Why Pride celebration is an educationby
Co-chair of PwC LGBTQ+ network Sophie Kershaw talks about what Pride means to her and how Pride marks the continuous cycle of LGBT+ education.
It can be easy to slip into the “Do we still need Pride?” mindset with the inspirational messaging and abundance of rainbow flags that now accompany the beginning of June. In reality, Pride month marks the Stonewall Riots in New York during June 1969: a protest against gay oppression.
We’re 50 years down the line and there are still 69 countries that criminalise homosexuality. Of course, in the UK we are lucky by comparison. However, there is still so much discrimination and prejudice towards LGBTQ+ people that manifests in surprisingly subtle and damaging ways, particularly for the transgender community. That’s why I tend to think of Pride as a milestone; you get to celebrate but are always conscious of further steps to be taken. So, with that in mind, Pride brings an opportunity for us all to learn more and this is essential for everyone.
I joined PwC’s Assurance graduate scheme in 2016, where I worked in external audit and studied towards the ACA, before moving into our Internal Audit practice upon qualification.
As a modern language graduate, when I first joined PwC I knew very little about accounting. I also didn’t know a lot about the world of LGBTQ+. In fact, I only learnt the terms ‘non-binary’ and ‘intersectionality’ over the past couple of years – in spite of having been an out and proud lesbian for ten years. Education has proven integral for me in understanding myself and those around me.
It was two years before I joined PwC’s LGBTQ+ network: Shine. From the outset I was encouraged to speak about my own experiences, voice any concerns and have open discussions about what more we can do for our community. I became a regional lead for the Midlands network and now I’m co-chair of our UK network, overseeing a membership of over 1,000 staff and allies.
My continued learning
Throughout this whole journey, I have never stopped learning about the multiple facets of LGBTQ+ and I am continuously surprised by some of the stories shared by our members. The network is evolving and we should be addressing the needs of our asexual, intersex and agender members. LGBTQ+ is not just allocation and apportionment of gay and transgender people into restricted boxes. Labels serve to validate and help people find their community – but outright rejecting them can also be liberating.
It can be really difficult these days to keep up with what you feel like you should know. A friend of mine set up a book club during the first lockdown, which evolved into a safe space to discuss inclusion and diversity themes featured in the books we voted on.
By learning about other identities and experiences, you also gain the knowledge you need to stand up for others.
LGBTQ+ in the workplace
Before undertaking all of this learning, I was blissfully unaware of some of the workplace challenges that LGBTQ+ people face. Over the past few years, I’ve genuinely grown to love the fact that I’m gay. I can’t pinpoint why, given that it doesn’t define me, but I imagine it is something to do with authenticity and a sense of belonging to a community.
Once, I gave my sexuality as my ‘interesting fact’ in a job interview before PwC, to which the director looked slightly shocked before responding “I like that”, and offering me the job. After years of cringing about that very moment, I now take it to symbolise success, because it was akin to an automatic acceptance to be yourself at work being granted.
Not everyone is as lucky in their coming out journey. Stonewall research shows that more than a third of LGBTQ+ staff (35%) have hidden their sexuality at work for fear of discrimination or a detrimental impact to their careers. To clarify, being out at work isn’t just donning a rainbow jumpsuit and announcing ‘I’m gay’ at every given opportunity - though never underestimate the power of a rainbow lanyard to symbolise acceptance.
Being out is being able to chat openly about your weekend away with your same-sex partner. It’s being entitled to date a woman one month and a man the next without implied greed or indecision. Being out is stating your preferred pronouns are ‘their/them’ and receiving respect, not derision.
Education within the LGBTQ+ community
It may be surprising to hear that within our own LGBTQ+ community, there are still issues with prejudices such as transphobia and racism. I’d like to believe that we’re all one big family, and that’s certainly how I feel at Pride parades, but it just doesn’t reflect the reality of what encompasses a multitude of identities.
I’ve encountered lesbians who dismiss bisexual women as not having full entitlement to the ‘gay scene’. There are stories where people of colour are not made to feel welcome at events. There is a lack of consideration in accommodating the needs of disabled members of our community.
Simply being gay or transgender doesn’t make you the oracle of all queer knowledge. We owe it to the rest of the acronym to make a welcome space.
What actions you can take to learn more
The LGBTQ+ community, like anything, is an ongoing journey that everyone can embrace.
- Ask questions. The majority of LGBTQ+ people are happy to answer well-intentioned questions. This is the most direct and accessible way to learn and break down stereotypes.
- Self-educate. Identify the area you want to learn more about and then read a book or watch a film from that perspective. I intentionally read ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernadine Evaristo to learn more about black, queer women. This is hands down my favourite book this year and proves that self-education is not a chore.
- Get involved with your workplace inclusion and diversity groups or attend their events. If you don’t have a D&I group, search LinkedIn for free events or even set up a group yourself.