GUEST COLUMN: ‘We are proud to be a place people can be themselves’ by Jane Hawksford, chair of staff LGBT network at West Notts College

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As a college we work extremely hard to promote a culture of equality, diversity and inclusivity amongst staff and students.

We are proud to be a place where people can be themselves, regardless of their gender or sexuality.

A particularly important step was creating staff and student LGBT networks to positively promote lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues – and ensure inclusion, success and achievement for all members of the college community.

This has led to us engaging in national campaigns such as the International day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IdaHoBiT) held on May 17 each year, and LGBT History Month each February.

We’ve staged our own activities such as an equality and diversity-themed football tournament while staff and students have also taken part in high-profile external events such as Nottinghamshire Pride.

Our staff LGBT group contributed significantly to the college’s recent inclusion in equality charity Stonewall’s list of top 100 employers – the only college in England to feature in this prestigious ranking, based on its workplace equality index.

By working with Stonewall, the college has received fantastic support with its wider equality and diversity initiatives – enabling us to make even greater strides in raising the profile of LGBT issues.

The student LGBT network – called ‘Connected’ – was launched in recognition that young people are far more likely to discuss issues with their peers. We believe it is crucial students have a platform to have their say and inform the equality agenda, which they are doing with maturity and enthusiasm.

It is a sad fact that mental health problems are on the increase nationally – particularly amongst young people – and, tragically, teenage suicide amongst LGBT people is up to four times higher than amongst non-LGBT individuals.

That’s why, alongside the forthcoming IdaHoBiT day, the college is also marking national Mental Health Awareness Week from May 16-22 with events, LGBT tutorials to students, information stands from counselling services, support groups and organisations who provide

advice on transitioning and mental health issues, along with activities for students and staff.

The college works with a range of partners on these vitally-important issues including the NHS, Nottinghamshire Police, local authorities, other colleges, UNISON and other key providers.

It is only through partnership-working that the college and other organisations can become an even stronger force in influencing change and reducing prejudice of LGBT and mental health issues.

We are proud to be at the forefront.