Milestones marked at LGBT Centre's inaugural conference

Achievements of Leicestershire’s LGBT+ communities were celebrated and challenges faced debated at the inaugural Leicester LGBT Conference, held at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).

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The event focused on three different issues: Young transgender people - the fight to achieve equality; Tackling LGBT+ hate crime - a social challenge; and the intersections of ethnicity, faith and sexuality among British South Asian gay and bisexual men in the Midlands.
 
It formed part of the #40YearsOnYourSide celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of Leicester LGBT Centre’s work in Leicestershire and Rutland.
 
Keynote speakers were Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids, a UK charity that supports children and young people who are trans or questioning their gender; Professor Rusi Jaspal, Associate Director of Research at DMU; Andrew Bolland, strategic and partnerships manager at Leicester LGBT Centre, and Lisa Vine, project lead of the Young Transgender Centre of Excellence.
 
Prof Jaspal presented his work examining how people attempt to reconcile their faith and ethnicity with their sexuality, drawing on interview research conducted with Muslim, Hindu and Sikh men who have sex with men. (MSM).
 
Before Prof Jaspal’s studies in this area, there was little understanding of how ethnic minority LGBT people experienced phenomena such as ‘coming out’, family relations, the gay scene, and the formation/ dissolution of romantic relationships. There was only cursory data on feelings, experiences and emotional conflicts that might arise from possible conflict between faith and sexuality.
 
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He found many of the men he interviewed had tried to compartmentalise their lives as a way of being both religious and gay, potentially undermining their sense of authenticity. Muslim men had the most problematic relationship with their sexuality, he found, and a lack of a social support due partly to experiences of racism, rejection and Islamophobia. This in turn made them particularly vulnerable to emotional and psychological problems.
 
He said: “The extent of the conflict people feel is powerfully demonstrated in the interview data. Interviewees talked of their ‘worlds clashing’ and as experiencing an ‘inner fight’ . People that matter to us (e.g. friends, family and other significant others) have the power to severely damage our self esteem with the things they say and do. If a loved one tells you that being gay is wrong, you too may begin to question your self-worth as a gay person. Even those participants who had personally accepted their gay identity were in great fear of 'letting down' their family and friends with whom they wished to maintain a good relationship.”

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Prof Jaspal said: “This shows that we must challenge homophobia wherever it arises. There is a need for a change in representations of LGBT lives in some community contexts so people from all communities can identify in the way that they wish to identify.”
 
The event ended with a panel discussion debating issues raised by the audience, including the lack of LGBT characters in children’s books, bystander intervention and plans for a new series of the groundbreaking CBBC Just a Girl series.  
 
Mark Beasley, chair of Leicester LGBT Centre, said: “We are really pleased to be working with DMU in such a collaborative way and grateful for the support the university gives us throughout the year. Working with fantastic partners allows our work to reach out to wider audience and promote the organisation in a really positive way. Together, we have some exciting projects in the pipeline and can’t wait to share them with everyone soon!"
 
* Leicester LGBT Centre is hosting an open day at the centre on Friday from 10am to 7pm. Meet volunteers, managers and officers and find out more about its work. You can also see its superb “Untold Stories” exhibition of the history of LGBT communities in Leicestershire and Rutland.
Posted on Tuesday 21st February 2017

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