A sincere thank you from Proud Scotland Awards 2022
Dear University of Edinburgh Staff Pride Network,
I am contacting you to say thank you for everything you have done over the past year to celebrate, support and promote the LGBTQ+ community.
As was stated during the awards ceremony, 2022 was probably the toughest year to select finalists and winners with over 1000 nominations being received and over 36000 votes being cast, all from the public. Although it was commiserations on the night his hopefully shows the amazing impact which you and your organisation is having within the community and how your actions have caused an individual to nominate you this year.
We strongly hope that you continue your amazing work and impact so that we will see you again at the Proud Scotland Awards 2023.
During the evening, you will be aware that we raised money to help support the delivery of Pride Edinburgh, https://prideedinburgh.co.uk/, and Glasgow’s Pride Mardi Gla, https://glapride.com/, and hope that we will see you showing your Pride, at either or both of the marches and events.
Again, from myself as the Chair of the Judging panel, congratulations on being a finalist in 2022 and thank you for being amazing!
We would like to share this wonderful diversity tip regarding an inclusive language setting in Outlook.
The setting in Outlook means you can enable checks for inclusive language when spell check runs for your emails.
Here is how to enable it:
In a new email, go to ‘Review’, then select ‘Spelling & Grammar’ (you might have to misspell a word in the body of your email to get the pop-up)
Select ‘Options…’ in the pop-up window
Select ‘Proofing’ from the left side menu, then enable ‘Mark grammar errors as you type’, then select ‘Settings…’ beside Writing Style
Under Inclusive Language (scroll almost to the bottom of the list), enable ‘Gender-Specific Language’, then select ‘OK’
Spellcheck will now run for inclusive language, see examples below…
Examples of the change:
In response to ‘Sex Matters’ letter
Dear Network Members,
You may have become aware of a letter by a collective of academics operating under the name ‘Sex Matters’ written to the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission demanding a “Reindorf Review” for the higher education sector. While we are once again loath to draw attention to these beliefs, we also recognise that silence does not make our position clear to those in our community most affected by these beliefs and the ways in which these beliefs are expressed. This statement is to reinforce our solidarity to those affected and that we will continue to work in ways which support our trans and non-binary colleagues and students.
This letter paints a very biased view of the current situation regarding academic freedom in UK Higher Education institutions and depicts those academics who share ‘gender critical’ beliefs as victims of ‘trans rights activists’. There is no reflection on why students and staff might feel motivated to protest those academics actively promoting their ‘gender critical’ beliefs and a failure to acknowledge the harms experienced by the trans and non-binary members of these communities as a consequence of discriminatory expressions of these beliefs. For clarity, the Staff Pride Network committee would like to make it known that we do not endorse this viewpoint of the situation. It is clear to us how harmful ‘gender critical’ beliefs are to the trans and non-binary members of our community, and that reductive, biologically essentialist attitudes towards sex are also damaging to everyone. No-one thrives if they are forced to adopt an identity based on binary sex characteristics, while trans and non-binary members of our community are especially and significantly harmed by this.
The letter claims that the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme promotes misleading information about the Equality Act which is simply false. It also criticises Athena SWAN for encouraging HEIs to monitor gender and not sex. We support the monitoring of gender and of gender diversity in our institutions because it is far more realistic to learn about how our staff live their lives and how they move through the world as their lived gender identities rather than forcing staff to select a binary sex characteristic that may be wholly inaccurate and may force trans and non-binary members of staff to disclose sensitive private information about their gender history.
We make no disagreement with the notion that a distinction can be made between sex and gender. Biological sex is a complex combination of anatomy, hormones and chromosomes that can result in a variety of sex characteristics in the human population. Gender is also a complex combination of the ways in which we experience and present our identities in a multi-gendered world. We reject the characterisation in the letter that there are UK Universities that impose a ‘radical gender orthodoxy’. This appears to be an attempt to stigmatise those who do not conform to an antiquated belief system that promotes a binary understanding of sex. We also recognise that sex is a protected characteristic. The guidance around the Equality Act as to how sex is determined is broad, it does not provide a precise definition of sex and it does not specify that sex is rooted in ‘biological sex’.
We are concerned to note the names of 28 current and former University of Edinburgh staff as signatories of this letter, many of whom have a significant platform (through lectures, publications and other opportunities) to share ‘gender critical’ beliefs. While we recognise the freedom of those individuals to hold and express these beliefs, they should recognise that exercising freedom does have implications for other people, and that just as they are free to hold and express their beliefs, others are free to counter-argue or take other lawful action (such as protesting) in response. In particular, however, it is right to recognise that no one is free to express their beliefs, or their disagreement with others’ beliefs, in ways that are abusive or discriminatory. Members of our network have been deeply disturbed by this letter, as well as members of the student community. We extend our solidarity to those affected and will continue to work in ways which support our trans and non-binary colleagues and students.
We hope that one day all staff and students are able to go about their lives feeling safe, respected and without harassment.
The Staff Pride Network Committee
LGBTQ+ champion wins Royal Society of Edinburgh medal
Scientific pioneers recognised
In October, the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), Scotland’s National Academy, announced the six winners of its highly prestigious medals.
The RSE medals recognise exceptional achievement in science, academia and public engagement.
University of Edinburgh LGBT+ champion awarded medal
Dr Luke Graham Boulter, of the MRC Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, was awarded the RSE Patrick Neill Medal.
Dr Boulter received the award for his discovery of a number of processes that are required for cancers to develop during chronic disease, and his identification of a series of therapeutically targetable signals that cancers use to grow.
Being awarded the Patrick Neill medal from the Royal Society of Edinburgh is a real honour and I am delighted to see such a prestigious organisation celebrating and supporting the LGBTQ+ community in science”.
Dr Luke Boulter
Dr Boulter’s LGBTQ+ work
Dr Boulter is also an active champion of LGBTQ+ diversity in medicine and science and is a member of the Royal Society Diversity Committee.
How can scientists be great allies for their LGBT+ colleagues?
“Just treat them like people. Recognising diversity gives you better results and better science. LGBT+ people have a different perspective and those experiences are important. Just embrace that and enjoy the diversity.”
Looking back, what advice or words of encouragement would you give to your younger self, or to aspiring LGBT+ scientists?
“I would say to my younger self: be proud of who are you and be comfortable with who you are because it’s OK.
To other young LGBT+ scientists: I would say that this is a great career- you will discover things about yourself and the world that no one else knows.
So be a scientist – it’s inclusive, it’s friendly and you can be who you want to be here.”
Other RSE award winners
The other winners of this year’s RSE medals are:
RSE Royal Medal: Professor Peter Kennedy of the Institute of Infection Immunity and Inflammation at the University of Glasgow
RSE Lord Kelvin Medal: Professor Alan William Hood of St Andrews University
RSE Sir James Black Medal: Professor Ian David Duncan of the University of Wisconsin-Madison
RSE Innovator’s Prize for Public Engagement: Dr Paul O’Mahoney, a Post-Doctoral Research Assistant working within the Photobiology Unit at Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital
RSE Senior Prize for Public Engagement: Professor Niamh Nic Daéid, Director of The University of Dundee’s Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science
This year’s medallists have all made truly exceptional contributions to their own field of science. This year’s recipients join a small but brilliant group of pioneers that have been advancing learning and knowledge since the RSE’s Royal Charter was awarded in 1783.
Scotland can be proud that such a cohort of brilliant talent, making a vast difference to lives all over the world, can be found within our small nation.
While many students may never venture south of the Meadows to the King’s Buildings, some might say that the same inequalities in academia persist or are even greater on Edinburgh University’s second biggest campus. In this interview with Rosalyn Pearson, a 3rd year PhD student in the School of Physics and Astronomy, I discuss what it’s like to be a non-binary woman in a department comprised of (almost) solely cisgender heterosexual white men.
By Justin White
Justin: Hi Rosalyn! Thanks so much for meeting with me. Please introduce yourself.
Rosalyn: Yea of course! I’m a 3rd year PhD student in Particle Theory, and the Postgrad Rep on the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion panel, I’ve been a tutor for Gauge Theory, Quantum Field Theory, and Problem Solving in Theoretical Physics, which are all master’s courses. I enjoy doing dancing and performing with the Edinburgh Bhangra Crew, which is an Indian folk dance, and I’ve also taken up Olympic weightlifting but that isn’t happening much in lockdown of course.
R: It’s work in progress: you start very bad and you get a little bit better. I also like going for walks and climbing trees and stuff, I’m trying to do a bit more of that now.
J: As a child I always climbed trees, my parents would always have to get me down. *laughs*
R: My parents got upset at me because I would climb trees with a broken arm!
J: All that aside, when did you become postgrad rep for the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) committee?
R: Only about a year ago, so I had a friend in the group, Izzy, who was the previous postgrad rep, so when she left, she sent an email asking people to take over, and Andres and I were both interested so we both became postgrad rep.
J: What could you suggest the EDI committee should do to encourage EDI across the School?
R: EDI has a lot of aspects to it. I’ve noticed there’s a lot of focus on the Athena Swan Award, which is a good thing, but that is only one facet of a lot of stuff that could be done, and it’s not something that people see the results of that easily when they’re students in the school.
For those that don’t know, the Athena Swan is an award established and managed by Advance HE (previously the Equality Challenge Unit) that recognises and celebrates good practices in higher education and research institutions towards the advancement of gender equality: representation, progression and success for all staff.
“On a basic level we need to have more frequent social events across non-academic and academic staff and students to try and build a sense of community and inclusion and have a better communal space for that.”
J: I was asking this because if you If you could change one thing about the James Clerk Maxwell Building (JCMB), would it be something along these lines?
R: If I were to change one thing, the JCMB has a problem architecturally. It should have a big canteen or communal space where the food is cheap and people want to go there, and everyone would go there. There’s this problem that there’re these little floors and corridors and little nooks and crannies and there’s no communal area. We have the Magnet Café inside but it’s crap because there isn’t enough space for everyone. There’s no diverse and cheap food option. We just need a space where people have the ability to meet each other and talk.
But then again where are you going to put a canteen in JCMB?
Rosalyn and I then changed topics to talk about her research in the School of Physics and Astronomy, and what it’s like to be a non-binary woman in a department full of cis-men.
J: Would it be alright if we talked about your research a bit? Could you explain your research so a fresher could understand it?
R: Basically, I am looking at the internal structure of protons. We use quantum field theory to try and explain particle physics, but the internal structure of a proton is something we can’t explain using current perturbative techniques because the dynamics are just so complicated.
When you collide protons, like at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), you don’t know what parton (part of the proton) in one is interacting with what parton in the other and we bridge the gulf between the parton level and proton level using parton distribution functions which tell you, ‘what’s the probability in this collision that there will be a certain parton with a certain momentum that will do the interacting in each proton’.
J: In essence, this goes along with the idea of creating a new form of physics that goes past the standard model, is that what the future holds for your research?
The weird thing about particle physics is that you have the standard model that holds up to extremely high levels of precision in a lot of ways but there are many indications that it isn’t quite complete. There’s neutrinos and dark matter and dark energy and all this messed up stuff that doesn’t fit!
“I would describe it as the black swan analogy. In European science in the Middle Ages they only thought there were white swans because every time they looked at a swan it was a white swan. But then they went to Australia and found a black swan. So, there are black swans, they just don’t live in Europe. The black swans are what the new physics is trying to find [without the colonisation].”
J: This is all well and good and you seem to be enjoying your research…
R: …well a PhD has been a bit of mental struggle because of the imposter syndrome which makes it hard day to day.
J: I’m sorry to hear that. You talk about imposter syndrome now but before your PhD, were there any barriers to your entry into the School?
R: There haven’t been any formal barriers that I’ve experienced, but I did a [UG] degree that was in natural sciences not just physics.
I told my director of studies that I wanted to do Physics in the second year, and he was like ‘no, you should definitely do geology, that’s your path’.
I think that was a barrier because a lot of the time throughout my UG degree I just felt like dropping physics and feeling like I couldn’t do it, and a lot of that was perpetuated by me being a woman. I didn’t want to be the only woman that was really, really, bad.
“I wanted to be bad because I was bad, not bad because I was a woman, and that’s something I still have a problem with.”
J: Do you feel like there was a pressure that if you were a woman in physics you couldn’t just be okay, you had to be this role model for all women?
R: A lot of people feel like that – you have to prove yourself a bit more because you don’t want to let other people down. That was a barrier because I felt like dropping physics on and off for a long time. I have experienced this issue in my PhD as well because it’s very male dominated [and]…you just feel like everyone is viewing you in this context of being a minority.
J: The fact that you pass as a woman is always attached to the things you say, and people are always going to interpret you differently…
Rosalyn then goes into a personal experience in relation to this statement, which she wished to be redacted from the final interview.
J: Would you say then the School has a bias against women that still needs to be broken down? How could the School better answer to the needs of women scientists?
R: I think it’s difficult because my department has a particular issue with there not being many women. I don’t think I’ve really experienced any direct sexism from male academics, but rather it comes from an environment that is not diverse, and it’s not just in terms of men/women ratio. There are few visible LGBT+ members or ethnic minorities. People [just] want a sense of community.
Rosalyn and I switched conversation here to recognise our privilege in being in such a position.
R: I would like to emphasise here that I am non-male, but I fit in perfectly with the demographic of particle physics students, I’m white, come from an affluent background, I did my UG at Cambridge were half the department came from, and yet I have had a such an intense feeling of alienation. And I don’t know what it must be like if you come from other backgrounds – it must be horrendous.
“To feel like a minority here as a white non-male really demonstrates how un-diverse the School is.”
J: I couldn’t agree more. As a final comment on this, would you have any advice you might give a first year, or someone that wants to onto a PhD who could experience the same things you did?
R: Realise that if you are doubting yourself and thinking you’re too stupid and not good enough to do a PhD then that is a really normal thing to think. You are often around a lot of people who try and sound like they’re confident and know loads of stuff and they’ll try and put you down with these mind games.
A lot of these people are just flouting their long words to sound clever. They are just trying to appear brash and confident, and it’s really easy for someone to do that if they feel entitled to do that and come from a history of privilege.
The whole way through when I have met PhD interview candidates that are worried, as soon as you start saying ‘don’t worry, I have no idea what I’m doing, I feel like a complete moron’ they’ll be like ‘oh my god thank goodness it’s not just me’, and there are so many people out there that think that. I barely believe in myself, but I’ve gotten a lot better at just trusting myself, if they’ve taken you onto the PhD programme then you deserve to be there. We need to feel more honest and have a change in attitude about what you do or don’t know.
J: I think that’s really important, because I’ve definitely been there as an UG student and I don’t even know what I’m doing half the time *laughs*.
R: The other thing is make sure you have a good life outside your PhD. It’s not worth sacrificing being happy to do PhD work. At the end of the day you need to work to earn the money to live so it’s good to do work that you enjoy, but your life is the most important thing to focus on.
J: That’s really important for everyone, not just PhD students but academic and non-academic staff and even students.
In our final part of the interview, we switched topics to talk about Rosalyn’s identity and belonging in the LGBT+ community.
J: You said you self-identified as non-binary, do you feel like you have anything to say about LGBT+ issues?
R: I’ve always been on the fringe of LGBT+ because I’ve never felt that confident.
“At the start of my UG, I would say I was genderfluid and in a more masculine time than I was now. I felt the trans community was a bit ostracised in the LGBT+ group there. They didn’t really fit in, and I was massively questioning everything, so I didn’t even really feel like I fitted in.”
I’ve always felt reluctant to engage with that community so much. I identify with it still even though I haven’t been that involved, if I feel if there was somewhere really encouraged, I would have gone to that.
But I have noticed people wearing these rainbow lanyards, that got introduced at some point, I thought that was really nice. That gives you a little boost, like ‘oh that’s nice, that’s friendly.’ It creates a nice atmosphere that is accepting.
It’s nothing big and promotes the idea of an accepting atmosphere, in contradiction to the department which is kind of strait-laced and where people wouldn’t talk about emotional matters, which I struggled with big time.
J: Change is slow moving and it can be disheartening at times. Small things can make a big difference, like staff wearing the lanyards as you said. Although there is a fine line between performative activism and actual change, is there something else you’d like to see?
R: Pronouns! When people do that that’s really nice. If we could encourage more people to do it that would be good.
J: And I mean it’s so simple… That brings us to the end of our interview, if you have anything else to add you can always email it over to me!
R: Thanks for having me, see you at our next meeting!
About this interview
This interview was conducted by Justin White as part of an initiative by the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee in the School of Physics and Astronomy to highlight the research and experiences of staff and students of underrepresented communities, and was published with the written permission of the School, Interviewee, and Interviewer. Check out all the EDI interviews.
I joined QMU last year, but was disappointed that there was no LGBT+ Staff Network. I learned that the previous network fizzled out several years ago, but after speaking with colleagues, we decided to revive it.
We have around 10 members, including one person who is not queer themselves, but is the parent of a queer person. We’ve only met once in person, but have been holding monthly lunchtime videocalls since March.
We’ve now got an email address- LGBTStaff@qmu.ac.uk, Twitter @QMULGBTStaff and an Instagram @QMULGBTStaff of which you are most welcome to follow/contact us through, though these are very bare-bones at the moment. We are working on getting a rainbow logo and webpage set up.
Looking forward to meeting you at some point in the future!
STEM Equals is a four-year research and impact project focused on creating more inclusive STEM communities for women and LGBT+ people in both academia and in industry.
Through an intersectional lens, the project examines working cultures within higher education and industry to understand specific challenges and to develop new initiatives to address systemic inequalities.
The project is funded by EPSRC with matched funding from the University of Strathclyde. The project industry partner is BAM Nuttall Ltd.
We know that the ongoing crisis is proving particularly difficult for members of our community. If you are having trouble getting access to food here is a list of Trussel Trust foodbanks where you can collect food (and for those of us who are doing better, we can donate) https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank
Edinburgh Trans Women have moved their monthly meeting for all trans women at whatever stage of their transition to Zoom. You can contact them if you would like to join at email@example.com
LGBT+ Network of Networks in Higher Education’s Networks Got Talent Showcase: Derek’s Entry
The LGBT+ Network of Networks in Higher Education (@LGBTNoNHE) have an initiative to showcase the talents and skills of members, and to bring joy to LGBT+ communities during the current testing time. LGBT+ individuals are more likely to live alone or may not situate in an inclusive domestic environment. #NetworksGotTalent
Enjoy the talents of Staff Pride Network Meeting Secretary Derek Williams and his improvisation on piano of The Village People’s YMCA and Macho Man. Check out his own Derek Williams YouTube channel for much more. We hope this brings a smile to your face while we all do our best in isolation and socially distancing.
Staff Pride Network Event: Lavender Menace LGBT+ Book Archive
Forty years ago, when Lavender Menace Bookshop opened, positive depictions of LGBT+ people in books were rare. One lesbian pulp novel of the 1950s was called Women in the Shadows. There were similar shadows over all queer people in print and film. And legal censorship was alive and well in the 1980s. It simply had to be more focussed than before, as with Section 28.
Today our lives can be explored straightforwardly in fiction and non-fiction – but how did the change come? It was mainly LGBT+ writers and presses, along with radical bookshops and book distributors, who took the risk and opened the door. Their success surprised everyone and gave a lead which others followed.
But now many of the original LGBT+ and feminist presses have closed and well-known books have been forgotten. Lavender Menace Returns hopes to create an archive and database of the material we knew best. They want to also include LGBT+ writing of today to form one body of work telling the story of our community – and our demand for equality and honesty.