From Brighton Pride to Sussex Pride

Brighton Pride is coming up this weekend. I heard some people on the train the other day saying that they didn’t think such events were needed any more because “gays have everything they need, especially in Brighton”. Although I was tempted, I didn’t interrupt, though I did disagree. Things have indeed changed a lot over the last twenty years, but they could easily change back if we get complacent and Brighton has its fair share of intolerance and bigotry still.

I was myself beaten up on Brighton’s seafront many years ago, during my previous existence at the University of Sussex as a PhD student and a postdoctoral researcher. There was no doubt why I was attacked: the four young men who surrounded me and punched and kicked me to the ground were shouting just one word over and over again, “faggot”. It’s still a word I hate to hear used, even if purportedly in jest. That event left me with deep psychological scars that contributed to a breakdown I had as recently as two years ago.

Thirty or so years after my encounter with the queerbashers, attitudes have definitely changed, and so has the law. Certain types of criminal offence are now officially recognized as hate crimes: the list treats sexual orientation as equivalent to race, gender, religious belief and disability in such matters. The Police are now obliged to treat these with due seriousness, and penalties for those found guilty of crimes exacerbated by homophobia are consequently more severe. All Police forces now have special units for dealing with them; here is an example.

These changes are mirrored in other aspects of life too. For example, employment law relating to discrimination or harassment in the workplace now puts sexual orientation on the same footing as race, gender, disability and religious belief. In many universities in the UK, staff have been required to attend training in Equality and Diversity matters not only to raise awareness of the legal framework under which we all have to work, but also to promote a sensitivity to these issues in order to improve the working environment for both staff and students. Now we have equal marriage too.

This training isn’t about over-zealous busybodies. Under the law, employers have a vicarious liability for the conduct of their staff with regard to harassment and discrimination. This means that a University can be sued if, for example, one of its employees commits harassment, and it can be shown that it did not make appropriate efforts to ensure its staff did not engage in such activities.

Of course not everyone approves of these changes. Some staff  have refused point-blank to attend Equality and Diversity training, even though it’s compulsory. Others attend grudgingly, muttering about “political correctness gone mad”. You may think all this is a bit heavy handed, but I can tell you it makes a real difference to the lives of people who, without this legal protection, would be victimised, harassed or discriminated against.  It is, also, the law.

I think the efforts that have been made to improve the legal situation have been (at least partly) responsible for the changes in society’s attitudes over the last twenty years, which have been extremely positive. I’m old enough to remember very different times. That’s not to say that there’s no bigotry any more. Even in this day and age, violent crimes against gay men are still disturbingly common and police attitudes not always helpful even though many police forces do now have Lesbian and Gay teams, something that was just unthinkable 25 years ago.

Although relatively few universities appear in the list of gay-friendly employers compiled by the campaigning organisation Stonewall,  my experience generally, having worked in a number of UK universities (Sussex, Queen Mary, Nottingham and Cardiff), is that they are  generally friendly and comfortable places for an openly gay person to work. So much so, in fact, that there’s no real need to make a big deal of one’s sexual identity. It doesn’t really have much to do with the way you do your work – certainly not if it’s astrophysics – and work-related social events are, as a rule, very inclusive.

However, even in the supposedly enlightened environment of a University there do remain islands of bigotry, and not just about gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender staff.  Sexism is a major problem, at least in science subjects, and will probably remain so until the gender balance improves, which it slowly doing, despite the actions of certain professors who actively block attempts to encourage more female applicants to permanent positions. Universities still do not seem to me to treat sexual orientation with the same seriousness as, say, race or gender discrimination. I’ve had plenty of experiences to back that up.

I recently took part in an interesting meeting involving various staff from the University of Sussex with a representative of Stonewall. The topic was how we could work with Stonewall to make it more gay-friendly. If I remember correctly, there are 78 UK Universities currently taking part in Stonewall’s programmes. It is a matter of some  embarrassment to me that the University of Sussex is not among them. Perhaps the attitude is that because there is such a large and visible gay population in Brighton it’s not necessary for the University of Sussex to take any steps in this direction. I disagree, and am absolutely convinced that there are many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender members of the University of Sussex staff who would love to see some action taken to make their workplace just a little bit friendlier and more inclusive, even if that just amounts to acknowledging their existence.  There is a visible and active LBGT student society on campus, but no such entity exists for staff – an absence that is truly glaring. I don’t even think the University has any idea what fraction of its staff identify themselves as LGBT.

No doubt there’ll be many members of the University of Sussex staff on the Pride Parade on Saturday and at the various parties being held around Brighton afterwards. Perhaps it’s time to start some sort of network so that for staff at the University of Sussex, Pride doesn’t just come once a year…?

If you’re interested in this idea please let me know, either through the comments box or by email.

13 Responses to “From Brighton Pride to Sussex Pride”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    I recall you saying here that the thugs who beat you up got away with it. Too bad – they should have been hunted down and locked up.

    I would add that I believe the same criteria should be applied to that assault as to any other. I disapprove of the notion of “hate crime”. Too often it leads to a loss of freedom of speech, which is all-important in a democracy.

    Were I on an Equality and Diversity course, I would simply ask the speaker: Do you think that the group you are talking about should be treated identically to persons not of that group? Re non-attendance at such courses, I suspect a major factor is time – the academic’s most valuable possession, and one that is forever being stolen.

    Speaking of Brighton, I trust you live more than 600ft from the base of this:


    The Evolving Block Universe and the Meshing Together of Times

    George F.R. Ellis

    Revisits the assumptions of reversibility, unitarity, dissipationless dynamics, etc.

    What a fantastically interesting paper! I take back previous negative comments.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      The real question for me ever since Einstein showed the relation between space and time is just how similar is time to space, and just how dissimilar; and why? Space is 3D (or speculatively higher), time is 1D. Time, unlike space, passes (or is perceived to pass), which is a serious enigma – and I don’t think it has anything to do with the thermodynamic arrow of time, as ET Jaynes showed (cutting through the obscurantism of Prigogine). I don’t trust the quantum principle, though, which Ellis invokes as fundamental – it can’t predict deterministically. A deterministic hidden variables theory is needed, and we now known (thanks conclusively to John Bell) that it must be nonlocal and acausal. Those are notions relating to space and time, which has to be a clue.

  3. LGBT is the standard acronym. Should it be more inclusive? What about LGBTP where P is for pansexual and/or polyamorous?

    At least in some quarters, there is opposition to this in the LGBT community since they want to defend the ground they have, with great difficulty, gained, playing into the hands of those who say that if polygamy is allowed today, tomorrow it will be pedophilia etc, i.e. exactly the same arguments used against homosexuality not that long ago.

    In many countries, polyamorous folks are in the same situation LGBT people were 20 or 30 years ago in the same countries: it’s not illegal, but is so far from being accepted that most people adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      The issue is that the pro-polygamy sector of the population is overwhelmingly Muslim, and the Islamic attitude to LGBT is not positive.

      • Both statements are probably true, at least in many places, including the UK. However, even in countries without a sizable Muslim population, I read LGBT and not LGBTP.

        Even so, should this be a reason to keep quiet? I would never consider shaving my beard only because certain groups (including certain Muslim ones) I don’t like also like beards. This road leads to nowhere. I’m not a vegetarian, but I’m happy that few if any people avoid vegetarianism because they don’t like Hitler and Hitler was a vegetarian.

        Of course, polyamourous people tend to differ from polygamous Muslims: the latter group has polygyny but not polyandry, limits the number of wives to 4, the relationships are somehow sanctioned by the community etc. There is really no danger of the former group being opposed by the latter, nor is there danger of the P in LGBTP being interpreted as support for Sharia law, since as you say the Muslim community is not sympathetic to LGBT at all.

      • being opposed by —> being confused with

  4. When I lived in Manchester five years ago, the same comments were made (‘Why do we need to bother with Pride weekend when we have all these bars and clubs and social groups?’).
    I admit, it’s annoying to wait 30 minutes to get served in the same pub you frequent all year round…but I realised that if you’re a young man from a small remote Lancashire town, then Pride is the one occasion when you are completely surrounded by friendly supportive people.

  5. Only slightly off-topic: After the conference I mentioned in another comment, I saw the film Pride in Oslo. One thing I don’t like about Germany is that most non-German films are shown dubbed (although most large cities have a couple of cinemas which show original versions, with or without subtitles), so I often go to the cinema when in Scandinavia. (The Netherlands doesn’t dub either, but insists on breaks of 15 or 20 minutes even in short films.) Highly recommended, even if (like me) you are neither gay nor a miner.

    A question to English readers here: Apparently the actor playing Mark is an American, but I couldn’t have told from the accent. Of course, Brits play Americans with the appropriate accent and vice versa, but it is often a “standard” accent or not completely convincing. What do you think about the quality of Mark’s accent?

    • telescoper Says:

      I haven’t seen it yet myself, but I’m told that many Americans are in fact capable of speaking reasonably fluent English.

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