In Focus
Mar 5, 2016

LGBT Staff Network and the Legacy of the Sexual Liberation Movement

Sarah Scales talks to Joel McKeever of the LGBT staff network about providing a safe space for staff in Trinity's already inclusive community.

Sarah ScalesLGBT Correspondent
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Anna Moran for The University Times

The Trinity LGBT Staff Network was launched on February 2nd, in a collaborative bilingual event with An Cumann Gaelach. The initiative is supported by the Equality Office and aims to bring together staff with an interest in LGBT issues. In conversation with The University Times, Joel McKeever, a member of staff working in the Academic Registry and former auditor of Q Soc, explains that the initiative came about after a number of members of staff expressed interest in the idea of a staff network to the Equality Office: “How it got off the ground was purely by coincidence, before Christmas a few staff members got involved enquiring whether there was a network or if there was a possibility of setting one up. We all happened to do it at the same time”. McKeever thinks that the surge in community activism on LGBT issues in 2015 may have sparked interest in the idea: “Most likely after the marriage referendum it was on people’s minds – what can we do next?”.

The first event hosted by the LGBT Staff Network was a Rainbow Celebration held last week during Éigse na Trionóide, and, as McKeever explains, it was “both an Irish language event and also a launch for the LGBT Staff Network”. The event came about as a collaboration between McKeever and Aonghus Dwane, the Irish Language Officer, who put in a successful application with the Equality Fund to fund the event. McKeever explains: “So far it has very much been a group project, it has been very much grassroots so there has been myself and Aonghus, someone from the Equality Office, the Director of diversity and inclusion, from Human Resources as well. The intention is that once we have a point of contact and something off the ground we can see what kind of interest we garner among staff.”

The launch event featured a number of guest speakers, including Senator David Norris. McKeever explains the significance of having someone so deeply entwined with LGBT advocacy both within Trinity and on a national level to launch the Network: “We were delighted David could attend, primarily because if nothing else it is very fitting that he was there to launch the Network because when he was a staff member here, he was one of the founding members of what at the time was called the Sexual Liberation Movement, which was the very first gay rights organisation of any description in Ireland, which developed into many different splinter organisations, one of which is Q Soc.” McKeever suggests that Norris’ presence at the launch adds “a sense of continuity from David’s time right through to the modern day”, and explains that Norris spoke of his own less favourable experiences of being an LGBT member of staff. According to McKeever, Norris explained at the launch that he “has seen the college and Irish society progress from when he was a lecturer when he was strongly advised to not be involved in these kinds of explicit or ‘immoral’ activities, to the point where he can launch a network that is actually supported by the College to the highest levels”.

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According to McKeever, the reaction to the Network among staff has been generally good, but there is also a feeling that Trinity is a “very inclusive space” and so LGBT-specific spaces are not necessary: “Staff would ask ‘is there a requirement for this, why do we need this in the college?’ That’s a very common question.” McKeever agrees that Trinity is “overall a very inclusive environment” but also notes that “it would be naïve to say that staff don’t experience negative reactions to being LGBT occasionally, whether it be direct instances or just a passive sense of being aware of being one of the only or one of few people in a department or an area that are LGBT.” He explains that in such instances, an LGBT staff organisation can provide a level of comfort and support not experienced elsewhere: “Having that network there gives them a direct point of contact in terms of connecting with like minded people, potentially raising issues or addressing things that they wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable doing so otherwise.” McKeever notes that the Network has garnered interest “across a multitude of areas”, from “very young staff and very new staff to PhD students right up to administrative staff and higher level staff.”

“It would be naïve to say that staff don’t experience negative reactions to being LGBT occasionally, whether it be direct instances or just a passive sense of being aware of being one of the only or one of few people in a department or an area that are LGBT.”

McKeever explains that in the current early stages of the Network, there has not been much collaboration with student organisations, but says that in the future he “would definitely envision there would be, where appropriate and where feasible, collaboration between us and the [SU] LGBTRO, between us and Q Soc and between us and any other related societies because we are all, ultimately, part of the one college community.” He explains that the LGBT community is a minority within the College community, and as such “it makes all the more sense to work together and draw on the experience that our colleagues in the SU and Q Soc have.” In an email statement to The University Times, Samuel Riggs, the Student Union’s LGBT Rights Officer, said that while he has not yet had much interaction with the Network he thinks “it’s a great initiative that’ll help provide support and networking opportunities going forward into the future, as well as helping welcome LGBTQ staff members to the college community.” He notes that LGBT staff networks are becoming the norm among large employers globally, and that “as a massive employer, it makes sense for Trinity to have one as well.” Riggs also expresses interest in working with the Network in the future, “I feel like there’s definite scope for collaboration, particularly on issues both parties are passionate about within the college.”

McKeever explains that help in setting up the Network was gained from the University College Cork LGBT Staff Network, which was set up in 2007: “Some of the founding members came up to the College so that we weren’t starting from scratch, giving us an indication of what they did, how it got set up and how it has been received in UCC.” He says that the Trinity Staff Network were “very happy to have those links because [UCC] definitely broke a lot of ground in setting up that network”. cKeever recognises that 2007 was “a very different climate in the country for LGBT people” and that UCC were “definitely pioneers in that respect.” McKeever also mentioned plans to “contact networks in other comparable third level institution” such as in University College Dublin.

McKeever notes that the Network is in its “early days” but explains that they are “very keen” to have as much grassroots involvement as possible from staff, in order to “reflect specifically what staff want the network to do”. He explains that if a “a group of people get together and just decide what will be best for staff without actually consulting them, it isn’t going to garner interest.” McKeever thinks that “there is no end to the things we can do as an LGBT network” and recognises that staff members might be interested in the different possible activities of the Network: “Some staff in their career and at certain points in their college life cycle might require it for a social outlet, they might require it for the potential advocacy that we could do within the College and outside the College, they could be having issues as LGBT staff members, specific issues that we could help them address or put them in touch with the appropriate people but we won’t know that until there are as many people involved as possible and we see what we can do.” He also notes Trinity’s achievements in terms of LGBT equality and its potential to shine once more: “Trinity really should have an LGBT staff network, we are a GLEN [Gay and Lesbian Equality Network] Diversity Champion, our gender expression and identity policy is pioneering, it’s first rate. All the elements are there, we just need people to show interest and people who are willing to put their time into it.”

For general enquiries, or for further information, the staff network can be contacted at [email protected]


Hugh Mitchell contributed reporting to this piece.

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