"We have always been here" Roy Ward speaks to the ongoing importance of LGBT+ History Month

Roy Ward, an Equality and Inclusion Project Officer at the University-linked National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), explains the importance of LGBT+ Month.

An image of Roy Ward, equality and inclusion project officer at NIHR. He is a white man with blue eyes and brown hair wearing a blue and green checked shirt.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role? 

I’m Roy Ward. My pronouns are he/him and I’m a full time Equality and Inclusion Project Officer within the Clinical Research Network Coordinating Centre of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR). We’re hosted by the University, so I sit within the Faculty of Medicine and Health.  

It’s an exciting role as we ensure that the clinical research our centre coordinates is inclusive and that we’re supporting all our staff who work in that area.  

When I joined NIHR was just starting out on its Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) journey, largely based on learnings that had come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a lot of opportunity for me to put my own stamp on things, and a huge amount of willingness from colleagues. It’s been very exciting. 

Can you explain to us what LGBT+ History Month means to you personally, and why it’s important? 

For me, History Month is a reminder that despite what certain aspects of the media and population might say, LGBT+ people aren’t new. We have always been here, and there are reasons why our stories weren’t always allowed to be shared or taught.  

A way I try to mark History Month is to read a lot, and every February I make sure that I only read stuff by LGBT+ authors or on LGBT+ topics, especially stories I wouldn’t have heard anywhere else. 

This month so far, my recommendations would be The Deviants War by Eric Cirvini and Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jędrowski.  

That ties in really nicely with the next question. LGBT+ History Month provides us all with a chance to learn about LGBT+ History and better understand some of the issues still faced by the LGBT+ community today. Are you able to provide some suggestions to anyone who is keen to educate themselves?  

I think firstly I’d say don’t be so scared of saying the wrong thing, that you don’t say anything at all and don’t engage in these conversations. There is training you can do, and employers will provide it and you can find a lot online. Google is your friend, that’s what I always say to people. There’s so much out there where you can learn about terminology, history, the issues facing LGBT+ people today and how you can support them. 

Even if you have LGBT+ people in your community who you might want to talk to, they might not always want to have to be that person to teach you everything, so it’s important to go out and do some of that learning yourself.  

You’re a freelance LGBT+ inclusivity trainer, what are your top tips to employers to make sure that their teams and spaces are inclusive for LGBT+ people? 

I think the best place to start is to try and ask the LGBT+ people within your organisation, or that you work with what they might need, but if you’re not sure then looking at best practices with the industry or sector is a good idea. For instance, seeing what other organisations are doing, if they’re on the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, and just generally who’s leading in your field and taking it from there.

Most importantly though, try and make sure anything you’re doing around LGBT+ support isn’t performative. 

It’s reported that more than one third of LGBT+ employees across the UK have hidden the fact they are LGBT+ at work. Why do you think this is? 

I think in a lot of cases it's because they've either had negative experiences in the past or they're almost conditioned to expect the negative response, and sometimes that's completely justified because sometimes they will be hearing homophobic, transphobic or biphobic language in the workplace. Perhaps they’ve heard it casually and it’s gone unchallenged. It might even just be because they’ve never heard coworkers necessarily say anything positive about LGBT+ people, so they don’t want to open themselves to negative response. 
The other thing within that data suggests that this is higher for transgender people than it is for cisgender LGB people, and often higher for bisexual people too. Which is an interesting point to reflect on. As much as we talk about the LGBT+ community, there’s a lot of different identities within that who experience discrimination in slightly different ways.  

A lot of the time though it comes down to employees being in organisations where they don’t necessarily feel they’re safe to be themselves yet.  

What top 3 tips would you give to someone who wants to be an ally to LGBT+ colleagues? 

Little things are often quite effective, even something as simple as: 

  • Adding your pronouns to your e-signature or using them when introducing yourself for the first time in meetings. 
  • Step up if you hear anti-LGBT+ language, whether it’s explicit or casual. 
  • Being an EDI champion in general. 

The second and third both show colleagues that you’re the kind of person to challenge discrimination, it signals to others that you are an ally, someone that people can come to. 

What advice would you give to LGBT+ colleagues to help them look after their wellbeing? 

It's about knowing yourself, which I think is a tip I would give to anyone, LGBT+ or otherwise, but I think especially for LGBT+ colleagues and especially if they’re involved in any way, be that outright activism, training, or advocating for EDI equality in the workplace. It can be really taxing, and I think the advice I would give is that it’s OK to sometimes step away from the fight if you need to.  
It’s that old adage “You can’t pour from a jug that’s half empty”.  
If you want to be the person to make change, you must make sure you’re looking after yourself or you’ll burn out and then you won’t be of any use to anybody.  
It can feel really important at the time, to be that lone voice, shouting into the wind to make things better for LGBT+ people. But there will be a point where that burns you out and it's OK, just take a step back every now and again. 
The theme of this year’s LGBT+ History Month is Behind the Lens, could you speak a little about the contribution of LGBT+ people to film, tv and media?  

I think it's become a lot more obvious in the last 20 years, how many LGBT+ people there are within film and TV and media. I think they've always been there, but going back further, you would have to look a lot harder to find those people because they weren't able to be or weren’t comfortable being out. I think the more LGBT+ people contribute to all aspects of film and media, the better it becomes.

Having LGBT+ people who are writing and producing and directing and costume design and doing the music, it gives a richer sense to the kinds of stories that are told. If you look at everything that’s available nowadays, younger people aren’t seeing the flat stereotypes or caricatures of different identities that I used to see in the very late 90s or early 2000s. It was rare then that you’d see a nuanced portrayal of someone who was LGB, you would rarely see trans people represented onscreen at all, and if they were it wasn’t always done well.  

There are exceptions to that, but a lot of the time those exceptions were because LGBT+ people were behind the camera making those contributions. I think it’s a great theme this year, not just looking at performers but looking at who makes those stories in a bigger sense.  

Thanks so much for speaking to us today, Roy. Just one final question, what’s your favourite LGBT+ themed film?  

Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I remember watching it at the age of about 17 and getting it on DVD and having it roughly recommended to me as sort of a cross between Rocky Horror and Spinal Tap and being like “OK, let's give this a go.”  
On one level, it is this kind of quite a silly, campy kind of rock film with a lot of quite fun visuals and really good songs. But it's also got just this incredible heart to it. It talks a lot about queer loneliness and found family and ultimately self-acceptance and queer joy in a really incredible way.  
It's one of those films that I don't think a lot of people outside of the community have always seen, so it is always one I will recommend to people beyond the kind of the things they will often have heard of. 

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