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York LGBT History Month Launch – Vice Chancellor’s Speech

Vice Chancellor Karen Stanton at desk

Professor Karen Stanton, Vice Chancellor, York St John University

Friday 3 February 2017, York St John University

York St John’s support of LGBT rights is not just limited to the month of February, of course. It is an extremely important part of our commitment to the promotion of equality and diversity within our staff and student groups, and the wider community.

Good evening everyone.

Sherriff, Sherriff’s Lady, honoured guests, I would like to offer you a very warm welcome to York St John University for the launch of LGBT History Month 2017. We are also delighted that Rachael Maskell, York Central MP, has joined us this evening.

The theme of this year’s LGBT History Month is “Citizenship, Personal, Social and Health Education and Law”. This theme commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967. Tonight is just the beginning of an extensive programme of around 50 events running across York throughout February.

The aim of LGBT History Month is to increase public awareness of the place of LGBT people in history. It seeks to bring to light and celebrate stories that might traditionally have been ignored, and works to develop inclusivity, challenge stereotypes, and promote understanding. It doesn’t just focus on famous figures throughout history however. At its heart, lies the belief that the personal histories of ordinary, local LGBT people are of equal importance, and are just as worthy of being told as their more well-known counterparts.

York St John University is incredibly proud to be a sponsor of the History Month. We are equally proud of the part we played in establishing our local programme of events. In 2014, the University co-ordinated the first ever York LGBT History Month programme, before it was established as an independent organisation in 2015. Since then, the city wide approach has gone from strength to strength and York St John continues to play its part. This year, we are funding the play ‘Deep in the Heart of Me’, which I understand was nominated for Best LGBT+ Show at Brighton Fringe last year.

York St John’s support of LGBT rights is not just limited to the month of February, of course. It is an extremely important part of our commitment to the promotion of equality and diversity within our staff and student groups, and the wider community. I am proud to say the University has been in Stonewalls’ Top 100 employers for three years running and we work hard on continually developing an inclusive culture for all at York St John and beyond.

Whether it be LGBT rights, increasing access to higher education, welcoming students and staff of all faiths and none, or recruiting students from across the world, inclusivity runs through our veins. It is an integral part of our mission and values; we are a community with a strong sense of belonging and we inspire our staff and students to make a positive contribution to the world.

However, whilst we can all agree that much progress has been made since the Act was passed, with the advent of same-sex marriage in the UK and other parts of the world for example, LGBT History Month also highlights and raises awareness of the challenges that remain for LGBT people, and how much more needs to be done in future to ensure that hard won rights are protected and strengthened. In the current world climate, we need to work together to ensure that these rights are not eroded. After decades of hard work and progress, we cannot go back. We cannot afford to be complacent and, unfortunately, activism is still very much needed, even in the 21st century.

I’d like to thank all the volunteers at York LGBT History Month for your tremendous work in coordinating this year’s programme of events, and supporting and encouraging other organisations to celebrate the History month and contribute to the programme.

This is an important celebration of the past and present of the LGBT community and helps keep future activism alive. You will always have the support of York St John.

I hope you all have a wonderful evening.

Marije Davidson

I am Equality and Diversity Adviser at York St John. I support York St John University's work to be an inclusive and welcome place for students, staff and visitors with diverse identities and backgrounds.

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