By Caroline Paige – Outburst Newsletter.

On 24th May Sue Sanders, Lizzie Wallis, and I attended The Economist’s Pride and Prejudice Conference in Bishopsgate, London, representing Schools OUT UK, and networking with leading advocates and champions in the pursuit of equal rights for LGBTQ employees, both domestic and international. Caroline and Lizzie briefly tell us here about the day’s event in discussing ‘The Path to Advocacy’.
27476535727_f9ef5769f4_z
Although the UK leads in many aspects of LGBTQ rights, evidence from around the world is that we should never take those rights for granted, whilst we should also be standing against those countries who demonstrate little or no regard for human rights. The Economist’s Pride and Prejudice event was focused on the path to advocacy, and how governments, companies and individuals can achieve that best. The London event was also linked through video streaming to others in New York and Hong Kong.

The day began with a keynote panel that included representatives from Whitbread, Vodafone, CBI, and Royal Mail. Panellists were asked about what their companies were doing for LGBTQ inclusion and advocacy, beginning with ‘Redefining the Business Case For LGBT Inclusion’. Vittorio Colao (Chief Executive, Vodafone) thought this wasn’t important, ‘not having a business case is no excuse not to be inclusive’. People need to feel included and respected in the work place. The Royal Mail presented its visible commitment by joining Pride marches and creating the ‘Rainbow Post-box’, a rainbow painted mailbox that has proven popular at various temporary locations around the country.  The Stonewall Equality Index is now very popular amongst such big businesses, which is a different story to just fifteen years ago. It seemed the big companies were comfortable with their progress; however, it became clear in questions to the panel that few companies understand or have made progress on issues faced by trans employees or customers.

28472780068_78a4b12a0e_zAdditionally, during the day, delegates and those following through the live twitter feed were able to vote on set questions, such as: ‘Do companies care about advocating for LGBT rights or is it just PR?’ It was interesting that the company representatives generally thought the business case had been made, whilst delegates weren’t so confident, and the wider community even less so. Clearly work still needs to be done on leadership perspectives compared to shop floor experience.

Following on from the first panel were two discussions that asked ‘What Is An Advocate?’  The first, an inspiring interview from Gina Miller (Transparency Activist, True and Fair Campaign) about the difficulties faced by those who challenge hate, and fight for change. The use of social media was also highlighted. Gina argued that hate speech, through whatever media, should be stamped out and steps needed to be taken to tackle this. She also advised that an advocate ‘needed to be strong in self, able to deal with the negative, and sit the other side of the table in other people’s shoes.’

Matthew Beard (Executive director, All Out) And Matt Brittin (President, EMEA business and operations, Google) advised that Social Media is a powerful tool that can be used for good as well as bad; Matthew cited Chechyna from ALLOUT campaign as a primary example. However, grassroots campaign groups still had a vital role to play to implement change; little can be achieved purely through ‘clicktivism’ despite this reducing the sense of isolation for oppressed communities. What was stressed instead, was the need to ensure the wider public were accessing quality content, as opposed to ‘fake news’ stories that have haunted our headlines in the last few years; and fighting the backlash with better social media counter-movements (especially for trans rights).

The second keynote panel included chief executives from BAE Systems, Virgin Money, J. Walter Thompson and Legal & General Investment Management, focusing on what it means to be an Advocate and what we can learn from those who have already led the way. Often lessons are learned and then forgotten, only to be relearned after the fact.

40538964780_fa6541d100_zMoving to the international perspective, Kari Mugo, (Operations Manager, National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Kenya) explained how LGBT people were more visible now in Kenya, however UK businesses with open inclusion/diversity policies are still required to observe Kenyan law. Rather than directly challenging host nation national policies and laws, these companies were well placed to show the way forwards as advocates rather than campaigners, though an openly supportive stance was extremely important. The room was split in opinion as to whether companies should take a greater role in such advocacy.

The conference included five Strategy Workshops/Masterclasses with delegates splitting into groups with guest speakers and delegates informally discussing the difference between Allies and Advocates, and how to be an advocate. Another workshop was given by IGLA on using data to help LGBT activism.

One workshop focused specifically on trans rights, led by Jacqui Gavin (HR Diversity and Inclusion Lead, Department for International Trade). Delegates explored how to be a good ally for trans people and focused on enabling cisgender colleagues to become advocates. There is a need to be armed with correct information to advocate, as companies cannot rely on ‘token trans person’, for fear of them ‘burning out’, a phrase used by Jacqui herself.

Sue Sanders (Chair Schools OUT UK) chaired a concurrent workshop on ‘How to be an Advocate in Difficult Operating Environments’, and how to enable people to be allies. ‘We cannot rely solely on the people who are marginalised and discriminated against to always raise the issues and have the answers. Allies must crucially step up to the plate and call out prejudice; and advocates, having discussed matters with those discriminated against, need to initiate actions that will mitigate against that discrimination.’ Her audience enthusiastically exchanged experiences from within companies with positive outlooks on this, typically empowered by initiatives created by individuals who stepped up of their own accord, whilst other delegates took away best practice ideas and lessons learned. The feeling amongst some was that ‘we are already sorted in this country in this regard and we should be focusing all our energy on helping other countries’, however, there was enough evidence to demonstrate we still have much to do in the UK too, especially regarding trans and other minority groups.  Sue concluded that ‘to make cultural change in a company, needs people who want to make the workplace a place where LGBT people, in all their diversity, can be visible, safe and proud’.

The final guest interview was with Sir Nick Clegg, entitled ‘The School of Hard Knocks’. He offered his experience-based thoughts of turning disappointment into success and urged us to ‘tell yourself the story of why you’re doing what you’re doing to move forward’. A reminder we all need in our campaigning lives or otherwise.

In closure, Economist Editors rounded off the day’s discussions concluding that, influence needs to be used internally and externally for diversity and equality to succeed. However, many gaps were identified, and future LGBTQ agendas need to consider schools and education, mental health, the use of sport to empower young people, and wider focus on issues faced by the trans community.

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