto a ship – the Phillis – that she was named after.

Her name was erased, but still she used words to give shape to her power. She was taught to read and write and, by the age of 14, she wrote her first poem.

At 21, she published her first book which made her the first African-American poet to be published, with her first volume of poetry in 1773.

We remember her.


The Black History Month Black Arts Showcase event flyer. The content is described within the text copy.Artistry, in a variety of forms – music, art, poetry – is abundant and permeates Black cultures. We want to be able to showcase this talent. As part of Black History Month, the Reading Students’ Union will be hosting a Black Arts Showcase. This Showcase will host artistic works from our Black students and local community members in Reading. This event will take place on the 19th October at 16:00 – 23:00 in the 3Sixty room in the Reading Students’ Union building. Email Gabe James, gabe.james@reading.ac.uk, or Kayleigh Fryer, k.fryer@reading.ac.uk, for more information. The event is open to all – public, staff, and students.


If you are a staff member or a student and want more music in your life this BHM, you can also join the Limpopo Groove Drumming Workshop taking place on the 10th October from 12:00 – 13:00 in the SU. Spaces are limited so make sure to contact community@reading.ac.uk first! You can also join us for many different screenings on at the Reading Biscuit Factory.


We wish you a fantastic Black History Month, where we remember our history, we acknowledge it, and celebrate the successes of Black women across the world.

As ever, best and be well,

— Your Diversity and Inclusion Advisor.

Mixed Race in the Workplace

When I started my role at the University of Reading, I made a choice: I asked to be known as ‘Immy’ by my colleagues. My full name is ‘Imogen’, but outside of work and school I have almost always been called Immy. Don’t get me wrong, I love my name and surname, as both have roots that speak to my Irish heritage. That said, I am aware that most people probably don’t expect a mixed race woman of English, Irish and Pakistani descent when they hear the name ‘Imogen Lawlor’. I’ve always considered ‘Imogen’ to be my ‘white’ and formal name, so when people only knew me as ‘Imogen’ it felt like I wasn’t fully being myself to them.

Having mixed heritage can be an amazing thing that evokes pride and provides access to multiple cultures, but it sometimes presents us with puzzling situations. Mixed people generally don’t have to deal with the same degree of racism and discrimination as black people, for example, but we face different kinds of issues. Because I am (mostly) white passing, it was easy for me to hide behind my white name for most of my life, and not confront my feelings about my race. Of course, being white-passing is a privilege, but this has placed me in difficult situations where some white people feel comfortable enough to express racist sentiments in front of me. For example, when a former white colleague ranted extensively to me about their friend “who is so annoying because she ALWAYS plays the race card”, I found myself wondering “Would they have said that in front of me if they knew that I am a person of colour?”. Moreover, white colleagues have used me as a sounding board in the past, to ask the questions they are “too nervous” to ask other people of colour. Sometimes I feel like I am a ‘palatable’ person of colour to them, who they think will tolerate their curiosities because I’m half white. As much as some questions and comments are well meaning, it grows tiring when yet another person remarks on your skin colour, making comments like “But you don’t look mixed, you’re quite pale. Maybe you’re more white than brown.”

Despite the lack of diversity during my undergraduate studies, university was a place where I embraced my identity. I was on the founding committee of the Oxford Mixed Heritage Society: the first university society of its kind in the UK, which is still running and has inspired other students to form their own mixed heritage societies. University is a place where students can explore their identities, but working in a university means that you are bound by a different set of rules and expectations. Race is a protected characteristic by law and you should never feel obliged to talk about your race, if you don’t feel comfortable. Being able to speak up at work when you experience racism relies on a workplace of transparency and allyship for people of colour. I work in a mostly white team now, but I am fortunate that there is a culture of acceptance and inclusivity.

If I were to say one thing to my mixed race colleagues, it would be that you should never feel that you have to pander to white people’s questioning. Your racial identity is your own and it is up to you how you express or define it. Don’t get bogged down answering other people’s questions. You have the right to say no. Moreover, experiences of being mixed heritage are vast and detailed. The difference between Immy and Imogen might be small to some, but it could mean the world to you.


Immy Lawlor, Assistant Student Recruitment Officer

World Childless Week 2023: supporting colleagues who have experienced pregnancy or baby loss

Back in May, I published a written piece about what childlesss not by choice (cnbc) means. The 11th – 17th September is World Childless Week and I wanted to write another profile on a related topic because it can be hard to know how to navigate issues of grief, infertility, and childlessness at work as the subjects can be very confronting. 

The focus of this blog is looking at what support we can offer colleagues who have experienced pregnancy or baby loss, but before I get into the details it is important to remember that, as a colleague,  

…your role is not to be a counsellor or even someone’s best friend. But looking out for your colleagues, being prepared to listen, and showing empathy are part of building a caring and compassionate workplace.

CIPD, Workplace support for employees experiencing pregnancy or baby loss, 2022 

Acknowledging and talking about these topics can be really hard, but doing so offers us all the opportunity to work in a more compassionate environment and support colleagues who may be going through times of really challenging emotional hardship. 

The CIPD have produced a helpful guide for colleagues outlining what types of pregnancy and baby loss there are and their definitions, what you can do to help a colleague who has experienced pregnancy or baby loss, and some useful resources. This blog focuses on what you can do, but please read page 3 of the guide, if possible, to familiarise yourself with the types of loss that may occur as it is often presumed this means miscarriage or stillbirth, but these are not the only types of loss during pregnancy and during and after birth. 

It is also important to note that not included in the guide are instances of missed miscarriage: 

A missed (or silent) miscarriage is one where the baby has died or not developed, but has not been physically miscarried.  In many cases, there has been no sign that anything was wrong, so the news can come as a complete shock.

Miscarriage Association, Missed miscarriage 

People experiencing pregnancy and/or baby loss and its impacts may be feeling a range of emotions including grief, shock, anger, confusion, self-blame, and sorrow. This includes the person who has directly experienced the loss as well as their partner(s), friends, family members, surrogates, among others who may be impacted. It is important to not expect and demand that somebody continue on with their work as though nothing has happened and instead offer them compassion, care, and consideration. 

What does this look like in practical terms for colleagues? 

It is very common to not know what to do when someone experiences loss or bereavement of some kind. The CIPD guide provides very useful information gleaned from Miscarriage Association: 

What to say and not to say  

Comments that could be helpful:  

  • “I’m very sorry that you have lost your baby.” 
  • “This must be really difficult for you.” 
  • “I don’t know what to say.”  

Things not to say:  

  • “Don’t worry, you’re young. You can always have another baby.” 
  • “It wasn’t meant to be.” 
  • “It was probably for the best.” 
  • “At least you have other children.”  

After a statement like “I’m very sorry to hear about your loss,” you can ask open-ended questions like, “How are you feeling?” This gives someone the choice to open up and talk about their feelings but it may be that a person doesn’t want to talk about their loss in detail or at all. One approach is no better or worse than the other, but, as colleagues, “acknowledging that their loss has happened is very important” (CIPD, 2022).  

What if I don’t know?

It may be the case that you do not know if a work colleague has experienced pregnancy or baby loss. In this case, there are general good practice actions you can take to be mindful of people who may have experienced these things or who may be childless not by choice (cnbc) due to other reasons. 

  • Baby announcements. It can be really exciting when a colleague has a baby and it is okay to share this news. However, it is good practice to not include people who do not know the colleague who has had the baby. For example, I was copied into a baby announcement email that included 73 people in the email chain. While I am happy for that colleague, I didn’t and do not know them and now I know the name and birth date of their new baby which is information that they themselves may want to keep more private. If you are going to do baby announcement emails, keep the circulation to people who know the colleague 
    • Notifying. Relatedly, some colleagues in the sector at childlessness events have shared that if they have disclosed to a close colleague that they do not want to hear about baby or pregnancy announcements, it can be helpful if that colleague warns them that there is a baby announcement email in their inbox before they open it unexpectedly. This is not required, but can be helpful  
  • Pictures in baby announcement emails. After attending various talks online and in-person from colleagues across the sector on childlessness, something that can be very common, and quite hurtful for people who are childless not by choice or going through pregnancy and/or baby loss, is receiving baby announcement emails with pictures of the baby included in the email itself. If you wish to share an image of your newborn, you can of course do this. However, instead of embedding them directly in an email where, once opened, the picture is immediately visible, attach them in a zip file that a person can choose themselves to open 
  • Office visits. It can be nice to bring your new baby into the office. However, if you would like to do this, try and schedule when you will bring your baby in and, if possible, book a room where people can come to you. Bringing a baby into an open plan office will not give people who are cnbc or who have experienced pregnancy and/or baby loss who are not ready to engage with the situation the choice to stay in the office. They may feel they have to leave or feel pressured to stay, despite feeling very emotional 
  • Language. Culturally, it is often assumed that people of a certain age have children. However, this is not everyone’s reality but this assumption still appears in our language. For example, I was told about an instance where the Chair of a meeting wished people in the meeting a nice holiday with their children. Instead, they could have just said “enjoy your holiday.” Be mindful of presuming that people have children as this is not the case for everyone 

Support for colleagues

If you have been impacted by pregnancy and/or baby loss and you would like support at work, please feel free to access the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). The University offers the EAP, which is an independent, free, confidential support and counselling service run by CIC and called Confidential Care. You can find out more information, including how to contact Confidential Care on the University of Reading HR pages. 

If you would like to talk to someone at work, you can talk to your line manager, HR Advisor or Partner. 

Please feel free to visit the World Childless Week website to find out more about what’s on this year. 

World Childless Week 11th – 17th September

The 11th – 17th September is World Childless Week, which aims to raise awareness of the childless not by choice (cnbc) community and enable every childless person to share their story with confidence (should they wish to). 

Stephanie Joy Phillips is the founder of World Childless Week which offers support, resources, and hosts events that raise awareness of what it means to be childless not by choice, whether this is due to a medical condition or life circumstances. 

There are an abundance of events happening this World Childless Week. One of the first events being hosted for World Childless Week this year is “Male Childlessness: unpacking the elephant in the suitcase.” This event focuses on men’s experiences of childlessness as, within the underdiscussed topic of childlessness, men’s experiences are often much less heard. The event is this Monday the 11th at 11:00. 

If fiction and film is an interest of yours, on Thursday 14th September there is a webinar on the stereotyping of childless women in fiction and films.  

In terms of research, a webinar on Sunday 17th focuses on involuntary childlessness researchers. This event looks at what it means to do research with and about the childless not by choice community. 

Throughout this week there will be some posts about World Childless Week to raise awareness of specific issues people may be facing and what we can do in the workplace to support our colleagues who may be childless not by choice or who are going through complex fertility journeys. 

Watch this space!

Introducing the newly branded University of Reading LGBTQIA+ Staff Network

The University of Reading LGBT+ Staff Network has now been rebranded as the University of Reading LGBTQIA+ Staff Network! Pleased to meet you all!

Over the summer, the LGBT+ Staff Network has been working on re-strategising our efforts to increase awareness of the Network, and to better reflect the diverse identities which we are keen to celebrate and support across campus and beyond. This has included the addition of some new objectives for the Network.

These new objectives are: to increase membership of the Network, encourage allyship initiatives across campus, install a robust steering group structure to oversee the day to day running of the Network, and to build a fundraising model for the Network to expand our support and outreach initiatives both on campus and in the local community in Reading.

The idea of a rebrand was considered to mark a new era of the Network for LGBTQIA+ Staff at the University of Reading characterised by proactive support, strong and cohesive LGBTQIA+ communities, an increase in presence both on and off campus, new volunteering opportunities and the development of a robust fundraising model for the Network. Additionally, we wanted to ensure Postgraduate students, and sessional, part-time, and casual staff are supported and represented within our initiatives.

After liaising with the existing LGBTQIA+ Action Plan Group (APG) on the idea of rebranding the Network, the idea was overwhelmingly supported. We consulted the LGBTQIA+ APG on preferred new names for the network, with the majority vote indicating that our APG was keen on the rebrand featuring the renaming of the network to the University of Reading ‘LGBTQIA+ Staff Network’.

With direction from our APG, the existing Staff Network Team consisting of Co-Chairs Ruvi Ziegler and Tahlia-Rose Virdee, Lead Ally, Michael Kilmister and Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Allán Laville worked together with the Creative and Print Services on campus to produce a new logo, email banner, events banner and merchandise for the newly minted LGBTQIA+ Staff Network. The new logo and merchandise is inclusive of the Progress Flag with the Intersex symbol to ensure that we are representing the diversity which comprises our campus and community.

The branded merchandise we have ordered was informed by suggestions from the wider LGBTQIA+ APG, including aluminium enamel pin badges and Network postcards, which detail how to contact us and feature the words ‘LGBTQIA+ Champion’ for those who would like to advertise their support for the Network across campus. We shall be looking into further merchandising options next academic year based on the suggestions of the LGBTQIA+ APG.

We shall be showing off our new branding at Reading Pride on Saturday 2nd September 2023, where there will be a face painter and glitter technicians at our stall to brighten your day further. Come and say hi!

Please see our new Logo and email banner, which you are all free to use to promote the Network, show your support, and demonstrate your commitment to the LGBTQIA+ communities at the University of Reading:

The new banner for the LGBTQIA+ Staff Network at the University of Reading

The new logo with the dark grey background for the LGBTQIA+ Staff Network at the University of Reading. It features the progress pride flag and intersex symbol in the shape of a ring around text that reads 'Staff LGBTQIA+ Network'The new logo for the LGBTQIA+ Staff Network at the University of Reading. It features the progress pride flag and intersex symbol in the shape of a ring around text that reads 'Staff LGBTQIA+ Network'









The LGBTQIA+ Staff network would like to express special thanks to all who have been part of this rebranding project! Firstly to the Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Allán Laville, who has supported the rebranding and the revamping of the Network no end. Secondly, to Hannah Tollett and the CPS Team at the University of Reading for translating our design ideas into sleek visuals. Thirdly, to our wider LGBTQIA+ APG who provide constructive and creative feedback which is of the upmost value to our Network. Finally, to the Diversity and Inclusion Team at the University of Reading, including Ceara Webster and Sinead O’Flynn who support our day to day running! We salute you all.

There are exciting things to come over the next academic year, and we shall update you frequently on our progress. To track our progress please follow us:

Twitter/ X: @UniRDG_LGBTPlus

Facebook: UORLGBT

To join our LGBTQIA+ Staff Network on Teams, please send us an email: lgbtplus@Reading.ac.uk

All the best,

The University of Reading LGBTQIA+ Staff Network Team

Reflections on Pride Month: LGBT+ Staff Network Allyship

June, being international LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, was a busy period for the LGBT+ Staff Network. The Network hosted a series of events, most notably the flagship Wolfenden Lecture which you can read about in this blog post here. Things were busy on the allyship front, too, with two introductory allyship training sessions being run by the authors of this blog post. The sessions – which the authors of this blog post ran on 21 and 30 June – saw some of the strongest attendance this training has seen, with 35 attendees across the two events.  

A total of 11 schools and functions were represented at allyship training during Pride. This data has been compiled from ‘meeting’ attendance lists generated by Teams and is supplied by People Development.  


  • Campus Commerce
  • Human Resources
  • Marketing, Communication & Engagement (MCE) 
  • Research Services 
  • School of Archaeology, Geography & Environmental Science (SAGES) 
  • School of Arts and Communication Design (SACD) 
  • School of Humanities 
  • School of Literature and Languages (SLL)
  • School of Mathematical, Physical & Computational Sciences (SMPCS)
  • School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences (SPCLS)
  • Student Services

In total, 61 members of staff have undertaken LGBT+ allyship training so far in 2023. We thank sincerely all colleagues who have made time in their busy schedules to attend the training! 

Alongside a promotional push on the Staff Portal for Pride Month, attendance was very likely helped along by an allyship training pledge initiative. Earlier in June the Network’s leadership group, led by co-chairs Tahlia Virdee and Dr Ruvi Ziegler, co-signed a letter to heads of schools and functions that urged them ‘to encourage … colleagues and members of department to take part in the allyship training’ and to start ‘the work we can do together to ensure that campus is a safe, supportive and enriching environment for both LGBT+ staff and students at the University of Reading.’ The Network has already received a number of emails from senior leaders pledging their support for the initiative.  

Haven’t had an opportunity to get along to an allyship training event yet? There is an upcoming ‘Introducing Allyship and the LGBT+ Ally Staff Network’ session on 30 August, which you can sign up for on UoRlearn. We look forward to seeing you there! 

Dr Michael Kilmister, Lead Ally of the LGBT+ Staff Network