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LGBTQ+ History Month: An interview with Matt Tomlinson

To highlight LGBTQ+ History Month, we’re talking to the Dean of ULaw’s Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle campuses, Matt Tomlinson, about the importance of representation and what LGBTQ+ History Month means to him.

For me, LGBTQ+ History Month is about raising awareness and celebrating the LGBTQ+ community. Whilst LGBTQ+ history tells so many tragic stories of oppression and discrimination, modern LGBTQ+ history also shows enormous progress in terms of where we are today and acknowledges the many incredible activists and advocates whose work achieved that progress.

LGBTQ+ History Month plays a pivotal role in continuing progress as it educates others about the LGBTQ+ community and its difficult history; that brings an understanding we hope will lead to tolerance and acceptance.

Representation of any kind is hugely important as it creates visibility and a voice, which is so important in how cultures within institutions are shaped. For any LGBTQ+ person to see themself represented in their industry or workplace is immensely powerful. It offers a sense of security and reassurance that they can belong in that environment and are not alone.

When a company shares information about LGBTQ+ History Month, it promotes a better understanding of the issues that the LGBTQ+ community have faced and continue to face. This understanding is so important in promoting an inclusive culture within an organisation. If people have knowledge and understanding of LGBTQ+ issues, they have a different appreciation of how their behaviour can be more inclusive and supportive of their LGBTQ+ colleagues. Many issues that LGBTQ+ people experience within organisations are not a result of intentional behaviour from others but rather an ignorance. History is so quickly forgotten, and many people will not remember a time when same-sex marriage was illegal and when homosexuality could not be referred to in schools, but this is modern history. It is the lived history of many of today’s LGBTQ+ workforce. That inequality is still very raw.

I think one of the most important things people can do to support the LGBTQ+ community is to engage with History Month and learn something new about the community and where it has come from. There is no doubt that social attitudes have progressed in recent times and on the face of it, to many non-LGBTQ+ people, this looks like there are no longer any issues. Sadly, that is not the case and LGBTQ+ people face discrimination and prejudicial behaviour in organisations every day. This is, of course, not the true everywhere. Many organisations have done commendable work to promote inclusive and safe cultures underpinned by appropriate policies and procedures to protect LGBTQ+ colleagues. However, even in the best organisations, lack of awareness and understanding is where inadvertent behaviour still commonly presents as an issue for LGBTQ+ people. We can all learn something from others that helps us to be better humans, so my hope is that LGBTQ+ History Month will help more people achieve that.

There are many places that individuals can learn more about LGBTQ+ lives and experiences and this month particularly so. History Month offers a great opportunity to see what’s going on in your city or region. There are museum exhibitions, film showings, speaker events, social events to name but a few. The British Museum have an LGBTQ Histories Trail that looks really interesting.

There is also lots of virtual activity to engage with from the comfort of your own home or whilst on the commute to work. A great podcast is Making Gay History, and Inclusive Cinema offers some good recommendations for LGBTQ+ films.

There are also some great resources that organisations such as Outright International, Stonewall and The Safe Zone Project have put together and have on their websites.

As a University we have a wonderful community of LGBTQ+ staff and students, therefore LGBTQ+ History Month is a really important opportunity for our wider staff and student community to learn more about LGBTQ+ history. Also, for ULaw as an organisation and educator to contribute to LGBTQ+ History Month.

I am Chair of the University’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network, within which we have numerous colleagues who are passionate advocates of LGBTQ+ rights and who are generously contributing their time and talent to deliver talks, attend external panel events and publish content. An event not to be missed this March is my brilliant colleague Emily Roach, who will be delivering a talk Does Activism Work? where she will take attendees on a journey from Henry VIII through to the present day, exploring the legacy of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and its impact on the erasure of LGBTQ+ life and experience.

I think becoming an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights is very much a journey of growth and personal acceptance that brings you to a point where you feel confident in who you are. You recognise the power of sharing your own experience with others and the role that can you have in driving change. My own experience of hearing from LGBTQ+ speakers and advocates over the years has without doubt empowered me and I feel a duty to give that back. I think becoming a parent has also shifted my focus onto making a better world for the next generation.

 

Discover how we celebrate diversity within law on our Diversity Matters homepage.