Supporting Pride Month at the Wellcome Genome Campus

Pride Month is celebrated in June every year across the world. Without marches, parades or parties, 2020 will look very different, but organisations are working to mark Pride and raise awareness of issues facing the LGBTQ+ community. This year at the Wellcome Genome Campus, we are celebrating with virtual events, and we are pleased to have joined the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme. We share Stonewall’s core belief in the power of a workplace that is equal.

We spoke to two members of the Wellcome Genome Campus LGBTQ Network about what it’s like to work in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) as an LGBTQ+ person, and the important role employers play in supporting staff.

What issues do you think face LGBTQ+ people in the workplace, and in science?

Sean Laidlaw is a bioinformatician in the Cancer, Aging and Somatic Mutation Programme: “I think the problem faced by a lot of LGBT people in the workplace, in general, being able to feel they can be open. People may feel they won’t be accepted if it was known they were LGBT. Some people may hide their identity at work, or maybe their employers have a certain way of speaking that makes it appear they think that sexuality or identity is purely a part of someone’s personal life and shouldn’t be discussed at all at work. Many small things can come into play and make someone uncomfortable. I think in academia, when there are issues around work life balance already, these could be magnified.

“I think for people to be fulfilled in science they need to feel that they can be completely open and talk to their colleagues about big events in their life – whether that’s something personal or professional.

“The Sanger Institute is the best place I’ve worked, in terms of those things. That’s why I got involved in the LGBT+ network on Campus. Nowhere else I’ve worked has had this kind of network, backed by their employer. We have budget, administration support, and visibility across the organisation. I hope that when I go to other labs, I can replicate what we have here.”

Lee Outhwaite is Head Gardener at the Wellcome Genome Campus: “My experiences on site have been fantastic. It’s rare for someone to transition while in the same role, usually they would change jobs in between. I had no doubts that this was the right place to do it. Everyone’s journey is different. I was very confident in my transition journey, but that is not always the case for others. Some may not go down the route of making physical changes at all. Managers need to look at each case individually and appreciate that it is different for everyone.

“I also think that access to gender neutral toilets is very important, especially for somewhere that hosts conferences and events for young people. If you have not made a physical transition, it can make you feel uncomfortable to use some types of facilities, and you don’t want to make others uncomfortable either. I know that this is being looked at here on Campus. Raising awareness of gender identity is also key.” 

Why is the LGBTQ network on Campus important?

Sean: “For me the most important thing about the network is the regularity of its events. That means that people, maybe new to Campus, or new to the network, can come to the coffee mornings and there’s a regular presence. There is a friendly environment where you can come along and meet similar scientists to you, that maybe work in other departments and that you otherwise might not meet. It’s important because it’s brings people, LGBT or allies, together in a friendly environment- that’s the basis of it.”

Lee: “The isolation is taken away. I personally don’t attend the network coffees due to my schedule, but there is a constant flow of contact by email or other channels. It means that there are friends I can talk to here outside of my usual network.” 

How can employers and colleagues best support LGBTQ+ people at work?

Lee: “Managers just need to let people know that they are there to listen as needed. There’s no need to ask too many questions, you don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable. It’s great just to let people know that you are ready to listen.” 

Sean: “I think it’s about just being very open about being accepting – making it known that being LGBT isn’t something to have to hide.”

Sean (second from left) with colleagues at the Wellcome Genome Campus in June 2019.

Are there any experiences from your own life that you would feel comfortable to share to illustrate the impact that support from colleagues and employers has had?

Lee: “I had a particularly difficult time in 2017 and this really put my life into perspective. I felt that I had hidden who I really was for 30 years. I would like to acknowledge two of my colleagues, Dawn Blunden and Jayne Proctor who were absolutely amazing and really went out of their way to help me through a very difficult time. Dawn actually gave up some of her annual leave to help me recover. Jayne, despite the busy nature of her job, always had time to talk to me and helped give me the strength to fully transition.”

Sean: “A while ago we had a visiting scientist from a relatively conservative country. He wasn’t able to be open about his identity back home, and had to keep everything hidden from his family as well as his workplace at a University. But here, he felt he could open up, that he was surrounded by people who understood him, and he didn’t have to hide. That really brought it to my attention that we are an international Campus, and I think we do a huge service in showing acceptance as a model.”

Lee: “I think what we have onsite here is amazing and I wouldn’t have considered transitioning anywhere else. I’ve not worried at all about reactions from any of the staff and I have always been treated with great respect. I couldn’t work anywhere better!”