The LGBT Staff Network, launched earlier this year, was a long time coming. This is surprising on a campus with a strong LGBT history, which is notably home to Ireland’s oldest LGBT society. Why, then, has it all come together so successfully over the past year?
Speaking to Trinity News, Joel McKeever, the Network’s Chairperson, thinks it was all about timing. “There’d been kind of an informal community of LGBT staff on campus for a number of years, and there had been start and stop discussions about doing something like this for a while. I think it was just very fortuitous around December of last year, following the marriage referendum and all the positive feeling that came out of that. I think a lot of staff were in a position where they had to talk more openly about their experience than maybe they would have had to previously.”
In a happy coincidence, both McKeever and Aonghus Dwane, the Irish Language Officer, contacted the Equality Office about setting up such a network, and were put in contact with each other. After much groundwork and discussions over exactly how the Network would look, Trinity’s LGBT Staff Network held its first event in association with Cumann na Gaelach and QSoc in February of this year.
The Network now boasts around 60 members, more than many of the more established staff organisations. Despite being a young organisation that is still defining itself within the college community, it’s a Network with big plans.
More than just a social organisation for staff members, McKeever sees it as a group that has the ability to effect change in College. “[We] are kind of aiming towards having social events, having the speakers in, and being involved in college policy making and giving an LGBT staff voice which would otherwise not be heard. […] And I suppose we’re really looking to see, getting staff members together, what comes out of it, because we can be there for straight staff who might have LGBT children and might want a colleague who can talk them through some of the issues there. Potentially, people are having issues on campus like discrimination, we can represent them in that capacity and put them in touch with the right people.” McKeever was optimistic about the diversity of projects: “It’s becoming quite varied, quite positive. It’s as varied as the members that join it.”
When asked about the experience of LGBT staff in college, McKeever assessed that it is quite positive. “Generally the experience of LGBT staff members has been very positive in Trinity. That’s the overwhelming feedback that we’ve had – I’ve yet to have a staff member who’s had a particularly negative experience, which I think is reflective of Trinity as generally speaking quite a progressive university.”
There is always more work to be done, however. A lack of visibility can be a problem, particularly as staff members discuss their family situations. “Going to people’s birthdays and leaving dos, it’s a big part of the culture, and I think LGBT staff can feel […] left out of that a little bit. So, I think having the Network is a good way to normalise that.”
Ensuring that an individual’s full experience can contribute to their work is also crucial: “It’s a case of making sure that LGBT staff feel that their entire personality and their entire life experience is not only accepted but actively contributing to them as an employee.”
Going back to the issue of College policy, he praised members of the College community at every level for giving the Network support and consideration. “I think what they need to do is just continue that and really just keep the Network and LGBT staff in mind at all levels, and any project that comes up, think how does this affect [LGBT staff]”.
Overall, McKeever is happy with the work achieved so far, and optimistic for the future of the Network. “I think it’s going to thrive because it’s well-placed in Trinity. I think that Trinity has a long tradition of setting the bar high. We came in high, we came in with strong support from the university, with examples like the other societies on campus, things like QSoc and our involvement with the Equality Office.”
“The key thing is to be there for them, to be something they’re interested in, to make a valuable contribution to college life, and as long as we can do that I think it has the potential a few years from now to be a recognisable part of the Trinity community.”