LGBTQ+ History Month

LGBTQ+ History Month.

Reflection & Celebration

To celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month, we asked some of our Engine employees from our LGBTQ+ i-network to reflect on the people and moments that have defined LGBTQ+ history for them.

Gwyn Calley (he/him), Senior UX Designer.

What is the one moment/person that has inspired you and defines LGBTQ+ history?

Where do you even start? It's impossible to choose individual people or events. Our freedoms today are built on the shoulders of others from the past. Do you choose well known names from the past like Anne Lister or Alan Turing? What about Terrence Higgins or Albert Kennedy and their untimely deaths giving rise to charitable legacies? Or maybe more modern individuals like Nicola Adams or Tom Daley and the influence they have on public perception?

Gareth Thomas certainly stands out due to his bravery, firstly coming out as gay as a rugby player, and then being forced to reveal his HIV status against his wishes. His response to that - go and take on one of the hardest Ironman contents in the world, when he couldn't even swim at the start.

Maybe Justin Fashanu also needs mentioning, and that even today there is a lack of out footballers in the game. Perhaps the inspirational people are the ones who are having the private discussions about whether it's possible to come out as a professional footballer as it's still such a taboo.

However, the real inspirational stories were the nurses who cared for patients on the first HIV wards back in the 80s. When everyone else turned their backs in fear and ran away from (mostly) dying gay men, these nurses ran towards those suffering and cared for them in their final days. Russell T Davies admits that this is only touched on in his amazing It's A Sin. The history of so many lesbians coming forward to nurse these gay men dying of a mystery disease is still barely known.

On a different level, I also found It's A Sin personally quite challenging too. As someone who was a teenager in the 80s, I remember being sat down by my mother and forced to read the leaflets which came through everyone's doors about AIDS. It was also discussed at school until Section 28 put a stop to that. The reason the series had an added difficulty for me to watch was that part of it was filmed at my former school - the very place where being gay had to be hidden away now allows filming of an LGBTQ+ series. All those bad memories came flooding back to the fore and how instead of investing all my mental energy into studying, I was spending my time trying to hide who I really was.

How are you personally involved in LGBTQ+ History Month?

At a time when so many people still feel ashamed of who they are on a day-to-day basis explains why historic battles still have not been won and there is still the need for both Pride and LGBTQ+ activity. Equality might be getting better and better, but I still can't safely hold my partner's hand in public in London in 2022 without taking care of where I am or who might see.

As such, I don't see it as being something which you just get involved with for a single month. Over the years I have volunteered my skills and services for both LGBTQ+ and HIV charities, whether as a designer or cooking in a kitchen on a Sunday morning. For the last few years, I have been volunteering for Pride in London on the digital team.

How can friends and colleagues make good allies?

If a person can't be their real self at work, they are constantly having to self-censor for fear of giving away too much. Just imagine if you had to monitor every sentence in your head before you say it, making sure that any reference to gender specific pronouns is removed, rewriting it so you don't a pronoun that gives away that your partner is same-sex. I myself have had to do it in the past at previous companies and it's draining!

Engine is a great company as you can be whoever you want to be and no-one bats an eyelid. The fact it's accepted and is so inconsequential is a reflection of how the company accepts people regardless of who they are. If someone asks me what I did at the weekend, I don't have to rewrite the answer to remove reference to my partner, I can freely mention him and what we did together. Which leaves me able to put all my thought into my day job rather than hiding who I am, and so produce great work for our clients. Embracing this kind of environment is something anyone could do to be a great LGBTQ+ ally.

Gwyn Calley (he/him), Senior UX Designer.

Maddy Farnworth (she/her), Director (Health) at MHP Communications.

What is the one moment that has inspired you and defines LGBTQ+ history?

I think it is almost impossible to pick one moment from the LGBTQ+ community who has inspired me – when the community does inspirational things every day. In2021 alone, I sang loudly along to Lil Nas X’s brave statement of black queerness in ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’; watched in awe as Elliot Page spoke to Oprah; and sobbed pretty much throughout Russell Davies’ incomparable It’s A Sin. Equally impossible is one person, although I couldn’t write a blog for LGBTQ+ history month without mentioning the formidable Jo Morgan, who taught mePhilosophy at school and is a true hero of LGBTQ+ inclusion in education – I’m so delighted people like her are creating inclusive classrooms to inspire future generations.

But, in recent history, there’s one moment that really sticks out – and that’s the historic Irish referendum vote on same sex marriage in 2015 – making Ireland thefirst country in the world to introduce full marriage equality. I remember scrolling through Twitter following the #hometovote hashtag and feeling hugely emotional that people would travel across the world to fight for equality – an experience repeated in 2018 for the #Repealthe8th vote too. With my campaigner’s hat on, it really demonstrates the power of people (and social media) in creating social change.

How are you personally involved in LGBTQ+ History Month?

I run a weekly news roundup for the Health team – so throughout LGBTQ+ History Month I’m featuring articles and films from LGBTQ+ history with a health slant. My first week’s recommendation was a spotlight ACT UP (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) - a grassroots political organisation formed in 1987 with the aim of improving the lives of people living with HIV and AIDs. Their history can't be succintly summarised, but this article I  think is particularly relevant to our team's job - as we think about how we can achieve system change and create effective teams. And for a devastating film recommendation that will make you sob, watch 120 Beats Per Minute.

How can friends and colleagues make good allies?

I’m so lucky to work in a team, and an organisation that make it so easy to bring the whole of ‘you’ to work andcreate such a supportive environment. More generally, thinking about your language is such an easy way to be a good ally – especially if someone navigating how to come out or be out in the workplace for the first time. I'm super proud of how many people have embraced Engine’s Pronouns initiative - one great step in diversity and inclusion.

Maddy Farnworth (She/her) . Director (Health) at MHP Communications.