Pride is as pride does. LGBTQ+ communities need us to listen and act

If my own journey has taught me anything it is that we must keep listening and driving the Pride message onward, writes Ann Limb

If my own journey has taught me anything it is that we must keep listening and driving the Pride message onward, writes Ann Limb

1 Jul 2023, 5:00

Working with the Lifelong Education Institute recently, I was struck by a sentence one of their talented researchers used: “Pride is as pride does”.

Now entering my eighth decade, I’ve been reflecting on the years I’ve lived, work I’ve done, people I’ve met, experiences I’ve had, and the challenges I’ve faced. I have come more and more to appreciate why it is existentially and linguistically important to define our individual identity in words and concepts which are meaningful to us, and which are closely linked to our need to belong. 

Hearing from a colleague, who identifies as bisexual, I was reminded of the progress we’ve made towards LGBTQ+ inclusion, but also how far we have left to go.

I’ve also been reminded (as a linguist by background) how much our language evolves and is shaped by our need to determine more finely and describe more accurately the unique and precious experience of life we each encounter.

The way we describe our ‘lived experience’ is much more complicated these days. However, when I was growing up in Moss Side in the mid-1950s, the idea that ‘homosexuality’ was acceptable and that each June we would celebrate Pride Month was unthinkable. A little shared discomfort over new terms and new definitions is a small price to pay for the emancipation of LGBT+ communities.

Pride as we know it today (although sadly not universally or globally) commemorates the 1969 Stonewall uprising in Manhattan. Stemming from the same period, ‘gay’ was originally an abbreviation of ‘good as you’. There is a rich history – still being written – behind our practices and our language about LGBTQ+ inclusion that we can ill afford to forget.  

This is one reason why we need to repeat the Pride narrative generation after generation. And this is why we should support the teaching in schools, colleges, universities, training and workplaces of the history and importance of Pride month.

We need to repeat the Pride narrative generation after generation

Let’s not forget that during the Thatcher and Major years (1979-1997), the ‘promotion’ in educational settings of homosexuality as an acceptable way of life was against the law. I know. When I became a FE college principal in 1987 (at the time, the youngest ever at age 34), I could not have admitted that, at the time, I was a woman in a relationship with another woman (even though neither of us defined ourselves a lesbian).

It wasn’t long before a clique of local, male secondary school headteachers were referring clandestinely and in a derogatory manner to me and my two (straight female) deputy principals as ‘the three lesbians’.  

They felt professionally threatened, because aside from anything else we were making waves, changing the college culture and learning offer. Young people were choosing FE rather than staying on in school sixth forms, and they were losing funding.

But, really!  Is it any wonder that I never came out formally to the sector until I bared all in my article for FE Week in February 2019?

If lifelong learning is to mean anything, then it must mean that adults remain open to learning, whatever the lesson and whoever is teaching it. It was working with young people in my role as chair of the Scouts that I discovered from them that I was a ‘cis woman’. It was they who sensitively explained to me what ‘nonbinary’ means.

Now, as chair of the Lifelong Education Institute, I am blessed to be working with my young colleague, who believes in promoting a shared message of greater love, tolerance and acceptance. I am therefore learning ever more about the experiences of LGBTQ+ people, and the language that is emancipating them.

I’ve learned that the term TERF refers to trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), for whom being a woman should be limited to those who are AFAB (assigned female at birth). They remind me of those three secondary headteachers in the late 1980s.

And I’ve been challenged by my colleague’s mantra, that pride is as pride does. There is no space for complacency. Pride is a name with rich history, and it is an emotion, but it must also be an action, like shouting from the rooftops that we exist and have a right to feel that we belong.

There are many queer young people around and near you. Open your ears to them.

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