Name: Georgina Brown
Role: Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
What does LGBT+ History Month mean to you as a member of the LGBT+ community?
For me, LGBT+ History Month has meant less shame and guilt. Being of a certain age, and only now acknowledging publicly being different from the ‘default norm’ can be immensely challenging. With more and more individuals embracing their difference, this month gives everyone permission to be themselves and not hide behind conformity. Thus aiding wellbeing and belonging.
As an EDI practitioner for over twenty years, a challenge that keeps presenting itself is how to balance the needs of so many diverse groups and the intersectionality of those groups. LGBT+ History Month provides the opportunity to focus on our needs, to raise awareness of the highly diverse group of people we are, demystify the ‘LGBT+’ label, recognise our multiple identities, and feel a sense of pride in how far we have come. It is an opportunity to acknowledge those that have been paving the way for us and genuinely celebrate our differences. It is a chance to refocus our work towards integrating that difference into the workplace and society.
Personally, I have been told I am not what some might believe to be a ‘stereotypical’ member of the LGBT+ community (what ever that is!) – but I have come to realise that this ‘hetero passing’ means I have a privileged position to be able to help the hetero majority reflect on default norms. In turn this then really helps me shatter derogatory tropes and assumptions, and LGBT+ History Month is the perfect opportunity to have some of those conversations. So in short, LGBT+ History Month is a time where I feel I can legitimately be seen for who I really am, without hiding my authentic self, and to talk openly without the diminishing effects of shame and guilt. My dream is one day that in doing so, our community will not be the subject of defensiveness, denial, and covert discrimination but that we can appreciate and celebrate that difference together.
Why do you think it is important for universities to continue celebrating LGBT+ History Month?
Diversity thankfully is never going away! It is only going to grow. Which is brilliant news for everyone and every organisation. To be able to benefit and leverage cognitive difference into both the workplace and society, means we can truly start to see the problems the world faces and create innovative solutions that build on a plethora and wealth of views, experiences and knowledge.
Universities are at the heart of enabling this. With such rich research required to take forward world solutions, we have a civic responsibility to ensure we are as inclusive as possible, embracing diversity of thought and being, and creating that sense of belonging where we can all thrive and give our whole selves to the University. As well as creating well rounded and diversity-aware global citizens who can work inclusively in international settings.
LGBT+ History Month means we can focus attention on a community that can often be hidden and forgotten about. Celebrating LGBT+ History Month means we can openly help to develop the default narrative, we can share more inclusive language and how that supports our community. And we can highlight how barriers and invisible discriminators that are present for our community are being shattered or need to be as we progress along the EDI maturity model.
In your life have you noticed a shift in acceptance of LGBT+ people?
YES! A huge shift! When I grew up as a ‘tomboy’ in the 70’s/80’s there was no identifier for some one who did not feel part of either gender, who just saw gender as a performance, a construct and could not rationalise why people did it! Why did they conform to something they were not and someone else’s idea of who they were? I just wanted to be me, some days competing against the boys and winning, other days in a dress and make up, but mostly in non-gender clothing such as jeans and a hoodie! But society, workplaces, friends, family did not understand how to relate to me unless I was performing to their ‘known’ gender script, and back then there was no alternative. In the early 2000’s I remember one client taking my hand and saying “You can always tell a lady but the standard of her manicure.” Almost implying that I was not performing my gender correctly if it was not perfectly inline with the social codes of the upper middle class, and in turn that implied I was not doing my job properly either. Back then I would conform, so my manicure perfectly conformed and I continued to lead their EDI project successfully for over ten years as a consultant.
Another time, I remember being spat at in the street as I held hands with my partner, and degrading ignorant names were called out. I remember going through some horrible situations due to others bias, assumptions, and implied power dynamic, many of which if they happened today would be considered a hate crime. But back then there was not such term.
Most discrimination is now more covert and insidious. The good / bad binary of how individuals interpret prejudice means no one wants to be ‘seen’ to be discriminatory. However, this sits in direct opposition to having such belief in the current systems that many do not see the need, or want to change. I recently gave a TEDx Talk entitled (‘We Not Me: A Bid for Belonging’)[https://youtu.be/eJFhFEdH1PU) which highlights the often invisible impact of our ‘known’ view of the world on others.
Who is your LGBT+ role model?
A pivotal point in my understanding of the gender-sex distinction was when I read Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Understanding how women are defined in relation to men, and how women are not born, but become as a result of the male gaze and societal demands, suddenly made sense of so many of my experiences. Simone De Beauvoir was bisexual, and in her time that was highly controversial. Her prominent open relationships often overshadowed her substantial academic reputation, a risk one of her long term partners Jean-Paul Sartre did not have to address. So, she is my role model, an individual who stood up for her authenticity and others, and did not deny her huge intellectual capacity in progressing feminist and social theories.
There are others like her, including Judith Butler, and Chloe Caldwell. As well as the more humorous writings of Samantha Irby, but in terms of a main stream role model, actor Gillian Anderson OBE who I grew up watching in The X-Files and now enjoy watching in the Netflix comedy-drama Sex Education, is great role model. She has been active in supporting numerous charities and humanitarian organisations around the world. She came out about her same-sex relationships to demonstrate that seemingly straight-laced middle aged married women with three children can be open and shame-free about their life and love experiences. It is okay. The guilt and shame is often still very much part of a woman’s experience of her sexuality, an aspect that needs to be addressed.
Do you have a favourite LGBT+ film or book?
There are so many! But I think the film that sticks in my mind is Mulholland Drive (2001). For those of you who do not know the film it is a psychological thriller directed by David Lynch, and starring Justin Theroux, Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. It is a surrealist neo-noir mystery film! However, I do also have to acknowledge my bias in this, as my girlfriend did have a starring role!
There are a few others that are worth a mention The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) with an amazing performance by Guy Pearce. Carol (2015) and My Own Private Idaho (1991).
When are you the happiest?
Such an easy question to answer, when I am at home in the garden with my husband and three Boxer dogs! My garden is my sanctuary. I love being with nature, nurturing plants, designing garden layouts, and tending to the wildlife. Being surrounded by my husband who has been my partner and best friend for over 25 years, and our three high energy, loving and clown like Boxer dogs, just makes me so incredibly happy, as I can just be me.
How do you identify?
I added this question as I could hear as people were reading this, the reader thinking ‘yes but, who are you in terms of LGBT+? What label can we put on you? You’ve confused us… which letter are you of the LGBT+?’ And this desperate need to know which box to put someone in is normal. You’re curious. This need to know is often driven by our need to survive, to understand who is part of the in and out groups of the power dynamic. Essentially we all need to find out do others have power over someone, do they have power within, do I have power with them, or are they without power. Decency is about uniting, having respect for yourself and others, being willing to be open to self-reflection, and through that unity building a collegiate culture. So knowing which label to put on me is not actually necessary.
I spent years trying to work out which ‘box’ I ticked, which ‘label’ identified me. But I realised you don’t have to tick a box or wear a label. You just have to be true to yourself.
However, in the spirit of LGBT+ History Month and to help others dispel any lingering guilt and shame. This is who I really am… I am a shy, white, mostly cisgender, pansexual, dyslexic, Buddhist, vegetarian, meditating, dog loving tomboy with OCD, who believes we all belong and in the power of kindness. The Pansexual is part of the + of the’ LGBT+’ label that I finally decided best represented my identity. It means I find the spirit and values of a person attractive regardless of gender, sex, ‘dis’ability, looks, socio-economic status, religion… Basically I find attractive and could fall in love with your soul rather than your physical label. This for me compliments perfectly my Buddhist beliefs and values of inclusion.