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.

Developing a New Action Plan for Gender Equality and Preparing the University’s Next Athena SWAN Submission

by Simon Chandler-Wilde, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion (job share with Ellie Highwood)

One key part of how we work as a University on diversity and inclusion (D&I) is to bring groups of people together to focus on particular protected characteristics and associated equality and D&I issues. These groups are termed “self-assessment teams”, “action plan groups”, or similar. In each case the idea is the same: to identify on the basis of evidence, consultation, and personal experience what we are already doing well, and what needs to change, and then to propose an action plan, and agree the actions proposed with the wider University, not least with those who may need to carry them out.

In the last three years we have set up three such groups. In each case a framework for what the groups think about and do has been provided by existing national self-assessment and action-planning schemes. These are:

  • The Athena SWAN Bronze, Silver, and Gold charter marks relating to advancement of gender equality, run by the Equality Challenge Unit (part of Advance HE)
  • The Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, focussed on equality and inclusivity for LGBT+ staff and students
  • The Equality Challenge Unit’s Race Equality Bronze and Silver charter marks

Details of all the above schemes and copies of the action plans produced are on the Charter Marks part of the Diversity and Inclusion website.

We advertised last Autumn for volunteers to join a new Self-Assessment Team to prepare a new action plan for gender equality for the next four years, and to prepare our next University Athena SWAN submission in November, aiming this time for a Silver award. We received many, high quality expressions of interest, and have supplemented these by approaching some other staff and students directly, to ensure a balance of experiences and genders on the final team – the photo shows our team, and below are contact details and brief info for all our team members.

We’re keen to hear from staff across the University regarding issues that they would like us to address in the action plan. Queries, thoughts, and suggestions can be directed to any of the SAT members listed below, or can be sent through to the central D&I email diversity@reading.ac.uk.

We’re particularly keen for staff to volunteer themselves for focus groups we will be running. These are as follows, with more to follow:

  • Focus group on flexible working (formal and informal): contact Rachel Greenwood
  • Focus group on shared parental leave: contact Steve George
  • Focus group with Heads of Schools on how rewarding staff processes are working: contact Deepa Senapathi
  • Focus group with academic staff on how personal titles processes are working: contact Aleardo Zanghellini
  • Focus group with Heads of Functions on how regrading and rewarding staff processes are working: contact Yasmin Ahmed
  • Focus group on inclusivity and university committees: contact Carol McAnally
  • Focus group with secretaries of university committees on selection of membership: contact Nathan Helsby

Since we submitted last in 2016 there have been welcome and important changes to the Athena SWAN scheme. Athena SWAN was previously focussed particularly on under-representation of women in STEMM subjects. It now addresses gender equality across all academic subjects, and across professional and support staff, including equality issues affecting both women and men. It also asks for intersectional issues to be addressed (e.g. why so few black women professors in the UK?), and inclusivity for trans staff and students.

Our SAT team, in alphabetical order – and see above picture – is:

  • Yasmin Ahmed, the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor in HR. Her interests include all things D&I and particularly making the workplace more inclusive and changing cultures.
  • Simon Chandler-Wilde, the SAT Co-Chair, a Dean for Diversity and Inclusion (in a job-share with Ellie Highwood) and a professor of applied maths. His interests include equality around promotions, flexible working, dealing effectively with harassment and bullying
  • Ben Cosh, a maths professor and Head of the School of Mathematical, Physical, and Computational Sciences. His interests include gender equality (and getting more men involved), spreading good practice across the university, supporting staff across the university in their career development and progression
  • Maddi Davies, an Associate Professor in English. Her interests include feminist theory and discourse, and she is keen to bring together personal narratives together with quantitative data to paint a clear picture of what we need to do next on gender equality
  • Steve George, a Research Scientist in NCAS and chair of the University of Reading Research Staff Committee. His interests include the career development of research staff and the intersection of Athena SWAN with our work for the HR Excellence in Research Award.
  • Rachel Greenwood, a Senior Support Officer in RISIS who joined us last year, when looking for a part-time role. Her interests include flexible working and how we ensure that flexible working is encouraged and supported through recruitment processes, plus experiences of working parents.
  • Rebecca Harris, an Associate Professor and the School Director of Teaching and Learning in the Institute of Education, having previously worked in secondary schools for 16 years. Her interests include LGBT inclusion, and, as part of this, working to support inclusion in local schools.
  • Nathan Helsby, Head of Planning and Reporting in the Planning and Support Office. His interests include effective and usable diversity data reporting, e.g. via our Athena SWAN dashboard, and supporting the development of our professional staff.
  • Karen Henderson, the Director of Technical Services. Her interests include supporting the development of our professional staff and addressing the over-representation of women in lower grades, and under-representation at higher grades.
  • Ellie Highwood, the SAT Co-Chair, joint Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, and a Professor of Climate Physics. Her interests include the promotion of flexible working, fairness and support around promotion processes, and part-time working.
  • Joanna John, Joint Head of Doctoral Skills Training and Development in the Graduate School. Her interests include: intersections between gender, ethnicity and socio-economics; part-time students; student parents.
  • Carol McAnally, a Business Relationship Manager in the Knowledge Transfer Centre within Research and Enterprise Services, having previously worked for a research council. Her interests include embedding flexible working within the culture, and working on gender equality within professional services.
  • Claire Rolstone, Assistant Director of Human Resources, with a portfolio including HR Operations and Advisory Services. Her interests in Athena Swan focus on staff recruitment processes and how we support our staff.
  • Patricia Riddell, a Professor of Applied Neuroscience and the diversity and inclusion champion in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Science, who led the last Athena SWAN submission from that school. Her interests include workplace stress, reducing this, its impact on staff, and the gendered nature of its presence and effects.
  • Deepa Senapathi, a Research Fellow in Agriculture, previously a Research Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences (SBS). Three years ago Deepa co-led the SBS Athena SWAN Bronze application, which was successful. Her areas of interest are barriers and incentives to progress, especially as regards early researchers and fixed term contractors. How we communicate across cultures is also an area of interest and knowledge.
  • Susan Thornton, the Assistant Director of HR for People and Talent. Her interests include staff and leadership development, e.g. her team organises and supports female staff on the Aurora Programme, and making sure that we pull experience of working on Athena SWAN within Schools into the wider university.
  • Nozomi Tolworthy, the RUSU Diversity Officer, who previously graduated from the Department of Film, Theatre and Television. Her interests include communicating across cultures with staff and students, and the flow of communication between staff and students, especially related to diversity and inclusion initiatives and achievements
  • Robert Van de Noort, the recently-appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading and the University Executive Board Gender Diversity Champion. His interests include all aspects of supporting and developing work on diversity and inclusion at Reading.
  • Aleardo Zanghellini, a Professor of Law and Social Theory in the School of Law. His interests include gender equality, career progression and intersection with gender and (not least through his own research work) gender identity and the support of trans people at Reading

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.

Pronoun Badges at the University of Reading

by

Debi Linton (LGBT+ Staff Network representative on the University’s LGBT+ Action Plan Group), Nozomi Tolworthy (Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU) Diversity Officer), and Parveen Yaqoob (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, and University Executive Board (UEB) LGBT+ Champion)

Members of the University’s LGBT+ Action Plan Group have been working with the Diversity Officer 2018/19 at Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU) this academic year to launch pronoun badges to the university community of both students and staff. These pronoun badges aim to create positive cultural change across our campuses.

In this blog we explain why we want to introduce pronoun badges, and what they are for. We end the blog with a brief glossary of some of the terms we use.

The badges are available from RUSU Reception, and very soon from receptions across the University, in They/Them, He/Him, She/Her versions, plus a version that you can complete as you wish.

What are pronoun badges and why are people wearing them?

Pronoun badges are exactly what they sound like: badges that inform people you are talking to the correct third-person pronouns to use when referring to you. For example “the correct person to contact about this is [xxx], here are her contact details” or “this person is looking for the library, can you show them the way?”

The most common pronoun when talking about people are he/him, she/her, and the singular they/them, but many people use another pronoun altogether. This is why the RUSU & University’s badges include an option with a white space for people to write in their own with a permanent marker.

Why does using the correct pronoun matter?

For many people it seems that the right pronoun should be obvious: if someone is clearly presenting as male, for example, you may default to using “him.” However, for many people it’s not always obvious; where people use gender-neutral pronouns, or when trans people don’t look or sound exactly how we expect a man or woman to do. This also applies to cis people who don’t fit into expectations for their gender, even if it’s the same as the sex they were assigned at birth.

Pronouns are such a common part of our language that it’s common and understandable to not even think about using them. However, each usage carries an assumption about the person’s gender identity and can reinforce that assumption to anyone listening. When you are frequently misgendered, the effort of correcting every incorrect usage can be tiring. The practice of using pronoun badges normalises the idea that gender shouldn’t have to be assumed, and recognises that diverse identities and expressions are welcome in our University.

Some examples of pronoun usage

  • She wrote her group’s project submission by herself.
  • He may not have written his thesis entirely by himself.
  • They ordered business cards for everyone in their school but forgot theirself.
  • Ze has offered to help hir school on Open Day but doesn’t want to do it by hirself.

Do I have to wear a pronoun badge?

Pronoun badges are completely optional. However, by wearing one, even if your pronouns are rarely or never used incorrectly, you are sending a message to colleagues, visitors and students that you recognise the validity of pronouns other than what is immediately obvious.

What if I make a mistake?

Mistakes happen all the time! If you use an incorrect pronoun and are corrected or later realise you were wrong, then you can treat it like any other error: apologise and correct yourself. You don’t have to draw attention to yourself or to the other person by drawing out the apology.

If someone uses the wrong pronoun for a colleague, you can also gently correct them at the time, for example, “actually, I think Alex uses ze” or later in a private conversation where appropriate.

What should I do if I don’t know the right pronoun or I’m being hypothetical?

If you don’t know which pronoun to use, but you don’t want to assume, then you can get used to checking politely when it’s relevant; for example, “can you remind me of your pronouns?”, before introducing a speaker.

If it’s not appropriate or possible to ask, then “they/them” is a useful neutral pronoun. You probably already use it when talking about people you haven’t met, for example, “your personal tutor is there if you need them”.

What are some other ways I can show my support for gender diverse colleagues and students?

Try to spot times in your language where you are making assumptions about gender. For example, rather than using “he or she” when talking about a hypothetical situation, substitute “they.”

When leading group discussions or meetings with people who don’t already know each other, you can also normalise the practise of sharing pronouns by including them in introductions. For example, “My name is Chris, I work in SAGES and my pronouns are he/him.”

When creating forms or collecting personal information, include gender-neutral options. For example, when asking for personal titles such as “Dr/Mr/Ms,” think about including “Mx” (pronounced “Mix”) [this option is available, for example, when you complete the standard online University of Reading job application forms] and if asking for gender is relevant, include an “other” option.

You may also want to consider putting your pronouns in your email signature, after your name.

If you would like to learn more, you might like to sign up for the Trans Awareness Training coming up on 16 May (see the Diversity and Inclusion Events page for more details and how to book), and there is further “Trans and Gender Identity” guidance available on our diversity and inclusion policies and procedures page.

Glossary of terms

AFAB / AMAB
“Assigned female at birth” / “assigned male at birth” relates to the sex a person is assigned when they are born. This is independent of a person’s lived gender identity.

Cisgender or Cis
Someone whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth. Non-trans is also used by some people.

Cissexism
The assumption that being cisgender is the norm, often resulting in discrimination towards and erasure of trans people.

Gender
Often expressed in terms of masculinity and femininity, gender is largely culturally determined and is assumed from the sex assigned at birth.

LGBT+
The acronym for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and others’. The ‘+’ is inclusive of other groups such as asexual, non-binary, questioning, queer, intersex etc.

Mx (Pronounced ‘mix’)
This is a title used before a person’s surname or full name by those who wish to avoid specifying their gender or by those who prefer not to identify themselves as male or female.

Nonbinary
Term used for people with gender identities other than male or female, thus outside the gender binary. Those who identify as nonbinary may think of themselves as both men and women (bigender, pangender), may identify as neither male nor female (genderless, agender), may see themselves as outside of or in between the binary gender boxes (genderqueer), or may simply feel restricted by gender labels.

Sex
Assigned to a person on the basis of primary sex characteristics (genitalia) and reproductive functions. Sometimes the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are interchanged to mean ‘male’ or ‘female’.

Trans
An umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, gender-queer (GQ), gender-fluid, non-binary, gender-variant, genderless, agender, nongender, third gender, two-spirit, bi-gender, trans man, trans woman, trans masculine, trans feminine and neutrois.

 

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.