LGBT+ intersectionality with race and disability

Guest blog by Debi Linton (Student Recruitment and Outreach) and Allán Laville (School of Psychology and Clinical Language Science).

Earlier this year, on 26 April, four members of the University’s LGBT+ Action Plan Group, Yasmin Ahmed (the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor in HR),  David Ashmore (from Procurement), Al Laville (from SPCLS and Co-Chair of the LGBT+ staff and PhD network),  and Debi Linton  (from Student Recruitment and Outreach), attended the Stonewall Workplace Conference 2019, Europe’s leading conference on lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) inclusion in the workplace that takes place annually in London.

This is one of several blogs (see also here and here) reflecting on the sessions that this group attended and the discussions had at this meeting. This particular blog focuses on learning from the session at the conference on workplaces that are inclusive of LGBT people who are also Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic (BAME), and the session on understanding the experiences of LGBT disabled people.

Creating workplaces that are inclusive of BAME LGBT people

The Stonewall Work Report 2018 (https://www.stonewall.org.uk/lgbt-britain-work-report) gives clear examples of how being BAME LGBT is different from being white LGBT. For example, 1 in 8 BAME LGBT employees have lost their job in the last year because of being LGBT, compared to 1 in 25 of white LGBT staff. One potential reason for this difference could be the barriers that BAME LGBT people face in being able to perform to the best of their ability at work. In the BAME LGBT workshop [that was part of the Stonewall workplace Conference], it was shared that one reason could be lack of wider support and that 1 in 2 BAME LGBT individuals do not feel part of the wider LGBT community. This in turn could affect wellbeing and the ability to perform well at work. Other points were the role of unconscious bias and racial harassment. In relation to combating this at Reading, unconscious bias training is delivered as part of recruitment training and via online modules, and the University has clear policies and reporting processes around harassment and bullying.

In relation to improving practice, it was stated that it is important for BAME LGBT individuals to feel able to contribute in meetings, be praised for work ethic, and to have visible role models. It can be argued that these points apply across Diversity and Inclusion and protected characteristics (Equality Act, 2010). Exploring this further, the first two points strongly rely on the dynamic within meetings, those you work with and the approach taken by the line manager. These points should be consciously considered by leaders/managers to make all staff feel able to contribute in meetings and to acknowledge work that has been completed well.

In relation to visible role models, Stonewall run a BAME LGBTQ role-model programme, which is free to attend. The next programme is in Manchester on the 29th August 2019 (https://www.stonewall.org.uk/get-involved/get-involved-individuals-communities/bamepoc-lgbtq-role-models-programmes). In the videos provided on this webpage, the speakers discuss the benefits of sharing experiences with others to realise that you are not alone in the difficulties faced. At Reading, we promote role models through the ‘Faces of Reading’ project. This project shows the diversity of our staff by considering LGBT+, disability, parental or family leave etc. If you would like to put yourself forward for this project, please contact diversity@reading.ac.uk.

A final area of good practice was cross-network discussions to target as many considerations for BAME LGBT people as possible. At Reading, we have both a Cultural Diversity Staff Group and the LGBT+ Staff Network (https://www.reading.ac.uk/diversity/diversity-networks.aspx), and are looking at setting up cross-network discussions and events. If you have any ideas for how we could approach this, please contact Al Laville at a.laville@reading.ac.uk.

 

Experiences of LGBT+ disabled people

Disabled LGBT+ also reported feeling excluded from the wider LGBT+ community. Part of this is the accessibility of the community itself; meetings in inaccessible places and a lack of support for the individual needs create barriers that prevent any interaction with the rest of the community. As a specific example, much NHS literature on the transition process is presented in ways that is inaccessible to blind people.

It also emerged that, because of the effects disability has on quality of life, sometimes disabled people can come out to themselves or their family later in life, as their disabled identity takes precedence. The effects of inaccessibility can often be more impactful and more stressful than any lack of LGBT+ inclusion, though of course they can exacerbate each other. LGBT+ people are more likely than others to lack any familial support outside the workplace, and this can have a massive impact for disabled people.

However, there are many ways in which the LGBT+ and disabled communities can work together. As with the Cultural Diversity Staff Group, we also have a Staff Disability Network, which is open to both disabled and non-disabled staff. At the Workplace Conference, we were reminded of the Social Model of Disability: the idea that “disability” isn’t a thing a person has, but rather, they are “disabled” by society’s lack of accessibility. This was brought up as a comparison to diverse LGBT+ identities, who are often brought together by a shared experience of oppression, despite varied experiences across the spectrum (touched on in an earlier blog).

When thinking about best practice, it is important to recognise that accessible work practices benefit all of us: many people undergo periods of being temporarily disabled, through acute injuries, or become disabled during adulthood, so having practices and infrastructure in place can save stress and harm later on. We are required by law to make reasonable adjustments (https://www.gov.uk/reasonable-adjustments-for-disabled-workers) and if there are any needs required for specific disabled employees that aren’t covered, Access to Work (https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work) can fund any additional requirements.

 

LGBT+ Inclusion in the University’s Supply Chain

Guest post by David Ashmore, Procurement

As many of you will be aware, the University’s procurement department‘s job is to get the right products and services at the right price at the right time. A less well publicised area of focus for us is our work to ensure that those goods and services we procure are bought in line with the University’s ethics, one aspect of which is the aim to support diversity and inclusion.

Why Should it Matter to Procurement?

As a public sector organisation, the majority of the money we spend comes from… well… the public. Hand in hand with this public funding comes the responsibility to ensure that the choices we make are supportive of the interests of those who we represent.

As a major employer and consumer in the local economy, the University is in a great position to be able to influence those around us, and by demonstrating role-model behaviour, we can help to drive change in areas which might not be within reach (or perhaps even aware) of organisations such as Stonewall.

Another reason to promote diversity and inclusion in our supply chain is to ensure that we support our students by providing an inclusive environment where they feel safe and respected. We expect our suppliers to uphold the same principles (especially important where those suppliers work on campus and have roles which bring them into contact with our students) which helps to keep the University’s campuses a place where discrimination, of any form, is unwelcome.

Asking the Right Questions

Over the last few years, in partnership with Stonewall, the University’s procurement team have been working to change our working practices, policies and procedures to promote inclusion in the supply chain and have made some great progress:

We have built up a suite of specifications and questions which we can include in our tendering documentation. Here are a couple of examples of statements and questions which give an idea of how we go about this. We often try to tailor the questions to the specific goods or services being procured.

  • Statement – The UoR expects its key suppliers to have a diversity policy equal or superior to its own. Our policies can be found at https://www.reading.ac.uk/diversity. As part of our commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility, the UoR proactively monitors the Diversity and Inclusion of its supply chain. As a more significant supplier to the UoR, we would hope that the successful bidder would be willing to take part in our monitoring programme which would include periodic questionnaires and round-table meetings with other suppliers to the UoR.
  • Question – Has your company had any employment tribunal claims brought against it in the past 3 years relating to gender, race, religion or belief, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender reassignment? [No=5 marks; Yes=0] If you answered “yes” to this question, please provide details and the action plan(s) your organisation has put in place to prevent recurrence. [recoup 5 Marks]

Monitoring Our Partners and Suppliers

It is all well and good to be asking all the right questions when it comes to tendering, but it’s no good if we don’t keep an eye on our suppliers once we are working with them, and LGBT+ considerations are no exception. Procurement meet with our key suppliers on a regular basis and one standing item on the order of business is what that supplier is doing in the area of diversity and inclusion. This is always an interesting topic, as the work our partners carry out varies from sector to sector.

Sharing Best Practice and Influencing

The University made a great leap forward this year and made it into Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers, and a portion of the scoring comes from our procurement evaluation. Last year we scored 7 out of a total of 17 marks available. The average for a Top 100 Employer is 10, but the average for the HE sector is only 4.5! So, what this tells us is that, whilst we are doing well when compared to our peers, we still have some way to go!

It is for exactly this reason that we have started work on an information sharing network. We are hoping that through this network, we will not only be able to learn from organisations who are further along than us, but also to pass on what we have learned to others who are just setting out on their own journey.

One area which we are hoping to embark on shortly is to foster links between the University’s own LGBT+ staff network with those from our suppliers. We have started to get in touch with all the suppliers who have expressed an interest in working more closely on diversity initiatives and we are looking forward to making some tentative first steps in the coming weeks!

Isn’t “LGBT+” enough? Why do we need to discuss each letter separately as well?

Guest blog by Debi Linton (Student Recruitment and Outreach) and Allán Laville (School of Psychology and Clinical Language Science).

Earlier this year, on 26 April, four members of the University’s LGBT+ Action Plan Group, Yasmin Ahmed (the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor in HR),  David Ashmore (from Procurement), Al Laville (from SPCLS and Co-Chair of the LGBT+ staff and PhD network),  and Debi Linton  (from Student Recruitment and Outreach), attended the Stonewall Workplace Conference 2019, Europe’s leading conference on lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) inclusion in the workplace that takes place annually in London.

This is the first of several blogs reflecting on the sessions that this group attended and the discussions had at this meeting. This particular blog focuses on supporting inclusion for employees representing particular letters of the LGBT+ community.

The LGBT+ “umbrella” exists because many people of diverse gender identities and sexualities share similar challenges and experiences of discrimination, and the community has historically faced these difficulties together. However, every identity within the community also faces their own specific challenges, and especially gender identity and sexual identity are different parts of a person’s identity: your gender identity is not necessarily linked to who you find attractive.

Some key identities within the LGBT+ community include: lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and asexual, but not everyone within the community identifies fully with any one of these. At the Stonewall Workplace Conference, we attended workshops specifically focusing on inclusion of trans, non-binary and bi employees.

Stopping to enjoy the view on the way to the Stonewall Workplace Conference at the QEII Centre

Trans inclusion

Stonewall’s “LGBT in Britain” (https://www.stonewall.org.uk/lgbt-britain-work-report) report in 2018 painted a bleak picture for being trans in the workplace. One third of trans people report having been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues because of being trans, compared to “only” one fifth of LGBT staff as a whole (still an unacceptable figure.) More worryingly, one in eight trans people reported having been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in the year preceding the report. 15 percent were also not being addressed by their correct name or pronouns.

These various experiences obviously contribute together to a potentially stressful and hostile working environment for trans people, often exacerbated by stresses and difficulties outside the workplace, such as discrimination from friends and family members and within faith and cultural groups, which might otherwise be relied on to provide support in times of difficulty. Access to healthcare, and sports and physical activities which can help reduce stress in cis people present their own barriers to trans people, and the current hostile media environment is an additional burden on its own. So it’s important for us as colleagues and employers, to help contribute to an inclusive and welcoming environment for our trans colleagues.

The benefits to having an inclusive and friendly workplace are self-evident: if everyone feels comfortable being themselves and can come to work without fear of discrimination and harassment, we can all work more effectively and, as a University, provide a safe and inclusive space for our students as well.

According to the Stonewall report, one in four trans people aren’t “out” at work, so it’s important to recognise that we may currently have colleagues who are trans but haven’t told us yet, and we can help to improve their working experience by creating an inclusive workplace without knowing everyone’s precise gender identity. There can be a perception that trans inclusion doesn’t matter if no one in the office is visibly trans, but without asking everyone we cannot be sure, and it’s always best practice to have working structures in place when new colleagues join.

Non-binary inclusion

Non-binary (often abbreviated to nb, or “enby” to prevent confusion with other uses of the abbreviation) people are those that do not identify as either of the two predominant “binary” genders (male or female). Some nb people identify as trans and some don’t, but they face many of the same challenges trans people face (see above) as well as some that arise specifically from not conforming into two specific genders.

There are many different identities within the non-binary “umbrella,” including people who identify as having more than one gender (e.g. bigender or pangender), no gender (e.g. agender or genderfree) a specific third or other gender, or fluctuating between genders (genderfluid). You don’t need the specific way a person identifies in order to use their correct name or pronouns, but it helps to be aware that not everyone will have the same needs or expectations.

In addition to the challenges faced by trans people in general above, the Stonewall report showed that 31% of nb people didn’t feel comfortable wearing clothes to work that accurately reflected their gender expression (compared to 18% of trans people) and two in five aren’t “out” at work (compared to one in four trans people). There is clearly additional stigma attached to nb identities on top of that associated with being trans.

As a University, we’re working to put in place policies and procedures that are inclusive of all gender identities: for example, there are trans awareness training courses available, and of course there are the pronoun badges many of us now wear. (See an earlier blog https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/diversereading/2019/02/26/pronoun-badges-at-the-university-of-reading/ for more information on these, including why cis people also choose to wear badges.) Additionally, many buildings around Whiteknights and London Road campuses now have gender neutral toilets, which can be identified on the campus maps https://www.reading.ac.uk/about/visit-us.aspx.

For those people who require flexibility in the way they are identified, duplicate employee cards are available to wear over your main campus card, showing the photo and name that most fits your current expression.

As a university community, we can support our trans and nb colleagues by recognising the range of gender identities and expressions within our community. The University and RUSU have a zero-tolerance policy on bullying and harassment (#NeverOK: http://student.reading.ac.uk/essentials/_the-important-stuff/values-and-behaviours/never-ok/never-ok-campaign.aspx) and we can support our colleagues by standing up for them, which includes gently correcting when a colleague is misgendered. (For guidance on how to do this, see the University’s online Diversity and Inclusion training session.)

We can also help by normalising the use of gender neutral language. If you’re not sure which pronoun to use, and it’s not appropriate to ask, “they” or “them” is often a safe alternative. When talking to groups of colleagues or students, be aware that terms like “ladies and gentlemen” or “guys” do not always apply, and gender neutral language such as “everyone,” “folks” etc make sure no one is excluded.

Bi

We use the term Bi as opposed to Bisexual here as following Stonewall’s guidance: ‘Bi is an umbrella term used to describe a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards more than one gender. Bi people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including, but not limited to, bisexual, pan, queer, and other non-monosexual identities’.

According to Stonewall’s work report (link at beginning of article), nearly two in five bi people (38%) aren’t out to anyone at work. A potential reason for this is biphobia. Stonewall, the largest LGBT charity in Europe, states 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. A related concept is that of the ‘bi erasure’, which is when your bi identity is ‘erased’ as others can view your sexual orientation to be one and the same as your current relationship status. For example, if someone who identified as male was in a relationship with another male, often the conclusion is that they are a gay man. These assumptions are dangerous as the individual has not shared their sexual orientation, which could well be bi.

In relation to improving bi visibility and awareness, the University published in 2017 a blog (https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/diversereading/2017/09/22/seeing-the-b-in-lgbt/) on Bi Visibility Day, which is 23rd of September each year. There are various events held across the UK (as well as internationally) to encourage and promote bi visibility. At these events, you will often see the Bi Pride flag which was created by Michael Page in 1998:

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.”

 

Therefore, it is very important to have bi awareness training within the workplace. However, according to Stonewall, only 5% of workplaces currently provide this. At the University, we are exploring the possibility of creating and subsequently delivering bi awareness training. If you are interested in contributing to this training, please contact Al Laville (LGBT+ Staff Network Co-Chair and Stonewall Bi Role Model) at a.laville@reading.ac.uk for an informal conversation.

Showcasing diversity in the creative sector through our ‘I am, We are…Different by Design’ zine

Guest post by Camara Dick, Seniz Husseyin, Malaika Johnson, Martha Macri and Jeanne-Louise Moys (Department of Typography & Graphic Communication)

I am, we are…different by design’ is a student and staff partnership project within the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication. The project began in October 2017 to explore new ways to embed diversity in the BA Graphic Communication curriculum and evolve a stronger sense of community in the Department.

In 2017–8, our team secured funding from the University’s Partnerships in Learning and Teaching (PLanT) scheme for a diversity campaign. For the campaign, our team decided to create a zine. This has been the most fulfilling part of our initiative so far.

Our ‘I am, we are…different by design’ zine was made with the intention of creating awareness of and celebrating diversity in our discipline. As a team, we are passionate about wanting to counterbalance the dominant western canon in our discipline and encourage students to move beyond our ‘cultural comfort zones’. We agreed that making a zine was the most effective way to start because it would enable us to share a range of perspectives and take advantage of our Graphic Communication skills.

The process of making the zine started with our team discussing who we wanted to feature in the zine and why. We wanted to include work by people who were engaging with diversity in their practice or research. Martha notes that it was ‘difficult to identify people who were creating something with the idea of diversity/culture behind it’.

In particular, we wanted to showcase projects from across the School of Arts and Communication Design. We interviewed current students from all three departments in the School (Art; Film, Theatre and Television; and Typography & Graphic Communication), researchers and graduates, as well as other practitioners with links to the University. This entailed us having to do extensive research, get ethics approval, conduct interviews and communicate in a professional and respectful way.

We used these interviews to write articles showcasing a range of inspiring projects and research that explores issues of diversity, identity and inclusion. Some of these articles included artwork by Joshua Obeng-Boateng on representing equality in visual art and work by BMJ designer Will Stahl-Timmins on helping medical staff understand gender dysphoria through design.

The design of issue one of the zine features camera lenses to represent looking from different perspectives and capturing something new. We wanted to include a range of colours to reflect inclusion but also give a vibrant feel to the zine. Within the zine we also included photos ofour team in action as we felt that this was a good way to showcase what we were doing to inspire other students to follow our footsteps.

As a team, we worked hard and were very dedicated to creating something that would inspire others. Overall, we are very proud of our outcome and of the ability to share it not just in the University but on a wider scale. Malaika reflects that ‘considering the time we had, it was amazing to see the outcome and how well it was received’.

We were very pleased with all the positive feedback we received about the zine such as one of our School’s diversity leads Lisa Woynarski saying: ‘we are very inspired by the whole project and how we can expand it to other departments. The zine turned out so well!’

This has encouraged our team to continue the project, recruit new team members (Liselot Van Veen, Labiba Haque and Charlotte Prince have also joined our team) and begin planning a 2019 issue. We’re delighted to have been awarded funding from the University’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives Fund to support the production costs of our next issue. We’re extending opportunities for students and staff across the School of Arts and Communication Design to collaborate in this project and also plan to publish an online version.

In addition to the zine, some of our achievements include:

  • leading a very well-received creative workshop with members of the public at the Tate Exchange as part of the School of Arts and Communication Design’s Reading Assembly in 2019
  • co-creating a new part three module called ‘Design for Change’ that ran for the first time in the Autumn term
  • engaging with Graphic Communication applicants on portfolio visit days to develop awareness and a sense of community and
  • presenting our initiatives at the RUSU Teaching and Learning Celebration last year and at Typography’s ‘Baseline shift’ programme in the Autumn term.

Our project represents students recognising that working towards greater equality and inclusion in the creative sector is important and is our way of coming together to start a snowball effect of change. We understand that there is still so much work to be done for our industry to be where we think it should be, however this motivates us to carry on spreading awareness. We’re hopeful that when people from all backgrounds come across our zine our message inspires and encourages others to celebrate and explore diversity across different professional sectors. We look forward to collaborating with our peers across the School and sharing the next edition of our zine in the summer.

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.