LGBT+ History Month with Margot James | Philip Baldwin

Article provided by LGBTQ activist, Philip Baldwin

Margot JamesFebruary is LGBT+ History Month in the UK. It is always a busy time for me, but very enjoyable. Every year I learn something new during LGBT+ History Month.

I first met Margot James about four years ago – she is an inspiring woman who has played a significant role in the progression of LGBTQ rights in the UK.

Margot is currently the Executive Chair of WMG, an academic department at the University of Warwick. She served as Minister of State for Digital and Creative Industries from 2018 to 2019. Margot was the Member of Parliament for Stourbridge from 2010 to 2019.

Why is LGBT+ History Month important?

“I’m madly passionate about history anyway. I think it’s really important to people’s identity – their story –  whether that is your Ireland story, if you’re British your story as a gay person or a Person of Colour. If you’re not getting that side of your history from your mainstream history which you might enjoy as a pastime or taught at school then I think we need to have a time of the year where we come together and look back and see our story and how it’s unfolded in the myriad different ways it has.”

Which LGBTQ women inspire you?

“I would say Ruth Davidson – definitely – I think she is a fearless politician who was incredibly effective and an amazing campaigner. I also happen to be on the same wavelength as her politically and I guess she’s my kind of Conservative and she changed the course of Scottish politics. I don’t think anyone would have predicted the return of the Conservative Party in Scotland… Suddenly we had this amazing recovery, resurgence, renaissance which Ruth led and without her I’m quite certain it wouldn’t have happened. My other figure that I really admire is also called Ruth – the Ruth [Hunt] who is the ex-CEO of Stonewall, who I think led Stonewall in a very difficult time and kept the flag flying, she’s a great speaker and I admire her.”

Which LGBTQ legislation has had the most impact on equality in your life?

“The introduction of civil partnerships was an amazing breakthrough. I know that equal marriage was an incredible breakthrough and I was very proud to have been a Conservative MP at the time and able to speak in the debate and get that legislation through. I think civil partnerships was more dramatic, more radical in a sense because it was so much earlier and it was before the public were really ready for it I think. It felt like equality…”

What can employers do to make the workplace more inclusive?

“I think there are a lot of lessons that we can learn from measures that have improved gender diversity, which I’ve been involved in and still am. To make a workplace more inclusive requires proactive effort and commitment from the senior leadership of any organisation… They’ve got to believe in it…

You need to look at your processes as an organisation, the obvious areas like recruitment and career progression… You’ve got to go out to people and reach out, find out what they’re doing, what they’re reading, where they are in social media – what platforms are they on – and you need to diversify your recruitment strategy to attract people of a more diverse background. Then you’ve got to look at all your progression. How do people progress within your organisation… If you want to make a more inclusive culture you have to erase that kind of “giving people a leg up” career progression, which people never saw anything wrong with but it does exclude people who are not part of the club.”

Do you have any advice for young LGBTQ women seeking to pursue a career in business or politics?

“Not to accept there are any “no go” areas whatsoever. I genuinely believe there aren’t any more in fact… You’ve got to get hold of young girls early and open their eyes to the myriad of career options that are on offer… Try and find a sponsor in your first or second job… Who you can use as a role model? Try to learn from them, connect with them… Seek advice.”

Do you have any coming out tips?

“The trouble with coming out is that it’s not a single act – you keep having to do it, because as you move through your life you meet different people and so forth. I would say tell the people who are most important to you first. If you anticipate any difficulties, I would say tell people you trust first and hopefully they can become allies when you tell other people.”


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