This year marks the 30th anniversary of the foundation of Stonewall. The charity was formed in response to Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. The legislation dealt with the “prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material” and was backed by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government of the time.
The controversial clause effectively banned teachers from discussing same-sex relationships with their students. Libraries were also prohibited from stocking books that contained gay or lesbian themes. And local authorities were explicitly prevented from publishing “any material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”.
A small group of middle-class Londoners decided that this was unacceptable. They got together to fight the homophobic legislation. One founding member was Shakespearean actor Ian McKellen. He was deeply troubled by the new law. So much so, he came out publicly for the first time in order to lend his voice to the chorus of opposition.
30 years on, Stonewall is now the leading LGBT+ charity in the UK. It promotes “acceptance without exception” and works with institutions like the University of Essex to create inclusive cultures. With help and support from Stonewall, the University is helping LGBT+ students and staff lead authentic lives.
The not-for-profit organisation takes its name from the Stonewall riots that took place on June 28th, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan. At the time, this mafia-owned establishment was the only gay bar in New York City that allowed dancing. The riots were sparked by an early morning police raid that quickly got out of hand, leading to violence on the streets that lasted two days.
The Stonewall Riots are widely regarded as a pivotal turning point in the history of the gay liberation movement. They also paved the way for future improvements in LGBT+ rights in the United States and beyond.
In January of this year, the University broke into the top 100 employers in the country for equality, as measured by Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index. This achievement recognises the efforts taken to create an inclusive workplace for all. It also demonstrates our continuing commitment to LGBT+ equality. At Essex, we want everyone to feel part of our living and learning community. We believe that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity should never prevent them from achieving their full potential. As Stonewall say, “People perform better when they can be themselves.”
Earlier this week, we hosted the regional Stonewall Awards. As a prominent member of Stonewall in the Eastern region, we were delighted to organise and run this event. There were 445 submissions to the index this year, from 20 different work sectors. That’s a total of 3,721,121 employees!
The awards were presented by Yassine Senghor, who works as a Client Account Manager for Stonewall. Yassine also spoke to the assembled group about the importance of bi inclusion. Her presentation included information on understanding bi identities, biphobia and bi discrimination, and how to build bi inclusive workplaces.
See more photos from the event.
There were five awards given out during the event. Ally Supporters of the Year was won by Hertfordshire Partnership University Foundation Trust. Network Group of the Year was awarded to Hertfordshire Constabulary LGBT+ Network, Hertfordshire Constabulary (with special recognition given to Inspector Steven Alison). Senior Champion of the Year was won by Joanna Ruffle, Southend-On-Sea Borough Council. Role Model of the Year was awarded to Jon Tilley of Thurrock Council. And, last but not least, the University of Essex won the Top Regional Employer award.
We collected thoughts and ideas on LGBT+ inclusion at the event using a Rainbow Wall constructed out of 180 post-it notes.
Although we’re very pleased that the University won Top Regional Employer, we understand that there is always more to do.