Launch of the UCC LGBT Staff Network
In February 2008, the UCC LGBT Staff Network was officially launched by Dr Michael Murphy, President of UCC. Below are the texts of the speeches from the event. We also have a set of photographs from the event on our Gallery page.
Mr Cathal Kerrigan
On behalf of the UCC LGBT Staff Network I wish to thank President Murphy for agreeing to launch our website today.
President, your presence here today sends out a clear and important message that things have really changed. It will we hope and believe, help transform the situation in UCC for LGBT staff. Reassuring anyone who might fear participating in the network because it might damage their career advancement that this is not so. The importance and significance of your leadership on this cannot be overstated.
As the President pointed out the initiative for the creation of the Network came from the university’s Human Resources department. When last May, Catherine Maguire sent out the e-mail asking for input – from all staff – on how the university could best serve the needs of its LGBT staff this was of huge significance. On a personal note, I was President of UCC Students Union 27 years ago when we founded the student LGBT society. It took 10 years before that society was officially recognised.
Just 10 months ago we set up the new LGBT Staff Network and today we celebrate its official launch – things happen faster in 21st Century Ireland – isn’t it wonderful?!
Kieran Rose of GLEN (Gay & Lesbian Equality Network) has pointed to the overlay between economic growth and a society’s openness and inclusiveness. A year ago GCN (Gay Community News – Ireland’s monthly LGBT paper) carried out the first surveys of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in Ireland. It showed while 79% were open about their sexuality with their friends and 60 % had come out to their family, only half were open about their sexual orientation at work.
Many LGBT people fear that their career will suffer if they are open about themselves at work and this fear has a real basis given others experience in the past. Which is why the initiative of UCC’s Human Resources department is so significant. It sends a clear message that real change is possible; that this change has the full support of top management; and that it will lead to a change in the university’s day-to-day practice.
We in the LGBT Staff Network are fully committed to supporting these aims. We look forward to helping by our input to making this change of work culture a reality. We look forward to doing so with our colleagues here in UCC and also with our colleagues nationally and internationally.
We spend almost a quarter of our lives at work and it has a major determining influence on the quality of our lives. In general people take for granted that they can share details of their lives & of who they are with work colleagues - maybe sometimes even find their partners through work. The experience of LGBT people is the direct opposite. The sheer psychological drain of not feeling able to share openly with one’s colleagues is enormous By building an inclusive work environment for all – not just LGBT people – we can release that energy for creative purposes. This will be to everyone’s advantage – creating a better, more successful university – and also country.
In launching our website today President Murphy is helping us achieve one of our first major goals - To make LGBT staff visible. We hope our colleagues will join us in supporting the network. Our immediate aims are to:
1. Act as a consultation forum on LGBT employment and welfare related issues for the Department of Human Resources, UCC;
2. Provide a forum for networking, information sharing and peer support;
3. Increase the visibility of LGBT staff in UCC;
4. Engage in outreach activities and;
5. Liaise with other groups, e.g., staff and student societies in other third level institutions in Ireland and abroad to share information and best practice.
On behalf of UCC’s LGBT Staff Network I thank you colleagues and friends for joing us today and most especially President Murphy for launching our website and the network itself.
Dr Katherine O'Donnell (UCD)
In 27 years we have seen a shift here in UCC where lesbians and gays have moved from a despised group forbidden the facilities and space within the College, to a place where some 17 years ago we were granted a tolerated place. That recognition of the student LGBT group in 1991 was the first time that such a group was formally recognised by a university in Ireland and was a brave move for all concerned with that struggle, given that the decriminalistion of homosexuality had not yet taken place. Today marks a shift from being banned, to being tolerated to being celebrated as integral to the heart of university life – it is a great day for all concerned.
Universities are more than merely cogs in the wheel –or the fuel in the tank - of a nation’s economic system –we are not about training people to create wealth – that is merely a by-product of the true function of our Universities. Our Universities are about creating environments where the most creative and committed thinkers, regardless of their race, class, creed, gender, or sexual orientation, can find a place and the supports to flourish – we need these talented people to create new vistas on how the wider world might better function. We need our Universities to provide an on-going critique of the status quo so that the systems that divide and discriminate and do so much damage to all of us are consistently challenged and spaces are made where we can all find the necessary air and light to thrive.
What we see here today is an Irish University beautifully fulfilling its function in providing example and leadership in ensuring the bio-diversity so necessary for a healthy culture and politic. And again UCC’s timing in this regard is most fortuitous – as recognition of the LGBT student group in 1991 sent a clear message to Irish society and government while homosexuality was still a criminal offence – today’s clear message that LGBT staff are valued members of the UCC family is a timely reminder to the powers that be outside this campus that perhaps the time is come where Lesbian and gay unions and families must finally be cherished equally in the eyes of the state.
I don’t want this moment to pass without especially warmly thanking Joan McCarthy and Cathal Kerrigan for their work –their perceptive analysis and strategic graft has been devoted to anti-poverty, anti-imperialist, pro-feminist, pro-lesbian and gay endeavours each for over thirty years. Radical activists and agents of change such as Cathal and Joan rarely get thanks – they put their minds, hearts and bodies on the front-line of often quite vicious battles and each I know has felt the cost over the years. But their loving, humorous, generous and committed activism has enabled those of us who have followed behind to live in a brighter, wider world. I often find it miraculous that lesbians and gay men can come together to work for social change, as the lesbian academic and activist, Alison Hennegan, points out – each group has decided that the other gender just won’t quite do. – There are far more differences than similarities between the culture of lesbians and gay men – and it is exhilarating and inspiring to see how lesbians and gay men can make culture and politicises together.
In closing I would like to mark the fact that while the UCC LGBT network has a strong and busy membership there are still many lesbians and gay staff at UCC who feel they cannot be here today. They fear too much how homophobia can wreck their day, their week, their month, their career, their relationships, their good health and sanity. This homophobia –as we know, is still casually all-pervasive – one gay man working here in UCC who is not among our number in this room- put it in the following words: ‘I alright with being tolerated – I just can’t push to be accepted’ – if ever the UCC LGBT network needed a mandate it can be found in those words.
I would like congratulate UCC on the LCBT network and look forward to seeing this model being replicated on every campus on this island.
Go raibh maith agaibh is beir bua!
Katherine O’Donnell, School of Social Justice, UCD
Dr Joan McCarthy
As co-chair of the UCC Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Staff Network (LGBT Network for short); I am delighted to see such a diverse gathering of colleagues and friends to celebrate with us the launch of our network and website today.
Today’s event is indeed a celebration for all kinds of reasons but I’ll just mention one that’s dear to my own heart. It’s an event to celebrate because it represents the honouring of certain moral values. For some time, the talk on the street (when it’s not about rugby, mortgages or cosmetic surgery) has been how Irish society is losing its way and we are selling our souls for the latest HD television or shopping trip to New York. And, of course, there is a genuine worry that we are trading in our traditional values too glibly and easily. But if that is the case, today’s event recognizes the fact that if Irish society is losing some values; it is also acknowledging and embracing others. Values such as openmindedness, neutrality, diversity, equality.
There are colleagues in this university – lesbian, gay and heterosexual, who might ask ‘what is the big deal’ – ‘why do they need to make such a big deal out of what should be a private thing?’ And for most of my life, and for many lesbians and gay men, I am sure I have been absorbed in many projects that have nothing to do with my sexuality – watching TV (HD), flying to New York, working in this university … and much much more. But, even apart from the need to address the major equality issues, when it comes to basic kinds of every day stuff - the chat in the staff room about Christmas holidays, wedding plans, what to do with the kids for the summer, the latest novel or film, keeping my life private means that I keep my life silent, invisible. If being ‘out’ as a lesbian or gay man – something that you have to keep doing in so many different ways in different situations - has a certain price, there is also a price to pay for silence. So, I guess for me, the fact that I am a woman who happens to fall in love with women will have to be a ‘big deal’ until it just gets ordinary – I wonder will anything so extraordinary ever become ordinary?! Meanwhile, I think the fact that my employer, University College Cork, in recognizing the fact that some of its staff are truly great workers, who just happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans, is bringing that day of ordinariness closer.
I have the task today of introducing our speakers to you, and I am especially delighted to welcome the President of UCC, Dr. Michael Murphy, to officially launch the network and press the button to of our website which goes live today. President, on behalf of my colleagues in the network and our colleagues here today, I thank you sincerely for taking the time out of your busy schedule to mark this occasion and I invite you now to say a few words.
Dr Michael Murphy
Ladies & Gentlemen – Colleagues and Guests from outside UCC - I am delighted to officially launch the new UCC LGBT Staff Network’s website and in so doing also launch the Network itself.
The formation of the LGBT Staff Network is a major statement on the part of the university. As an employer UCC is committed not just to the aspiration of equality and inclusiveness but to taking the concrete steps to ensure our laudable aspirations become a reality.
Over the past couple of decades we have become familiar with the efforts of the LGBT community to change the laws which criminalized them, to have equality legislation enacted and to create a society more accepting of diversity. Here in UCC we witnessed the demand of the student body for recognition of their student LGBT society. In all these struggles the LGBT community has been very successful.
But the creation of the UCC LGBT Staff Network is a significant new development – for the initiative came from the university’s Human Resources department.
After her appointment as UCC Equality Officer last year Catherine Maguire began a series of initiatives to implement our equality policy. In May 2007 she set up a consultation process to see how best the needs of LGBT staff could be met. These resulted in the establishment of the network with one of its main aims being the raising of awareness of LGBT related issues and the visibility of LGBT staff in UCC.
And so today I launch the network’s website as part of that raising of that visibility. There are many similar networks in our peer academic institutions in America . In Britain there are 11 (eleven) such networks in the university sector – most of them formed in the past three (3) years.
UCC’s LGBT Staff Network is the first formally recognised such network in universities in Ireland .
There are some indications that economic growth in our contemporary world can be linked to a society’s openness and inclusiveness. Surveys of LGBT people show that while many feel they can now be open in many areas of their lives – with friends, family, etc – the vast majority are still apprehensive of being open at work. Where people do not feel that they will be accepted then they cannot contribute their full potential. This is not just a personal loss but also a loss to the organisation or Business, and also ultimately to society generally.
This is why I felt it important to accept the invitation to perform this launch today. UCC’s commitment to equality is not just a ‘pious’ aspiration. The university management team is determined that each and every member of staff should know that they are a valued member of this organisation. The creation of the LGBT Staff Network is part of a general equality strategy and one of a range of initiatives which the HR Department is pursuing.
UCC is giving leadership not just to our fellow academics but also to the wider society. The Ireland of the 21st century can be a truly inclusive one which will be to everyone’s benefit. Initiatives such as this can make it happen.
In conclusion, I want to recognise and praise those UCC staff members (such as Joan, Cathal & the other Network members here today) who have taken the lead in becoming directly involved in this initiative.
I am very pleased to now formally launch the UCC LGBT Staff Network Website.