European Court of Justice rules that EU Member States must recognise same-sex marriages concluded in other EU Member States when Union citizens who move between Member States claim family reunification rights

Guest post by Dr Alina Tryfonidou, Associate Professor, School of Law and Co-Chair of our LGBT Plus Staff Network

With its landmark ruling yesterday 5 June 2018 in the case of Coman, the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) has taken the historic step of requiring all EU Member States to recognise same-sex marriages contracted in other EU Member States in situations where the spouse of a Union citizen who moves to their territory claims the right to join the latter there.

The case was referred to the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) from the Romanian Constitutional Court. The Romanian Civil Code prohibits marriage between persons of the same sex and provides that such marriages entered into or contracted abroad shall not be recognised in Romania. This has proved problematic for Mr Adrian Coman, a dual Romanian and US national, and his spouse – Mr Hamilton – a US citizen (the couple in the picture). The couple have been together since 2002 and married in Brussels – where Mr Coman lived at the time – in 2010. In 2012, they contacted the Romanian General Inspectorate for Immigration to request information on the procedure and conditions under which Mr Hamilton, in his capacity as member of Mr Coman’s family, could enforce his right to reside lawfully in Romania for more than three months, only to be informed that the latter could not be granted such a right as he was not recognised as the spouse of Mr Coman given that the marriage was between two persons of the same sex. The couple together with the Romanian LGBT NGO Asociatia Accept brought an action against the decision of the Inspectorate before the Court of First Instance in Bucharest, raising a plea of unconstitutionality against the Romanian Civil Code. The First Instance court subsequently requested the Romanian Constitutional Court to rule on that plea of unconstitutionality, which, in its turn, decided that the matter raised issues involving EU law and thus stayed the proceedings and made a reference for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice asking, in essence, if the term ‘spouse’ in EU legislation which grants family reunification rights to Union citizens who move between Member States (namely, Article 2(2)(a) of Directive 2004/38) includes a same-sex spouse.

The ECJ noted that the term ‘spouse’ should be read to include the same-sex spouse of a Union citizen who exercises EU free movement rights: although EU Member States remain free to decide whether or not to allow marriage for persons of the same sex in their territory, in situations involving a Union citizen who returns to his State of nationality after having exercised free movement rights, the marriage contracted in another Member State by that person to a person of the same sex during his period of genuine residence in another Member State must be recognised, as otherwise an obstacle to the exercise of free movement rights will arise. The Court then proceeded to explain why a refusal by a Member State to recognise a same-sex marriage contracted in another Member State could not be justified on grounds of public policy and nationality identity, concluding that an obligation for such a recognition does not undermine the institution of marriage in Member States which have not opened marriage to same-sex couples as it is merely an obligation to recognise same-sex marriages concluded abroad for the sole purpose of enabling Union citizens to exercise the free movement rights they enjoy under EU law. The Court also added that, in any event, national measures which amount to restrictions on free movement may be justified only if they are consistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (EUCFR), the relevant right here being the right to respect for private and family life guaranteed by Article 7 EUCFR, which – read in line with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – covers the relationship between a same-sex couple. Hence, a measure – like the one contested in Coman – which impedes the exercise of EU free movement rights and breaches the right to private and family life of a married same-sex couple, cannot be justified on the grounds of public policy and national identity.

The ruling is hugely important not merely from a symbolic point of view, in that the EU’s supreme court has ruled explicitly that marriage for the purposes of EU law includes both same-sex and opposite-sex marriage, but also for a number of practical reasons.

The judgment provides much-needed clarity and legal certainty for same-sex couples who conclude a marriage in an EU Member State and who wish to exercise EU free movement rights. The case makes it clear that wherever they wish to move to the EU, their marriage should be recognised as a marriage, and that both spouses should be allowed to reside on the territory of the Member State of destination, irrespective of whether that State allows same-sex couples to formalise their relationship in its territory. In fact, by requiring the couple to be recognised as ‘spouses’, the ECJ seems to have gone further than its Strasbourg counterpart – the European Court of Human Rights – which in its judgment in Orlandi last December, it interpreted Article 8 ECHR as merely requiring ECHR signatory States to provide some form of legal recognition to married same-sex couples from abroad, without, nonetheless, there being a requirement that they recognise them as ‘spouses’.

Although the ruling offers an interpretation of the term ‘spouse’ for the purposes solely of family reunification in situations when a Union citizen moves between Member States, it is likely to have (much) wider implications: once a Member State accepts – for the purposes of EU family reunification – that a same-sex married couple are ‘spouses’ and are, thus, as such entitled to a right of residence in its territory, it would appear anomalous to strip them of this status for other legal purposes (e.g. taxation, pensions, inheritance, hospital visitation rights, childbearing and childrearing), whether this relates to situations that fall within the scope of EU law or not. Accordingly, and despite the Court’s comforting words for each Member State that has not opened marriage to same-sex couples that the obligation imposed by its judgment ‘does not require that Member State to provide, in its national law, for the institution of marriage between persons of the same sex’, the judgment appears capable of having wider implications than it seems to have at first glance, with the potential of initiating a process of ‘voluntary harmonisation’ whereby all Member States will have to recognise – and make provision – for same-sex spouses, even when this is not required by EU law.

At the same time, it should be highlighted that, as the Court repeatedly stressed in its judgment, it is only when a Union citizen has taken-up genuine residence in the territory of another Member State and during that period of genuine residence has established and strengthened family life, that he can claim family reunification rights on his return to his Member State of nationality. In previous case-law (O. and B.), the Court clarified that such genuine residence can only exist when the Union citizen has settled in another Member State for more than three months. This, exactly, can put to rest fears that the ruling can lead to ‘marriage tourism’, as the above safeguard ensures that Union citizens cannot simply side-step the law of their Member State of residence, by moving to another Member State to marry and then return to that State claiming the right to be recognised as a married couple.

Finally, the Court should be applauded for its audacious approach, in a case which involved an admittedly delicate matter. Unlike in other cases involving matters where there is a wide divergence in opinion among (and within) the Member States (e.g. cases involving pornography, abortion, gambling), the Court has not washed its hands by leaving it to the national court to perform the balancing exercise when considering the arguments put forward by Romania to justify the contested decision (see here for my comments on this approach); instead, the Court was bold enough to make it clear that the contested measure amounted to a restriction contrary to EU free movement law which cannot be justified under any circumstances.

The ruling, nonetheless, leaves us with a question mark. The Court in its judgment repeatedly emphasises that the obligation imposed on Member States is to recognise same-sex marriages lawfully concluded in an EU Member State. The marriage of Mr Coman and Mr Hamilton satisfied this requirement as it was entered into in Belgium. Would they be in the same position, nonetheless, if their marriage was concluded in, say, the US? This is a question that will have to wait for another EU ruling.

Jessica Lynn’s Transgender Journey at the University of Reading

Guest post by Dr Alina Tryfonidou (School of Law) for Trans Day of Visibility, 31 March 2018

On 9 March 2018, the University of Reading had the great pleasure of hosting Ms Jessica Lynn, an international speaker and outspoken advocate for transgender issues and a Global Ambassador to the Kinsey Institute. Jessica has been on a tour series in the UK during February and March and has visited Reading to give a talk about her experience as a transgender woman, testifying to the hardships as well as the ultimate fulfilment of gender transition in legal standing and in her personal life. Jessica’s excellent talk was followed by a Q&A session, whilst members of the audience subsequently had the chance to speak to Jessica during the drinks reception that followed the event. The event was supported by the University’s LGBT Plus staff network and the Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Professor Simon Chandler-Wilde.

For about one hour and a half, Jessica shared her life journey with us all, by vividly describing all its brutal twists and turns and challenges, but also the joys and victories and the kindness of people who had the courage to stand by her side. It was particularly moving to hear Jessica speaking about how much she loves her three sons and how painful it has been for her to have her parental rights (for her youngest son) redacted by a Texas court, simply because she is a transgender woman. This has reminded us how important the socio-legal sphere has always been in determining patterns of parent-child relationships and how this has deprived many members of the LGBT community of their parental rights. Jessica told her life story with openness, warmth and wit and the Q&A session produced well-informed questions from our mixed audience of academics, students, and visitors from outside the University – for many, it was their first opportunity to have an open dialogue with a transgender person.

This was a thoroughly interesting and thought-provoking talk which had as its aim to educate the audience – and initiate a conversation – about the transgender experience: it was eye-opening and deeply moving as it showed how even today, powerful institutions and social norms restrict trans people’s opportunities for self-development and full interaction with the world around them. Jessica’s talk has led to reflection on how society and the law has changed through the years and how that change is in small steps forward but, also – and, recently, quite often – small steps backwards. It is painful to realise that there is still widespread transphobia but this also reminds us that it is important that we all act as strong and outspoken allies for the trans community and that we must fight to make the world a better, fairer, place for all.

Remembering local LGBTQ+ history in LGBT History Month

Guest blog by Film & Theatre student Bradley Greening and LGBT Plus staff network Co-Chair Deb Heighes, to mark the start of LGBT History Month 2018

We are delighted to have a joint staff-student blog today to mark the beginning of LGBT History Month 2018. Bradley and Deb talk about their involvement in a Heritage-Lottery funded project, led by local LGBT+ support and resource organisation Support U in collaboration with Reading Museum and the University. This project, Wolfenden60: Living Wolfenden’s Legacy, kicked off last year, the 60th anniversary of the 1957 Wolfenden Report (chaired by our then Vice Chancellor Sir John Wolfenden).

To learn more see the events coming up at Reading Museum this month or our own UoR programme for LGBT History Month.

Bradley writes:

My university experience has been such an unexpected, hugely rewarding period of my life so far. It has opened up opportunities that I never anticipated, it is as if I have been transformed by the wonderful people I have had the pleasure of meeting whilst studying in Reading. Two of these people are truly incredible women who work for local LGBTQ+ charity Support U – Jessica Stevens-Taylor and Kath Tuthill. Jess and Kath have been working on a major project, aided by the financial support of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the publication of the Wolfenden Report. Exploring the legacy left by the report through a 20 to 30-minute documentary, Jess writes: “We felt that showcasing real LGBT people’s life stories was the most appropriate way to do this. We wanted to capture the thoughts and feelings of people of varying ages who could share how they felt living as an LGBT person.”
The project not only involved the making of a documentary, but also several other aspects which I have been fortunate to be involved. This included a series of thoroughly interesting debates discussing representation of LGBTQ+ in the media, the state of unity within the community, and finally, one addressing the important question: who benefited from the Wolfenden Report?
The documentary, in particular, has been such a fun experience. As a student of Film & Theatre who specialises in Theatre practice, I don’t have many opportunities to engage with filmmaking anymore, so to be able to participate in the filmmaking side – setting up the equipment, recording the sound etc. – was very exciting for me. Additionally, I spent a lot of time liaising with Kath, Jess, and the other volunteers around the content of the script, adjusting and editing it to make it accessible and coherent. I am a little sad that the documentary is almost finished because it has been fun working on it with everyone, and meeting all the friendly faces who got in front of the camera.
That is not to say that the project hasn’t come with its challenges, especially with testimonies and finding people willing to share their stories on film. As Kath points out, “Many seemed unwilling to travel back emotionally to these difficult times,” but Jess notes that “We were still keen that we should share real life stories and experiences so we ultimately hit on the idea of asking for written submissions and have actors read these.” Even I read some of these testimonies for the camera, and though I had flicked through them previously, it wasn’t until I read them aloud, without any rehearsal, that the words really resonated with me on an emotional level.
There was also a lack of testimonies from school age people and, to remedy this, Kath and Jess created some questionnaires for the members of the Affinity Youth group, one of multiple groups run by Support U, to offer a safe space for those who may have questions about their sexuality, who may not feel 100% comfortable with their sexuality, or anyone who just wants to form new friendships with people who identify as LGBTQ+. In the making of the documentary, we have had many individuals help us in the process: veteran activists Andrew Lumsden and Netty Pollard, our wonderful narrator Dan from 1stNature, the talented Jess Tuthill who recorded some original music and covers to accompany the documentary, and finally, Vicky from Lesbian And Gay Newsmedia Archive (LAGNA).
It has been great working with Support U on this project, and it doesn’t end with just the documentary and the debates. During LGBT History Month, Reading Museum will be hosting ‘tea time talks’ on Saturday afternoons, and Jess and Kath will be taking an education pack on the Wolfenden Report into local schools, and I expect interesting discussions will take place in both cases. To end on a few words from Kath: “We have been so lucky with our volunteers. They are truly amazing, each and every one. They are the true shape of the project!”

Deb adds:
I have also been able to be involved in the Wolfenden Project over recent months. Like Bradley, the experience has been transformative. To give some context, my ‘long’ working life included working as a school teacher at the time when Section 28 was put on the statute books and also when the infamous tombstone AIDS information campaign was on the TV and dropping through our letter boxes in the form of leaflets. These memories were revived when Caroline Crolla and I were working with Jess and Kath to develop educational resources about the ‘Legacy of Wolfenden’; we included a timeline of key historical LGBT+ landmarks alongside sessions on transgender identity that can be used in secondary schools. Other sessions draw on historical artefacts including Wolfenden’s interviews with Peter Wildeblood and a letter written by Jeremy Corbyn in the 80’s. These educational resources show how there is a real positive legacy of Wolfenden, one that is continuing to develop and progress. For me, it has led to reflection on how society has changed over the course of my working life and how that change is in small steps forward and sometimes small steps back. However, the fact that I am an LGBT+ workplace role-model and a Face of Reading is something that I would not have believed possible when, in 1988, guidance was received in school on the implications of Section 28 on our work with children.

Like Bradley, I became involved in the filming of testimonies for the documentary; it was lovely to work with students from FTT and see them work with confidence and expertise to get the best out of me – sat on the biggest pile of cushions I have ever seen! I read some testimonies of young people and it was striking that the pain and fear of coming out has not changed much; the individual journey can still be difficult despite society apparently being more accepting. There is still transphobia and homophobia and it is important not to assume that now we have gay marriage it is all OK. To tell your Mum and Dad, your grandparents and those you are at school or at work with is not an easy task. A voice in your head will be telling you that things will never be the same again and potentially will be ruined. This is why it is important we have strong and outspoken allies who are willing to speak out and not be bystanders particularly for the youngest and most vulnerable in our communities.

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!