Pride Month at Vortexa

Pride Month at Vortexa

Every June, the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies celebrate their identities and accomplishments, whilst also reflecting on the challenges and struggles they continue to face. To mark this occasion, we invited Emma Palmer and Louie Stafford to educate us on the LGBTQIA+ movement and its history, allyship and their lived experiences.

30 June, 2023
Jessica Irvin
Jessica Irvin, Head of Operations & People
Firstly hello and welcome Emma and Louie, so great to have you with us. Please could we start with you introducing yourselves and telling us a bit about your journeys and lived experiences?

Emma: I am a mixed-heritage Black and openly proud gay woman. I am an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion professional with experience in commercial and not-for-profit organisations. I use my own lived experience and strategic insights to drive social change, help organisations shape consciously inclusive cultures and support people to understand equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging at all levels.

Before I started working in EDI, I was a police officer for 8 years in London. I always say that the irony of being in an institution that fights for justice, and yet I saw a lot of injustice, was never lost on me. I experienced first-hand what it felt like to be isolated and treated differently because of the assumptions people made about me – and it was unfair. It was unjust. This motivates me to do the work I do today. I believe in justice and equity. I use what I experienced and learned in the police to inform my EDI practice now, and I know exactly what my purpose is. I thrive on educating and moving others to recognise the part they play in the systems they’re in and guiding them to advance beyond their comfort zones.

Louie: I am a queer, trans man, I am the founder of Learnest CIC and Our House, an LGBTQ+ community consultancy business and centre in West Yorkshire. I landed up working with LGBTQ+ people following the negative experiences I faced coming out. I was a victim of Conversion Therapy after coming out in the church I grew up in as a teenager, and five years later, I was also a victim of workplace discrimination when I came out as trans at the hands of my employer. Going through this hostility as a young queer person has given me the passion and motivation to support other queer people through my work, and I have dedicated my career to working with organisations to ensure the world is a better, safer and fairer place for my kids to grow up in. Somedays doing the work I do feels like an uphill battle, but most of the time it is a joy and a privilege.

Emma, as someone with expertise in race equity, gender, and LGBTQIA+ diversity and inclusion practices, could you share your thoughts on how for those in intersectional communities, their everyday lived experiences can impact their mental health?

One thing I would really like to dismantle is this notion that anyone with the lived experiences of being a person of colour, living with a disability or long-term health condition, being LGBTQ+ or being a woman is a challenge or a problem because of those things. Racism is the problem; ableism is the problem, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia are the problem, patriarchy and misogyny are the problem. These things can have a direct impact on how we feel about ourselves. If you have multiple identities, so, for example, you are Black, gay, and trans; then you are potentially likely to face three types of discrimination based on those three things. There is a concept called ‘Weathering’ that I believe came from Professor David Williams, who has done a lot of generational studies on the impact of racism and microaggressions on people. He calls it, Weathering. If you imagine it’s raining and windy outside and that rain and wind are constant. Over time, it starts to erode the stones, the buildings, and the sculptures outside. He uses the analogy of erosion, weathering, and the ‘drip-drip-drip’ effect on buildings and applies it to people. He is saying that microaggressions are harmful, and it’s this cumulative drip-drip-drip effect that impacts people in terms of their mental health and well-being.

As someone who lives at the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality, I have experienced poor mental health not because of those things but due to the real-life experiences of discrimination I have faced from people because they perceive me as ‘other’. I believe we can celebrate who we are and still live with mental health challenges. The two can co-exist. When people stand rooted in their power and celebrate their existence, despite the mental health challenges they face, others either stand with them in solidarity or fear the levels of liberation and freedom on display.

Louie, as someone with expertise in LGBTQIA+ Community Creation and Engagement, could you share your thoughts on how for those in the LGBTQIA+ communities, their everyday lived experiences can impact their mental health?

Louie: LGBTQ+ people face many different barriers to navigating their way to a happy and healthy life; some barriers are obvious and well-understood, while others can be more hidden and difficult to address.

The discrimination LGBTQ+ people face can affect big things such as securing a job, housing or the healthcare we need. And even those LGBTQ+ people who have supportive families, gainful employment, and stable housing; may then find challenges when purchasing their first home or starting a family of their own. LGBTQ+ communities are under-represented in almost every area where we have data to measure social mobility and over-represented in statistics that measure deprivation. All these challenges, over time, are like tiny cuts that can affect our internal sense of self-worth. A poor sense of self-worth and connection to others can leave community members vulnerable to poor mental health.

Research carried out by YouGov in 2022 found that half of LGBT+ Britons (51%) reported they experienced or were diagnosed with a mental health condition, compared to a third of the general population (32%). While many people now accept LGBTQ+ people are valid and have the right to fair and equal treatment in society, we have a lot to do to combat poor LGBTQ+ mental health, and it starts with understanding all the barriers, both the micro and the macro, that LGBTQ+ people face. We do this through listening, learning and taking action.

We are always keen to foster a kind, understanding, and empathetic environment at Vortexa. We know this is a continuous journey, but to help us on our way, could we ask you to share ways to be an active ally as well as resources for those who want to keep learning and researching further?

Emma: The work to be an ally is a life-long commitment. It’s also important to recognise that being an ally isn’t really something we get to declare. It shows up in what we do, in our actions. Identifying what motivates you to advocate for a certain community or group is the first place to start. Then educate yourself on the experiences the community you’re advocating for faces. Being comfortable with making mistakes is also important, mistakes are part of the process. I would encourage people not to let the fear of making mistakes stop them from doing anything. I often hear people say, “What if I make a mistake? What if I offend someone?” But what if you get it right? What if you don’t offend someone and instead impact someone in the best way possible?

I would recommend reading: How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, What White People can do Next: From Allyship to Coalition by Emma Dabiris and My Sh*t Therapist: & Other Mental Health Stories by Michelle Thomas, which is a series of short stories described as, “A shocking, heart-rending and blisteringly funny account of what it’s like to live with mental illness, by a powerful new comic voice.” I would also recommend listening to my podcast! I co-host it with one of my closest friends, Stuart, and it’s called ‘You & Us’. Link here. Through the lens of humour, love, and friendship, we explore everything that’s going on around us today in Britain and beyond, covering a huge range of topics, including mental health.

Jessica Irvin
Head of Operations & People
Jessica Irvin
Jessica is Head of People & Operations at Vortexa and is responsible for hiring, learning & development, culture, engagement, performance management and leading expansion plans.