Pride and Allyship: The Legacy of LGBT+ History on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
“I grew up in Northern Ireland. I know all about what happens when people don’t talk to each other. That’s what I’ve never understood: what’s the point of supporting gay rights but nobody’s else’s rights, you know? Or worker’s rights but not women’s rights? It’s… I don’t know, illogical”.(Pride, 2014)
Author: Dr Ellen Nicholls
As I reflect on this year’s theme for LGBT+ history month ‘Behind the Lens’, it is these powerful words from the character Mark Ashton in the 2014 film Pride that come to mind. Pride is a film that gives a platform to a small but significant part of LGBT+ history, the impact of which we are still benefitting from today. Written by Stephen Beresford and directed by Matthew Warchus, Pride tells the true story of the group LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) and their fight to help Welsh miners during the industrial action of 1984-5. Co-founded by Ashton, LGSM recognised that— like the LGBT+ community— miners were also experiencing hostility, prejudice, and sometimes violence at the hands of the police, government, and media. Beresford shows the immense resilience and determination of this group who, despite being on the sharp end of homophobia from some of the mining community in this film, cling to the strands that connect the two communities together to raise thousands of pounds in support of those who are sacrificing their wages and standing proud on the picket line.
Watching this in 2023, I am reminded how film (or any art form for that matter) can bring into relief the pertinence of historical moments to the here and now, making us sit up and understand the present with greater clarity. For me, Pride not onlyharnesses the emotional power of storytelling to connect us to our past, but also to show the necessity of connecting with those who may seem entirely different from us. It serves to highlight how the LGBT+ movement is historically and ideologically grounded in the idea of allyship and solidarity. While the LGBT+ acronym can sometimes feel a bit of a tongue twister to say out loud, what that acronym highlights is the coming together of many different and diverse identity groups towards a common cause of inclusion, representation, and equity. If you are a member of the LGBT+ community, I imagine you may feel this as deeply as I do. Because what I have felt while helping to organise LGBT+ history month is that I am doing so from the position of an active ally as much as I am from the perspective of a gay woman. I am a person who has benefitted from the support and allyship of others throughout history. Those who have advocated to give me an equality that I am determined to pass on, particularly to my trans and non-binary friends who often experience the same prejudice and vitriol that the miners received in the 1980s.
Standing on UCU’s picket line outside the main gates of campus, I am struck by how deeply the film Pride resonates with my own experiences championing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) at Loughborough University. The picket, for me, offers an opportunity to connect with others. Those who are like me. Those who are not like me. It is a place where I am determined to engage people, no matter what that engagement might look like. The supportive beep of a car horn. An apprehensive smile from a student, slightly unsure of how they should participate. The determination of some colleagues to look away no matter how friendly I am trying to be. Even the disgruntled cry ‘at least you have a job!’. I stand with colleagues who actively champion LGBT+ rights, women’s rights, and Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic rights in the workplace (for both students and staff). My team and I do this in my main role within the Student Success Academy. I work with colleagues to advocate for change and representation in my role as events lead in the LGBT+ staff network. And I stand with my fellow members of Loughborough UCU to achieve the same. Allyship underpins it all.
Yet here I stand during LGBT+ history month, missing the events I have spent months organising, watching colleagues awkwardly drive past me on the picket. I can’t help but feel a disquiet. A sense that despite efforts to avoid working in “illogical” silos, my various roles at Loughborough University are disconnected from one another. Beresford’s words echo through my mind:
“I know all about what happens when people don’t talk to each other. That’s what I’ve never understood: what’s the point of supporting gay rights but nobody’s else’s rights, you know? Or worker’s rights but not women’s rights? It’s… I don’t know, illogical.”
Pride offers a slightly more heroic version of what being on a picket line can feel like (it is mostly cold, chapped hands holding flyers and colleagues jumping from leg-to-leg trying to stay warm). But it captures a moment in history that is so crucial for the LGBT+ community. Because while the national union of miners ultimately lost their fight against Thatcher’s policies and Mark Ashton tragically lost his fight against HIV (dying at the age of just 26), the ending of this film reveals a massive victory for allyship in the EDI movement. The final moving scenes of Pride show how it was LGSM’s allyship of Welsh miners in the 1980s that lead to the inclusion of gay and lesbian rights on the labour party programme, due in part to a large vote from the nation union of miners.
So this history month, I am taking the opportunity of using TV and film as a way to remind me of how far we have come, how far we have to go, and how necessary it is to come together to defend that which was so hard fought for. And also to keep in mind the simple but warm words of the character Dai: “when you’re in a battle against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you, well to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well that’s the best feeling in the world”.
Pride. 2014. [Film]. Matthew Warchus. dir. United Kingdom: BBC films.
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Posts and articles from the Loughborough University LGBT+ staff network