Jake Harding MAUA MSci PGCE (he/him)

Education Services Officer
Manchester Metropolitan University

For many of us, June marks Pride Month; some of us may celebrate, some of us may show our support and some of us may acknowledge the month as an opportunity to engage with the cornucopia of accessible and friendly events designed to raise awareness of our own community.

For me, these three mediums of engagement are not necessarily mutually exclusive; as a member of the Bs in the A to Z of the eponymous community myself, I admittedly do not spend as much time as I would like learning about my own community and so Pride Month represents an opportunity for me to do just that. *

I hope that you find this anecdotal reflection engaging, educational and a celebration of what I believe the HE sector has achieved on the EDI front.

Earrings, Uniforms and Pronouns

After leaving the university setting as a student, I decided to apply myself to the secondary teaching setting. Herein followed a relatively successful career communicating the consequences of Newton’s laws of motion to roughly thirty disenfranchised teenagers at a time… riveting stuff I know… although I would argue that there is a fine art to delivering such pedagogical bombshells when you and Isaac are all that stand between them and their lunch… but alas I digress.

Back to June and Pride Month. Whilst I would again like to stress that my reflections here are anecdotal of mine and my now ex-colleagues’ experiences, they do not of course occur in all secondary settings, but they certainly do in some.

Upon arrival at one school, I was pulled into the office of a senior member of the leadership team on my first day and told to remove my ‘small single stud black earring’. Yes, I had read the uniform policy beforehand. They could not tell me why I had to when female staff could wear two of the very same, but I am sure between us we can work it out one day. No, I did not have the guts nor the support to stand up to my new employer on day one.

One June I wore a rainbow wristband to school. I was promptly told to remove it as it was making a political statement. Similarly, I was told to remove my pronouns from my email signature. No reason was given.

The final example that I shall give is one that has stuck with me the most over the years. In line with the above policy, my colleagues and I were directed by senior leadership to actively remove ‘political badges’, including pride badges naturally, from our students’ persons.

Now, putting aside for the moment the emotionally eroding effects of all the above compounded on myself and my colleagues, imagine the effects on the developing belief and value systems of our students. These secondary students are now university students and so I hope this slice of background may contextually colour some of the more difficult conversations that our student facing HE colleagues may have to be having on a daily basis with those struggling. Remember, they may have had the misfortune of experiencing similar.

Moving Forward with Pride

Fast forward, as I am sure you have astutely surmised, my new fledgling career in the HE sector has seen, over the first four months, me turning up to work wearing my ‘small single stud black earring’ everyday, my rainbow wristband this month and even my email signature is proudly wearing their pronouns. No, I have not been told to remove any of them.

And now for the final thought of any anecdote, brace yourself dear reader for the formulaic call to action. Whilst I reiterate my hope that you found this short reflection engaging, educational and a celebration of what I believe my newly adopted sector has achieved on the EDI front (thanks for having me by the way), I also hope that this has shone a light on the context of where some members of our community, staff and students, may have come from, as well as humbly offering up some food for thought as to how we may show our support and celebrate our diversity as a wider university community. I believe that the sector should be proud of what has been achieved and so galvanised to continue to fly the flag ever higher. Happy Pride Month!

*As an aside, I can certainly recommend ‘From Ace to Ze, The Little Book of LGBT Terms by Harriet Dyer’ as an easy reading starting point.