For LGBT+ History Month 2018, we’ll be posting a series of blogs from LGBT+ people across our network and beyond. We asked the question, ‘what does LGBT+ History Month mean to you?’. First up is TJ Richards, Co-Chair of Embrace, Santander’s LGBT+ network.
When I realised I was a lesbian nearly 20 years ago, I thought my future was going to be filled with secrecy and closet doors. It never occurred to me that I would meet, fall in love and actually marry my wife. I never once envisioned that I would hold her hand and march down the streets of London, while being cheered by hundreds of thousands of people at the Pride march.
I live my life as I do because of people like Marsha P Johnson and Julie Barnes-Frank. People who were determined that being their true self was not something to be ashamed of, that they were valid and deserved the same rights as everyone else. Because of their efforts and those of so many others, I am now a happily married, out and proud career woman at Santander UK. I’m also the National Co-Chair of Santander UK’s LGBT+ employee network, Embrace – not something I ever thought I’d do all those years ago!
As a society we’ve made so much progress – from the repeal of Section 28 in 2003, to the Civil Partnership Act of 2004, the right to change your legal gender in 2005, the Equality Act of 2007, and to the Marriage Act of 2013 (to name only a few!).
Never have I been so proud to be able to legally say “my wife” when in random, daily conversations. I say it so often that people have asked me if she actually has a name (she totally does)!
Modern corporate culture in the UK also reflects those values, with Diversity and Inclusion high on the agenda at any business wanting to attract and retain top talent in their industry. Employee Networks play a vital role in this as well, raising awareness amongst non LGBT+ colleagues about the issues that their compatriots often face, as well as providing a support structure for colleagues struggling with their identity, or just wanting to know that they aren’t “the only gay in the village”.
It’s this acknowledgement by modern businesses, that employees have to be free to be their whole selves in order to be their happiest – and therefore most productive – that I feel has had such a huge impact on the LGBT+ community.
Sometimes, it’s tempting to look around and think – we’ve done it, we’ve arrived at “equality”. But I know that this isn’t true, and that it’s discounting a huge part of our community that don’t come from the same privileged, middle class white background that I have.
The last few years have seen public sentiment start to shift backwards and to the right. Research has shown that in the last 12 months, the number of hate crime incidents reported against the LGBT+ community as whole sat at 24%. But when looking at that same statistic solely within the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) LGBT+ community, it jumps to an alarming 34%. The vicious and extremely harmful campaign of hatred against the trans community in the media has dominated many headlines, and the lack of marriage equality in all parts of the United Kingdom show that there is still so much work to be done.
So what can we do, where do we start?
Firstly, we need to understand and acknowledge the intersectionality within our community. What is intersectionality? Think of it like this; being LGBT+ presents its own set of challenges that we must all face, but when you are also an ethnic minority woman with a disability – you have additional layers of challenges that other people in our community do not. We need to work to make sure that our own community is as inclusive and diverse as possible, to reflect all of the faces that make up our people. At Santander UK we are continuing our employee network efforts in 2018 on more collaborative events that showcase and support the intersectionality within our own work force.
Education is also a key element to increasing understanding and compassion within our society. Santander UK’s work with Diversity Role Models, which has a diverse range of speakers visit schools and share their stories with children, has been pivotal this year – and our colleagues have already positively affected so many young lives. These are kids that will grow up knowing that it’s ok to be LGBT+. They know that people from different ethnic backgrounds should not be seen as or treated differently. They know that all people should be treated with compassion. These kids will grow up and join companies that hold those same values, and the work that companies like Santander UK, and employee networks like Embrace do, is critical to our future growth.
And finally, representation is vital. Being able to look around me and see wonderful LGBT+ business and community leaders gives me a range of role models to learn from. Without these role models it becomes difficult to shape your path to success and the old adage often holds true, “You can’t be it if you can’t see it”. This year, the Embrace Network are launching a Role Models feature that will showcase our own LGBT+ talent within the bank and work to address this issue.
Helping to lead a network of passionate LGBT+ and straight allies within Santander UK has been one of the most rewarding and educational journeys I have ever embarked upon. Every day I am both amazed and humbled by all the hard work and dedication that our 2000+ members put in to ensure that Santander UK remains a great place to work. I was also extremely pleased to see that at Group level, we announced our support of the UN LGBTI standards of conduct for business, at Davos.
So for this LGBT+ History Month, I urge you all to take some time to learn about our community from a different perspective. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and then figure out how to help them fly.
Follow TJ at @TJRichardsAudio.
Follow the LGBTHM Series here.