To celebrate this LGBT History Month, Britney Cleary, one of our Careers Advisers, talks about why the month is so important to her and the LGBTQ+ community. 

Britney Cleary Careers AdviserLGBT History Month is important to me because it is a reminder that the LGBTQ+ community has had to fight and in some cases die for the right to be recognised, and that we still suffer from discrimination and persecution. Sadly, our annual Pride marches have their roots in conflict; they commemorate the Stonewall riots, when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village, New York, in June 1969. The first gay pride marches took place in the US to mark the first anniversary of the riots, and today they are widespread annually.

An ongoing struggle for equality

In 2019, the New York City Police Commissioner gave a formal apology for the actions of officers at Stonewall. But mistreatment of the LGBTQ+ community, and prejudice toward it, cannot be consigned to history. Just a few weeks ago the government announced it will use an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to broaden eligibility for a pardon for historical criminal convictions relating to homosexuality.

This means anyone convicted or cautioned for consensual homosexual activity (laws that are now abolished) can apply to have those convictions wiped from record, in what the home secretary described as “righting the wrongs of the past”.

For anyone unaware of what those “wrongs” might have been, it’s worth remembering, as this month encourages us to do, that in this country alone, people suffered under the law for the crime of being homosexual. Two high-profile cases are renowned WWII codebreaker Alan Turing and playwright Oscar Wilde, each convicted of gross indecency for homosexual acts. Offered a choice, Turing chose chemical castration over imprisonment; Wilde had no such option and spent two years in jail. Sixty-five years later “Turing’s Law” granted automatic posthumous pardons to those convicted of sexual acts that are no longer deemed criminal – another of Turing’s legacies, albeit an unwitting one.

There may be thousands of people in the UK still living under the shadow of historical convictions for homosexuality, despite the legalisation of same-sex marriage taking effect in 2014. Given their gravity, these issues are given relatively little coverage.

Sexuality and gender identity today

Even if some liberal societies may have moved on from archaic perceptions of homosexuality, there are still issues about sexuality and identity at stake today, most obviously in dialogues about LGBTQ+ and the recognition of gender.

I personally identify as queer or pansexual, which essentially means I don’t mind about anyone’s biological sex, gender identity or combination of both, it’s all about someone’s personality. It’s taken me many years to get here though. I came out as lesbian when I was seventeen and at first exclusively dated women, but when that started to change for me, the discovery and emergence of new labels and recognised identities helped me to orient myself and to recognise something that felt like me.

Labels can be problematic for some LGBTQ+ people but they can also help enormously, especially when you’re young or still finding yourself later in life, and are learning to navigate the world as your most authentic self. But whether or not you accept a label at all is a matter of choice, and many LGBTQ+ individuals today don’t feel comfortable labelling their gender or relationships, a stance often met with hostility. I’m a cisgender woman and identify as female and therefore can’t speak for anyone else’s identity, but in my community I know lots of people who experience gender dysphoria or fluidity in their gender or sexuality and who are miles away from accepting a label. Instead they’re simply relieved they can talk about it at all. We need to create a safe space for conversations like this.

Changing norms

I recognise that some people have a problem with “new” identities. Many conventions of the past seem appalling today, and I think it is likely that perceptions of gender and sexual identity will shift over the next few years. We can all be caught out by the norms that change around us and it takes an effort of will to see the world as others do. Recognising that humans have always experienced these feelings - wherever they fell in the historical timeline - and acknowledging and accepting our community’s existence is the ONLY reason it’s all “come to light” in recent decades. Our ancestors simply had to accept their life in the shadows or face persecution, in the same way others less fortunate than us still do today.

Last year, Adviza blogged about Black History Month, and some of the personal experiences of our bloggers were alarming. It is hard to recognise an issue if it’s not your own, just as it is hard to recognise that you are the recipient of privilege.

As an educated white woman, I know I am quite privileged compared to many in the LGBTQ+ community and other societal minorities. But on nights out with a same-sex partner I’ve experienced everything from having a drink thrown in my face and being verbally abused by a man at a bar to a host of suggestive comments from men, behaviour that has dogged me for years. I’ve developed a radar for these things and am accustomed to (some) men thinking I’m there for their entertainment rather than a person in a normal, healthy, functioning adult relationship, which can be a challenging and sometimes scary position to be in.

How far have we come?

So yes, we have a way to go, but we should also celebrate the gains we have made. It’s great, for example, that you can now be in a same-sex relationship with someone and visit them in hospital as their next of kin, or legal spouse. And looking at young people in the LGBTQ+ community now, there’s so much more celebration and visual vibrancy than there was when I was growing up. I think it’s great, especially as I also embrace my own ‘alternative’ identity through my tattoos, piercings, two-tone hair & rockabilly fashion (which is something I’ve also been attacked for over the years). Visual freedom is part and parcel of our culture, and a vibrant culture can only help young LGBTQ+ people to feel safe, as can celebrations of our culture like LGBTQ+ History Month itself.

We also need more role models, and it’s significant for my community that a growing number of people in authority or positions of influence are now coming out as gay, lesbian, non-binary, bi, gender-fluid or queer. It means that for many people today, coming out isn’t as uniformly horrendous as it used to be although it is still traumatic for many.

As a liberal thinker, I think it’s important to recognise the right of different communities to have their own, sometimes religiously-enshrined opinions on gender and sexual identities. Nonetheless, I think it is equally important for people to learn about things that are beyond their immediate cultural ambit, if only so that through education and questioning they can become more aware and more empathetic of people who simply want to live their life authentically and make different choices in life.

My work

Maya Angelou once said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Throughout this month, her words will resonate enormously for me. I spend a lot of my week working as a Careers Adviser designing and delivering a careers guidance service for offenders. I try to inspire them to use their time in custody productively, guiding them to work experience, training and employment opportunities for a better future, and although personal things about me are never spoken about, I like to think that I try to question or challenge opinions about the worth of women and all those in differing minorities, including my own, along the way.

I’m not kidding myself about the challenges my clients have faced and will face again, but perhaps one day in the future, one or two might fleetingly remember a woman who once made them feel that they can do better in life.

If they do, I don’t think it will be my ethnicity they recall first, nor my religious convictions, accent, name or sexual orientation. Only that I gave them a little hope.

#LGBTHistoryMonth #ShiningALightKeepingItLit #LGBTplusHM 

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog, here are some of the many organisations who provide support:
Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline: 0300 330 0630
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
LGBT+ Hate Crime Helpline: 0207 704 2040
National Conversion Therapy Helpline: 0800 130 3335

Adviza is proud to offer staff a platform to share their views on a wide range of diversity and inclusion topics and acknowledges that these are, as they should be, many and varied. We champion equality and diversity which means all views are welcome.

Our vision is for all young people and adults to make better decisions that help them achieve their full potential. That includes following the path that makes them happy and being the most authentic version of themselves.

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