February is LGBT History Month. Even the name is controversial. We used to talk just about “gay people” and “gay history”, but in recent years there is a growing recognition that human sexuality takes many different forms. To assume that everybody is either “gay” or “straight” leaves many people feeling their situation is not recognised or understood.
LGBT stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual”, but this does not cover all the issues and the people affected by them, so the term we use tends to grow. The longest version currently is LGBTTQQIAAP! It stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally and pansexual. But who knows? Before long that too may appear insufficient. In any case, some people argue about which order the letters should be in!
Surely what we are really looking for is a society that respects and honours people. People come in all shapes and sizes. They differ not only in gender and sexuality, but also in race, language, culture, religion, age, ability and lots of other things. To believe that every one of them is a unique and precious individual is often difficult, but is a challenge worth facing.
In recent months we seem to have moved further away from that aspiration. Partly as a result of the Brexit vote and of the anxiety about migrants and refugees, racism and xenophobia seem to have become more acceptable. In many places there is suspicion and hatred of Muslims in general because of the actions of a few terrorists. And now there are serious threats to tolerance and freedom coming from the new administration in the United States.
In this worrying and depressing situation there are, thank God, a few candles being lit. The University of South Wales is now working with Stonewall to become a “diversity champion”. As part of this, some of us attended a Stonewall conference last week about inclusiveness in the workplace. There were more than 200 people there from companies and organisations all over Wales, discussing how both employers and employees can achieve an environment in which everybody can feel safe and respected for who they are – not only accepted but visible. Speakers reminded us that someone who is constantly trying to hide an important part of who they are will not be able to concentrate so well on their work or to communicate so freely with colleagues. So an open, inclusive environment is not just right and fair – it is good for business efficiency too.
We heard from some brave and inspiring people. La Chun Lindsay, born in South Carolina, had to fight for acceptance of her colour, her sexuality and her ambition as a woman to be an engineer. She is now the Managing Director of GE Aviation Wales, the biggest industrial employer in Wales. Anjeli Patel, a professional services consultant and a trans-sexual, told us of her long journey to full acceptance by family, friends and employers. Both these women are pioneers who are now working hard to make the way easier for others.
Standing for the equal value of individuals in all their variety seems in some ways harder than it was, but it is more necessary than ever. We are stronger together.