Angry and Sad

My employer announced very recently in a very public forum that they were going to be disconnecting from Stonewall as they developed their own in-house EDI leadership. This immediately set off a storm of homophobic and transphobic abuse and crowing on social media, which was made all the worse because this was the first that the various staff support networks had heard of it. Needless to say there are a lot of hurt and upset people, and a large number of very vocal and passionate meetings are being held. Others are better placed to have those arguments about how to proceed, so a colleague and I who are part of one of those networks have been reaching out to people in our service who were at the meeting to offer support and to offer confidential support to those who are not comfortable speaking publicly.

As with most things like this, the decision lies in the complicated crux of politics and business logic, but damningly it seems to have been done with a naivete about the message being sent to the wider world, and to the staff who had in recent years been beginning to trust their employer. I have at times been fighting back tears of incoherent rage both for my sake, and on behalf of the people I manage and work alongside faced with the enormity of the hate that this move has enabled, and I and my colleague are carefully monitoring and offering support to each other – and thankfully are being in turn supported by both our management and the people we work with. That has been the saving grace I think in the last couple of days – that the overwhelming majority of people in the service are supportive of the whole LGBTQ+ community and are equally shocked by this move – especially so soon after Pride.

There’s a lot of processing and pointed awkward questions now going on; and there has at least been a recognition of the hurt caused and an understanding of just how badly this has gone. That doesn’t erase it, but it does give us somewhere to start in working out where we move on from this point.

I am saddened, and the black dog has been barking loudly in response to all this, but tomorrow is nearly here, and there’s work to be done. As ever I am minded of the question: If you don’t move to work on this, when who else will? Representation isn’t just for the nice things in life, and I’ve got my sleeves rolled up.

No Rest For the Wicked

I’ve just spent the last couple of days compiling my first article for the Surrey History Centre, and it is centred around our experiences as a polycule, banding together in the face of the first lockdown. It seemed appropriate with the news of the emergent omicron variant to reflect on how we got through the early days, and supported each other. It’s a couple of thousand words – about four sheets of A4 if you’re trying to picture it – and is a whistle-stop tour of how Discord and social media became a way of making our own virtual bubble even while apart.

Of all the things I might have expected to come of it all though, I don’t think I really expected to be as forthright when talking to strangers about things as I am now. I’ve always been more of a people watcher when in new surroundings. I tend to open up and gather my storytelling largesse once I know who I’m talking to instead – or at least to waffle as a smokescreen. I’m under no illusions that part of that is a trauma response gathering and redirecting attention where I want it to be, but I digress. A large part of living with, loving, and knowing the people I do has been accepting that I need to speak up and educate where needed – and sometimes that’s in the strangest places.

This weekend, that turned out to be in the back of an Uber with a very talkative driver from Sri Lanka as I made my way to catch up with the folks at the Excel. Over the course of our meandering journey, we exchanged elements of our life stories and then I started to talk about my extended found family. I challenged his expectations about sexuality, trans people, and relationships based on my own experiences and the tales I’ve had shared with me – and delightfully he was curious rather than hostile, listened and learned. While he didn’t totally understand, he was able to ask questions that weren’t insulting.

Even maybe six months ago I wouldn’t have credited myself to have the courage or wits to engage in this way with someone, let alone a cab driver, and especially not about matters of sexuality or my own personal life. This may come as a surprise to some, given my penchant for speaking up or about things without any apparent concern – but that’s something I’ve been practicing hard at over recent years – overcoming my natural reticence. What was different this time was that, other than a brief pause to mentally shuffle the cards in the right order to provide context, I didn’t feel any concern. If anything I mentally rolled my eyes at having to explain my situation to round out the statement and challenge I was about to make.

Thankfully years of counselling and the various counselling-adjacent training I’ve had have helped me marshal points succinctly and retain some distance mentally while engaging in these conversations. Far more important in getting to this point though has been the hours and hours of no holds barred conversations we’ve had among ourselves in the DDC and among our friends circles. I wasn’t so much regurgitating points previously discussed as being able to be mindful of nuance that might not necessarily be obvious.

We ended our journey amicably, even though I’m sure there are a few new grey hairs in my beard after some of the more erratic driving manoeuvres we did in Central London – and he learned a new phrase: “having an inquisitive mind”

Coming at the end of a fourteen hour day though, I was glad to stumble out of the car and into the arms of my loved ones. I was wondering if I would actually get any reset this weekend.

Finding Inclusion

The cub started at his new school this week amid worries in his side, and bemusement on ours. For the most part this has been in boy s realising that the locals are a lot more accepting when it comes to lgbtq people and lives than where he has been living.

Most notably this week has been our interactions with the new school, where boy s and I were accepted as the cub’s parents and then explaining that Lady M was part of our triad – and might therefore also be an adult picking cub up or dropping him off barely rated a reaction at all.

Misgendering has been minimal, and very swiftly and appropriately corrected – and then stuck to and communicated to other staff. The local corner shop owner, no stranger to the many school children and their families, was similarly accepting.

To boy s this has been a stark contrast to what he has grown up with and faced over the years, so I’m finding it both heartaching and wonderful to see and hear his astonished reactions. It gives me hope and irritates me in equal measure that an hour and a half’s travel seems to have also leapt him forward about thirty years culturally.

The Good, The Bad…

Another busy couple of days, largely based around personnel and hiring issues and processes, and it does feel like progress of sorts. The boy s has started his new job too and is, predictably, exhausted from the step change in physical activity that comes with it.

What seems to have been a consistent element in our collective week has been conversations around pronouns in and around our respective work places. Both myself and Lady M are among those championing the wider placement of pronouns in online and physical spaces.

Explaining why I wear a pronouns badge and put them in my email signature and Teams profile is another aspect of my drive to be visible and normalising their use, as well as a statement in support for those who may not feel safe or able to express their real selves at this time.

The real delight this week has been hearing how boy s’ new workplace has so actively championed this since reopening post-covid and the supportive and open feel that his workplace has as a result. This has proved especially important in the face of aggressive and malicious misgendering that he has faced from members of the public and that has been both draining and dispiriting for him.

This maliciousness is something I’ve experienced for myself in response to pronoun use, but as I’m cis I can’t even begin to feel the depths of how nasty and abusive this is for trans people. Seeing and hearing the hurt and exhaustion experienced by boy s is very difficult, makes me angry, and makes me more determined than ever to support friends, partners, and anyone else that needs it.

Thoughts On The Weekend

I think the most vivid memory of Pride this year has been how many young families and indeed young people were visible and active in the Parade. The streets were lined with people of all ages as you might expect, but it was the youthful contingent that stood out for me – happy and vibrant no matter the waiting or the weather.

There was… a sense of opportunity to raise the roof. I’m glad I was there.

Well, That Was Amazing

Somehow we managed to get not only the polycule but some friends and acquaintances all together at Pride In Surrey in Godalming yesterday. What a day!

I made sure to find appropriate flags, a Pride gamers tshirt, and went to town on the beard with coloured hairspray to match the bi-flag. I got a lot of compliments, and I thanked my stars for the experience of creating my Obadiah Stane cosplay and the beard dyeing required for that.

We had to get there early as I was in the Parade, so we split and arranged a meetup point for later. I eventually found the way to the assembly area, chatting with various random people along the way. It wasn’t the most precise staging and organisation in the world but it felt appropriately anarchic for Pride’s origins – and soon enough we were winding our way up along Godalming’s High Street

It was my first Parade, and it felt good to be in good company and an atmosphere mixing joy, protest, and representation. Surrounded by work colleagues, associated organisations, and family groups, we brought colour and noise and cheering to a normally very sleepy small Surrey town.

What was heartwarming was the support along the high street from families and businesses alike. People of all ages and backgrounds wanting to see what was going on, and cheering along. It was all a very strange, as in unfamiliar, experience – and one that I want to be part of again – with extra performance next time.

Even slightly grey and misty weather didn’t dampen anyone’s mood, and in the polycule we spent a good few hours taking turns to venture out in small groups from our blankets and bags base to explore and meet people.

We may have bought more gin.

What was also wonderful was that there was a quiet section set away for young families which included stalls for support services and advice on health. The library was well represented, as were a number of other areas of both the County and Local Government organisations, staffed by volunteers.

I’d love to see more participation by other areas and teams, so I plan to advocate for that for next time – even off duty my brain keeps looking for improvements.

Long day short, a great day, especially coming out the other side of lockdown and pandemic, and especially with so many other Pride events cancelled. As I said to one of our Councillors: its a good start.

Pride Prep

I’ve been banned from putting glitter in my beard for Saturday. I’m in the Parade on Saturday so I was heard to opine at work that I needed to decide on an outfit.

Glitter was mentioned. I teased boy s with that when I got home and saw a look of horror on his face that would have made Munch reach for a new canvas. And so, with a joke about glitter being the herpes of the craft world, that idea was nixed.

I may wander to Partica in my lunchbreak and see what they have in the way of hair spray colours instead.

A little Change

In my post a few days ago about my Equalities Journey, I talked about the amazing trans man in my life and I realised that for some if you it may not be immediately obvious who I’m talking for about. Given that I’m polyamorous it may even have seemed a possibility that it was announcing someone new.

I was in fact talking about myr s, who has been socially transitioning over the last year. During this time, by his request, I’ve been using gender-neutral terms on the blog to talk about him and this was in part because there were people to whom he had not felt able to talk to about things.

This changed last week, and so while asking if he minded my referring to him in the Equalities blog posts at work and here, we also talked about evolving his title here as well. With his being my sub, we felt that the usual Sir or Lord that I tend to use would not feel right and he wanted to keep the lack of capitalisation as well.

So as of today, may I introduce you to boy s, and what a relief it is to be catching up here with how we talk to him in the real world.

As a cosplayer, there may be a temptation at some point to do a dad-bod Kratos just so I can shout “boy!” across a crowded hall…

My Equalities Journey

I mentioned a few days ago about a blog entry I did at work ahead of Surrey Pride, and thought I would reproduce it here as its a piece of writing I’m proud of – both for its message and for the impact it has had at work:

The summer has been and seemingly gone in a flash, but despite the disruptions to all our lives under the pandemic the spirit of celebration so intrinsic to our wellbeing is alive and well. Pride Month saw colour and life splashed everywhere this year – and yet we were still constrained by the need to look out for each other, so marches and celebrations were delayed until a little later.

Well, that later is now here, and Surrey Pride is being celebrated on Saturday 25 September in glorious Godalming. Representatives of SCC will join charities and local groups in an explosion of positivity and joy, demonstrating the vibrant lives and history in Surrey of the LGBTQIA+ community. Struggles past, present, and future are acknowledged through the day in offers of support, representation, and a celebration of our ability to live freely as our genuine selves. For some it’s a path they’ve trod for years, for others it’s an exploration that is only just beginning.

My journey through various local authorities has always had a focus in some way, shape, or form on equality and diversity. It has been part of the pleasure of working in our environment. It has evolved with different roles and the language of different decades from being a customer-focused approach in libraries; to undertaking impact assessments on projects and policies as a project manager and senior officer, and then back again to different levels of operating back with the library service as I re-joined it nearly nine years ago.

The two streams of my journey, especially in recent years, have been the intertwined demands of the personal and the professional aspects of my life and how EDI has both informed and shone light on the changes and challenges in both areas.

On the personal side has been my own changing self-awareness and the ups and downs of coming out as a bisexual and polyamorous man to friends, family, and co-workers. My life continues to grow and evolve as I meet and talk to an amazing array of people in my widening and changing personal and professional networks in ways that I couldn’t imagine even a handful of years ago. I am in a relationship with an amazing trans man, whose humour, bravery, and frustrations have cast new light on things that I took for granted. He has made me look again at my assumptions and privileges, and that in turn has given me the strength to stand up for and represent the people around me with renewed passion and love.

On the professional side has been the shift from embedding a passion for equality and diversity in delivering customer services – to provide the best possible outcomes for anyone entering the library or using its services – to then providing leadership and promotion within branches as a manager. From there it grew and now I am an exemplar and champion of EDI within my group of libraries both in my own right and as part of the LGBTQ+ Staff Network. As a newly appointed Group Manager, it is even more important to me to uplift and inspire the managers who work for me to lead and promote equalities, diversity, and inclusion in the services that we provide and the staff and public with whom we work.

Some of my greatest joys have come from the recognition that my being out and visible has given other people inspiration and reassurance in their own lives. From staff to customers, partners and friends, there have been quiet affirmations and moments of challenge and reflection – all of which are brought back into conversation and debate and the direction of efforts to be better in how I work to uplift, educate, inform, and celebrate the richness of the lives upon which I have an impact.

Times are tough, but things can always improve. Things will get better. Nobody has all the answers, but if we keep talking and listening – and challenging – we can keep moving towards making things better – not just for ourselves but with and for everyone.

Pride is about support and visibility, and here at Surrey County Council we are as much part of that as anyone else. Our diverse staff is drawn from all the communities who live and work here. The SCC LGBTQ+ Staff Network will be attending the march, representing our staff and families, and will have stalls in the event itself.

If you have any questions around the event – or indeed anything else – then please get in touch. Whether it’s a personal issue, or advice for yourself or your staff, we’ll listen and answer. Together we are all stronger.