So a while back I received an email from Neil Bellamy who works the University of Sunderland inviting me to be a keynote speaker at their #IDAHOBIT16 event and take part in a questions & answer panel very similar to the style of BBC’s question time where the audience can participate too. How could I refuse ? Yes I’m still extremely nervous about public speaking but what an honour to be asked to speak at a University. So on Monday 16th May I drove down to Sunderland and checked into the hotel provided by the University, Followed by a few gin & tonics to steady the nerves and hopefully stop my mind from over thinking what could go wrong at the event tomorrow.
The morning of the 17th soon arrived and I could not face breakfast but did manage the obligatory cup of tea before heading off to the University to meetup with Justine Gillespie & Neil who had proudly organised the event. I was shown the rooms where the event was to be held and Justine suggested we took a selfie together as you do.
The event started with Professor Julie Mennell Deputy Vice-Chancellor speaking & then before I knew it, It was my turn as I was introduced to everyone by Justine. My heart was pounding and as I looked up all I could think was that everyone was judging me. Stupid I know but no matter how many of these events I attend I always feel like this. Why do I do it you ask ? Well for one I lost my son 4 days before his 16th birthday so he never got the chance to live and I feel that I owe it to him by not shying away from things as I used to do before coming out. Also if I can help just one person by being visible and hopefully conveying the right message then all this fear will have been worth it.
I got a round of applause at the end of my speech & unknown to me Justine Gillespie asked everyone if they had any questions that they’d like to ask me. I had a slight panic wondering what they might ask and do you know what ? Nobody asked a thing to my surprise.
I was invited to sit at table with some lovely women who pointed out to me that the reason nobody asked a question was because what I had talked about was so powerful and nearly had them in tears. And that I wasn’t to feel upset because nobody asked anything.
Next up was Professor Catherine Donovan with her workshop titled “How to be an Active Bystander” which was fantastic & even little old me learnt something from this.
Up before lunch was our next keynote speaker Justine Gillespie with her speech titled “How to be an Ally in the workplace”. This was an amazing speech showcasing Justines & the Universities commitment to implementing new LGBT+ policies.
After this Drew Dalton told me that he had just done a television interview for Made in Tyne & Wear the local TV station and they were wondering if I would be happy to be interviewed. I nearly said no as what do I know? But hey ho I went for it and gave it my best shot regardless of how silly that i thought I sounded & looked.
After lunch it was time for the panel discussion with a very long title but here it is “Since the turn of the 21st century LGBT rights have increasingly strengthened in support.Some discrimination protections had existed for LGBT people since 1999, But were extended to all areas under the Equality Act 2010. With that in mind – Does Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia still exist in the workplace?”
This was hosted by Drew Dalton and included myself, Michael Young ( University of Sunderland Student ), James McKane ( Tyne & Wear Fire Service ), Louise Snowdon ( Professor Julie Mennells PA ) & Kathryn Robinson ( HR Manager at the University of Sunderland ).
Later we had a presentation by Professor Clarissa Smith titled “Queer Audiences of Pornography: Identity & Community?” which was actually quite interesting once she started to explain it in depth. She even made me childishly snigger once or twice too.
Then we had Drew Daltons presentation titled “Fear of the Queer” , This was my favourite presentation and really made me think differently about how we perceive LGBT+ issues in countries where it is not accepted and people are punished by death etc.
Then before I knew it Justine Gillespie was giving her closing remarks for the day and that was it, My first #IDAHOTBI absolutely amazing and I met so many inspirational people too. I feel proud to have been invited to such an event and at a University somewhere that I never thought I’d be.
Thank you everyone xoxo