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Stress Impacts Your Libido - a face covered with hands and another two hands pressing down on the side of the head

How Stress Impacts Your Libido and General Health

By Disability, Undressing Disability

April is stress awareness month. So, we thought we’d take a look at how stress impacts your libido and general health.

What is stress?

When we’re feeling stressed, our body has a physical reaction which triggers the release of cortisol and adrenalin. These stress hormones send us into what is known as ‘fight or flight’ mode. Instead of being relaxed we are on edge, worried or overwhelmed. Everyone has different things that trigger stress but for the majority of people stress impacts your libido, your mental health, and your physical wellbeing.

Physical Symptoms of Stress

Stress is exhausting and lowers our tolerance for many things. Some symptoms of stress are:
• Sweaty palms
• Foggy mind and/or irrational thinking
• Irritability and/or low mood
• Rapid heartbeat
• Shallow breathing
• Insomnia

When stressed, we just don’t have the capacity to be thinking about others, only focussing on ourselves. A lack of tolerance for others, irrational thinking and even aggression can impact our relationships by pushing your partner away. In turn, the lack of closeness can lead to more worry about your relationship and perhaps lead to low self-esteem.

Stress and Libido

Stress can affect both men’s and women’s libido. The stress hormone cortisol disrupts your testosterone levels, which is responsible for men and women’s sex drives. It can also:

• Narrow your arteries, meaning men may experience erectile dysfunction
• Take you longer to become aroused and reach orgasm

When you’re stressed and have worries and thoughts running through your head it’s not surprising that your libido might decrease.
If stress is impacting your libido, trust that this can change. It doesn’t mean your sex drive will be low forever. It can fluctuate at any time and for many reasons. Intimacy may help reduce your stress too. So kisses, a loving cuddle or massage can alleviate your tension and stress. And with time, this may help your libido increase.
Masturbation can be a big stress reliever too, so it’s not just a partner that can make you feel good!

What can we do to manage stress?

When you feel stressed and are aware of the physiological changes, try and take control back by refocusing your thoughts. Ask yourself:

1. What is really going on in this moment?
2. How can I reasonably respond to the situation?

This isn’t easy and will take much practice to regain control of your thoughts.

Here are some tips:
• Slow down your breathing and breathe through your nose, deep into your belly, expanding your diaphragm. Release the breath slowly and forcefully, emptying the lungs.
• You can use mindfulness with your breathing too. Notice the air flowing through your nostrils and how your chest and belly rises. How does it feel? This exercise of thought focus will divert the panic response of fight or flight.

Managing relationships whilst stressed

If you recognise that you’re being snappy and impatient with your loved ones, don’t be too proud to admit it’s happening.
When you’ve got time to collect your thoughts, be honest with them. Say

‘I’m stressed at the moment and know I’m being irritable. Bear with me’.

This will help dissipate their bad feelings towards you, rather than you not admitting it, feeling guilty yet still displaying the unhelpful behaviours! Also just being open and chatting the problem over with them may help you. The old adage ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is so true.
• Always remember – talk, reach out, use techniques, seek support! It’s out there.
• Speak to your doctor if stress is impacting your day to day life.

Useful Resources

The Stress Management Society – 30 Day Challenge

Mental Health Foundation – How to Manage Stress

NHS – 10 Stress Busters

 

Keep up to date with all our Undressing Disability chat by joining us on twitter @ETUKUndressing or on Instagram @UndressingDisability.

A starry sky

My Vagina is The Star – Kiruna’s First Smear Test

By Disability, Undressing Disability

A guest blog by Kiruna Stamell.

I am a dwarf woman, a little person, person of restricted growth, person of short stature. That is my ‘thing’. Or the ‘thing’ people focus on.

As a result, I had this long-held belief that I had received my ‘lot’ in life. You know, I had my ‘thing’. I been served my life’s challenge. Somehow this made me arrogantly believe I was superior to getting cancer, herpes, murdered by a serial killer or being struck by lightning. I was simply too unique to be touched by common problems.

I am not alone as a disabled person in this thinking. It seems to be a common idea amongst us disabled folk and reinforced by non-disabled people that we already ‘carry our burden’. We are externally defined by our impairments so often, we too subconsciously internalise the belief, that our impairments are our [winces] ‘thing’.

So, a vaginal or cervical cancer thing was not on the list of things to worry about.

The ‘woman’ part of my identity felt flimsy, secondary to the desexualised label of ‘dwarf’, but she’s always been there. And one day, I woke up to the reality that my health isn’t just about my impairment.

I don’t know what happened, but I think it was a desire to feel like every other woman. All my average height and non-disabled friends were having their vaginas looked at and I wanted someone to look at mine.

Also, I had had a period refuse to stop and thought this was weird. So did my doctor.

My First Smear Test

The first challenge was that I was a virgin, and the doctors were funny about putting a speculum inside a virgin. I think, this is why I got sent to a proper gynaecologist straight away.

I was not so precious. I liked that my vagina was getting a lot of attention and being taken seriously. It took the medical focus off my height. All eyes were on my foof, and my foof was equalising!

At my first smear, lubricant was liberally applied. This was really helpful.

There were a couple of challenges:

  • The building was an old hospital, so door handles were too high for me to open, so I had to be escorted through the building.
  • Getting onto the bed was a challenge. Doing it gracefully and with no knickers on more so, as for me it was a literal climb. They made a step up onto it out of a chair and a smaller step stool.

I discovered that my cervix sits very high up and to the front. I’ve remembered this detail for all subsequent smears, telling the nurse saves so much time!

I find the weirdest bit is when the speculum parts. It feels a bit like when the dentist pulls your cheeks apart. Sometimes, my vagina creaks. Not audibly but like a sound you feel in your body. On a good cervical smear day, it just opens up and if to say ‘wow’. These occasions are rarer, and I only really remember that happening with the lube.

I find it reassuring getting a smear. I find it a really good reminder that being a ‘dwarf’ isn’t my only ‘thing’. I feel connected to humanity knowing I need to look after my sexual health as much as anyone else does.

When I am on that bed getting a smear, my vagina is the star. In that moment it is the most unique thing about me.

Cervical Screening Campaign

Learn more about our Cervical Cancer Red Tape campaign. which aims to remove the barriers that many disabled women face when accessing cervical screening and sexual health services. Search hashtag #CervicalScreeningRedTape to join the conversation and follow us on Instagram and Twitter.

We hope our tips for improving access to cervical screening make a difference. If you work in the healthcare sector please feel free to share them with your network.

 

Cervical Screening and Deaf Awareness

By Disability, Undressing Disability

Cervical screening saves lives and its so important that women have regular check-ups. So why did a survey by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust highlight that 88% of disabled women found accessing a smear test more difficult because of their impairment? Claire, our Deputy CEO shares her experience of cervical screening as a deaf woman.

6 Monthly Check Ups

A few years ago, I had to go for cervical screening tests every 6 months. It definitely wasn’t my favourite way to pass the time, but I know first-hand how essential it is. You see a smear test showed that I had moderate to severe abnormal cells caused by the HPV virus. Luckily for me it was picked up and I had laser therapy to destroy the abnormal cells. Now that’s resolved I go for a smear test every 3 years and hope for a positive experience. Unfortunately, a lack of deaf awareness frequently creates problems. As a result, I battle with feelings of anxiety before, during and after the test takes place. And I’m not alone. A study by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found that 88% of disabled women found cervical screening tests difficult because of their impairments. Something needs to change!

My First Smear Test

The first time I had a smear test I didn’t really understand what was going on. I’m sure that’s common for many women but when you’re deaf there’s extra things to feel anxious about. For example, at my doctor’s surgery the examination room is right next to the busy waiting room. Before my smear test the nurse left the room for me to get undressed. She said she’d knock to make sure I was behind the cubicle curtain before coming back in. As I can’t hear the knock on the door, I felt panicked that I’d be exposed.

I explained that I was deaf, but unfortunately the nurse didn’t adapt her behaviour to ensure I was properly briefed. When preparing for the test she kept turning her head away to organise the equipment. This made it impossible to lipread, so I lay there with my anxiety growing by the second.

Once my knees were up and a sheet covering me, I couldn’t see what was about to happen. I knew she was talking to me, but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I said “I can’t hear you” and instead of moving her head so I could lipread, she just stopped talking.

When she inserted the speculum there was no warning, so I tensed my body, and it was really painful. (I’m told by hearing friends that the nurse tells you when it’s about to be inserted and whilst it may be uncomfortable it usually doesn’t hurt.)

I also left the test with no idea of when to expect the results and went home upset and worried.

Deaf Awareness

My next experience of cervical screening was much more positive. The nurse told me her cousin was deaf, so she had great deaf awareness. Here’s what she did to make the smear test a much easier experience for me.

1. She explained the procedure from start to finish before asking me to get ready and lie on the bed.
2. Whilst explaining she maintained eye contact, used gestures, and demonstrated with the speculum what would happen. When I didn’t understand one part, she got a pen and paper and wrote it down.
3. When leaving the room for me to get undressed she said she’d be back in 5 minutes, rather than saying ‘she’d knock’. I looked at the time on my phone, got ready and waited.
4. We agreed that she would tap my leg as a sign that she was about to insert the speculum, giving me a moment to relax and prepare.
5. She understood that I was very anxious because of my previous experience and reassured me.

Make Appointments, Not Assumptions

If you are deaf and have never had a smear test, then please don’t be put off by my initial experience. Cervical Screening saves lives. My aim of sharing such a personal insight is that it will help bring about change, and help the disabled community have equal access to the services others access easily.

For medical professionals reading this hopefully my tips will be useful and improve deaf awareness within your surgery or clinic. Find more insight on our campaign page. 
#CervicalScreeningRedTape

Follow Our Campaign

Read more about our #CervicalScreeningRedTape campaign and follow us on twitter @ETUKUndressing and Instagram @UndressingDisability.

 

Worried about Cervical Screening?

Visit the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust website where you’ll find lots of practical information, advice and a forum where you can pose questions and share experiences.

#CervicalScreeningRedTape campaign

By Disability, Undressing Disability

Our #CervicalScreeningRedTape campaign aims to highlight the fact that many disabled women are finding it difficult to access cervical screening.

The Issues

Common barriers to accessing cervical screening are:

  • Disabled women not being offered a smear test as it is often assumed that they are not sexually active and are less likely to need a test.
  • Physical barriers such as a lack of non-adjustable beds in GP surgeries.
  • Fear. Due to a previously negative experience. Or a self-consciousness as their body may differ to what they believe medical staff are used to seeing.
  • Expense. Often disabled women have to travel further than their local surgery to attend an accessible clinic.

Potential Solutions

What can be done to improve access to smear tests for disabled women? Below are four potential solutions.

  1. Recognise that disabled adults can enjoy an active sex life and offer as standard cervical screening and sexual health tests.
  2. Ask what an individual’s needs are. If your surgery does not have accessible facilities that meet the needs of a disabled patient, then have a procedure in place where you can offer an alternative location. This saves both you and the disabled woman a lot of time and effort phoning around. Read Emily’s blog for a real-life example. 
  3. Realise that standard procedures won’t work for everyone. For example, due to physicality it may be easier for a woman to have a smear lying on her side rather than on her back. We are all different, and often know our bodies well. So if it’s feasible to do things differently, be willing to give it a try.
  4. Most women are apprehensive about having a smear test but for many disabled women there is an extra layer of nervousness. Reassurance prior to the test being booked can help alleviate this fear.

We fully appreciate the challenges our NHS is facing during the pandemic and know that wait times may be longer than usual, however we hope our solutions can become best practice.

Useful Resources

Undressing Disability Podcast

Dr Larisa Corda OBGYN and presenter Sam Renke are guests on Episode 2 of our Undressing Disability podcast. Joined by our CEO Jennie Williams they share personal experiences of the issues around accessing cervical screening raised in this #CervicalScreeningRedTape campaign.

 

Blog

Emily wrote about her experience as a wheelchair user of trying to access her first ever smear test in this blog article.

The Undressing Disability Hub

Last year we launched our Undressing Disability Hub which is free to join. It is full of free resources on topics relating to sex and disability. Members include professionals working in the fields of medicine, psychology, and care homes. As well as sex educators and those searching for a safe network to learn and share information on the topic of sex and disability.

Sign up for free today.

Worried about Cervical Screening?

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is a charity which provides information and support on the topic of cervical cancer. Their website https://www.jostrust.org.uk/ is full of valuable insight and they do an incredible job raising awareness and saving lives with their work.

#CervicalScreeningRedTape 

Stay Up To Date

Follow our campaign on social media on twitter @ETUKUndressing and Instagram @UndressingDisability. #CervicalScreeningRedTape

 

Bedroom Adventures Logo is a black lacy eye mask with the brand name in curvy black writing below

Win A Decor Heart Wedge From Bedroom Adventures

By Disability, Undressing Disability

This competition is now closed. Congratulations to winner Rosie Glen.

A graphic of a crown with the word WINNER written on it and the name Rosie Glen below. The background is bright blue

It’s competition time!

Thanks to Bedroom Adventures we have a Décor Heart Wedge to give away to one lucky winner. Perfectly contoured for the derriere, the Décor Heart Wedge provides a sweet incline for deeper penetration and G-spot positioning during lovemaking. This compact version of the Wedge combines passion with fashion as a positioning aid that doubles as a decorative pillow.

A merlot red coloured heart shaped cushion

Prize:

1 x The Décor Wedge, gifted by Bedroom Adventures.

How to Enter:

Simply sign up to the Undressing Disability hub, complete your profile and a profile photo and you’ll automatically be entered.

Competition Ends:

Thursday 26th November at 12 noon

Winner Announced:

Tuesday 1st December at 12 noon.

Terms & Conditions: All new and existing hub members who have completed a profile, including uploading an image as a profile picture, will be entered into the competition. The winner will be contacted by email and also messaged on the hub. The winner must respond within 24 hours to confirm they wish to receive the prize, if not a new winner will be selected. Your prize will then be posted directly to you.

A lady in black basque and knickers poses on a bed holding the heart wedge

More Product Details

  • Compact version of the Wedge provides lift and angles for deeper penetration.
  • Perfectly contoured for the derriere.
  • Ultra soft velvish material in designer colours to match your bedding.
  • Removable, machine-washable cover.
  • Moisture-proof liner prevents moisture from penetrating the foam interior.
  • Measurement in inches: 18L x 14W x 7H

Bedroom Adventures

Thank you to Bedroom Adventures for the generous gift of this prize. Damian, owner of Bedroom Adventures is one of our Love Lounge sexperts, offering practical advice on getting the most from your sexual relationships. If we can help solve a dating dilemma or relationship question contact us in confidence.

Follow our Undressing Disability campaign on social media. Find us on Instagram and twitter, or search hashtag #UndressingDisability.

 

A leather jacket unzipped to reveal a yellowy orange background with the words UD events in black

Virtual Speed Dating – Undressing Disability Events

By Disability, Undressing Disability

Date In A Dash has teamed up with Enhance the UK to host some amazing Undressing Disability virtual events. Join us for an evening of fast, fun & flirty speed dating from the comfort of your own home. Disabled and non-disabled people are welcome. Our aim is to create an accessible event for everyone to enjoy.

Our next event is on the 25th November. This is a lesbian event aged for 25-45 year olds, age not strict but necessary,

Date: 25th November

You can expect to meet around 15-20 people throughout the virtual evening event which will take place on Zoom.

Registration

  • Please ensure you arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled start time to allow for registration.
  • Speed Dating kicks off at 8pm prompt.
  • Any guests arriving late may not be able to take part.

On arrival one of our friendly hosts will be waiting to register you.

When everyone has arrived the host will explain how the evening will unfold and the lucky chosen ones will be placed in your virtual date rooms for the duration of the event , with people visiting you throughout.

Make it Speedy!

The dates will last for 3 -4 minutes each (dependant on numbers)  the hosts will manage who goes where so no need to worry here.

Single Pringle Ready to Mingle

At the end of the event there will be a chance to mingle with everyone in a group networking session. So don’t worry if you forgot an infamous chat up line you can still test it out after the dates.

If you find the love of your life or maybe a few you’d like to meet again please make a note of their name. You can email the host at the end of the session to be linked up afterwards.

The event will aim to finish at around 9:30pm.

Tickets and Questions

Please be aware that tickets for our events are very limited and the majority do get booked up in advance. Please book early to avoid disappointment.

Tickets costs £5.98 and can be booked via this Eventbrite link.

If you have any queries or would like to discuss your access requirements please contact us.

Stay up to date with all our virtual events and news by joining us on Twitter @ETUKUndressing and Instagram @UndressingDisability #UndressingDisability #UDEvents

Discover more about Date In A Dash by visiting their website.

The Love Abilities Festival logo against a dark background with the dates 15th - 19th October 2020

The Love Abilities Virtual Sexuality and Disability Festival

By Undressing Disability

Empowerment

We at Enhance the UK are super excited by the upcoming Love Abilities Festival.  The festival aims to change the belief that disabled people have no desire for love, sex, and intimacy. It aims to empower disabled people with the skills, knowledge and resources to lead the fullest lives possible. And for their caregivers, lovers and allies to help support or be part of their life.  This is a festival that’s right up our street!

Love Abilities

The Love Abilities Festival takes place over 5 days starting on the 15th of October.   There will be 29 sessions and 50 presenters spanning 6 countries.  There is something for everyone in the programme from ‘Sex, the Law, Disability Rights and Fun’ to a workshop on ‘The Art of Teasing’.  If you’ve signed up the sessions are available for 30 days after the event.

  Jennie Williams Presenter at Love Abilities Festival

Dating with Disabilities

Jennie & Emily from our team will be on the ‘Dating with Disabilities’ panel alongside Dr Richard Bruno and Michelle Donald.

And our resident Love Lounge sexpert and occupational therapist Katherine Sellors is on the BDSM panel.

Love Abilities Festival panellist Kat Sellors

Tickets

You can get your tickets and find more information on https://loveabilities.org/ We hope to see you then!

Have you joined our Undressing Disability Hub yet? It’s a free online space where anyone with an interest in the topic of sex and disability can share knowledge, information, ideas and experiences. Sign up today.

Find us on twitter and Instagram, search hashtag #UndressingDisability.

Launch of the Undressing Disability Hub

By Undressing Disability

We’ve been working on an exciting new project for quite a while now – our Undressing Disability Hub. The Hub is an online networking platform where anyone can sign up for a free membership and share experiences, ideas, awareness campaigns and educational resources around the topic of sex and disability.

Our Aim

We encourage you to sign up and make new connections. We hope that together we can make progress and positive changes within this field, and show that we all deserve access to sexual expression, sensuality and safe, fun and satisfying relationships.

Knowledge and Ideas

We hope that as a member you’ll use the space to shout loudly about the projects you’re working on, any ideas you have and encourage others to sign up and do the same. We’ll make more of a splash in furthering change when we work together, and the Hub – that we like to call ‘the sexy little sibling of LinkedIn’ – is here to help us all do just that!

Working Together 

What we do at Enhance the UK has collaboration and communication at its heart, as does the reason why our Undressing Disability campaign – and therefore our Hub – was set up in the first place.

Inclusive Sex Education

Over 10 years ago, our CEO, Jennie Williams, was working within the care sector and realised that, not only was sexual expression not being discussed or appearing on any care plans, disabled people weren’t being viewed as capable or deserving of sensuality or intimacy. Be this through masturbation or with a partner. Years later, relationships and sex education is nowhere near as inclusive as many of us would like it to be, and organisations are still caring for others without any policy or procedure relating to relationships and intimacy, as well as safeguarding for their staff on this issue. And, until this changes, there’s plenty of work for us to be getting on with.

In signing up to and using the Undressing Disability Hub, you may want to discuss the inclusivity of sex toys and equipment or get involved in academic studies relating to sex and disability. Or even just share personal and professional experiences that then lead to collaborative projects, exciting new campaigns and, ultimately, change.

Free E-Book to celebrate Hub launch

Oh, and did we mention that when you sign up, you’ll receive a free copy of our Undressing Disability e-book, too?

We are thrilled to have created something that encourages such useful conversation and can’t wait to see this platform – and more importantly, this topic – flourish. It undoubtedly deserves to.

SIGN UP TODAY.

Keep up to date with all our latest news, articles and campaigns by connecting with our Undressing Disability campaign on twitter and Instagram.

 

Kelly is pictured in her electric wheelchair with her son Mason and newborn Hunter. She is wearing a bright red adidas top, and is beaming at the camera

How having a PA changed my experience of parenthood

By Undressing Disability

A guest blog by Kelly Perks-Bevington

I’m Kelly and am a disability awareness trainer for Enhance The UK, and I’ve got two little boys, Mason who is two and a half, and Hunter who is just seven weeks old. When I was invited to write this article about parenthood, I thought about it and there is no better piece that I could write than talking about my experience of parenthood this time using PA’s.

Wait and See

When I was having Mason, I really had no idea what to expect, and largely neither did the doctors. They said it was a “wait and see” situation, which of course is what every expectant mother wants to hear! It really was that! After thinking about a natural birth or a c-section and flip flopping between the two Mason decided himself that he wanted to be born at 38 weeks, and after getting to 10cm dilated and pushing, he decided again that he didn’t want to come out that way which meant that I was to have an emergency c-section under general anaesthetic.

In Control

The whole experience with Hunter from start to finish was completely different, I had control. I decided on a c-section at 37 weeks (to avoid him beating me to it!) and I decided also to try a spinal so that I could be awake for his birth. As I have scoliosis of the spine without rods or surgery it was pretty much a gamble as to whether the spinal would take, how far up it would go or whether it would be too low down. But I was determined to try it. I wanted to see my baby born, and I wanted it on my own terms. It worked after three pretty painful attempts.

It was really eye opening to actually figure out, along with the consultant where my spine actually was, and which nerves reacted to being prodded with a pretty giant needle!

Kelly holds her newborn son Hunter, she is wearing a leopard print top and has dark hair and blue eyes

The Spinal

The spinal was INSANE, it felt like warm pins and needles running through my lower body and the consultant said that despite my spine it was some of his best work – “the perfect spinal”! I felt in control, and when I heard my baby’s first cry I was in bits! Such a special moment.

Living with PA’s and having a baby

From the start of the journey with Hunter I had complete control and that has not changed at all now. I am in full control, thanks to my PA’s. I can get the assistance I need, and I am able to make ALL of my own parenting choices.

Throughout Mason’s early years I was reliant quite a lot on family and they were fab. However, family often make decisions on your behalf, not maliciously or to take over, but just because it is often easier for them to jump in for a feed, or to comfort the baby there and then rather than help with positioning etc.!

Don’t get wrong, I am so grateful for all of my family support with both kids, I couldn’t be without it! But a PA is literally there to assist you, not to do the job for you. Of course, my PA’s love baby cuddles too but it is all on my terms.

Because of my amazing team I’m able to take the time out I need to do everything I need to do. Whether it’s going for a quick wee (something so many moms don’t get to do, especially disabled ones!) or grabbing that much needed bath. It is amazing to be able to work to a schedule with support, rather than just frantically trying to do everything that needs doing.

The Importance of Self Care

With Mason, I ended up in hospital due to my lack of time for basic self-care, and it was serious. I ended up with sepsis and was hospitalized for a week. This time, I have someone who is there for me, making sure I drink enough, making sure I go to the toilet and making sure I am eating properly. I can’t explain how important that is. It would be amazing if all new moms had PA’s, disability or not because honestly the help is invaluable!

A selfie of Kelly and her two year old son Mason who is sitting in his car seat. Kelly has bright red lipstick on to matchher bright red adidas jacket.

Invaluable Support

Finding a care agency that can work with you and provide tailored support is also so important! My care company made sure I was part of the process from start to finish, recruiting my own PA’s and then they allow me to work on my own rotas, ensuring that I have the perfect PA for each task at hand!

It’s important to me that I have the control element just like anyone else.  The support I have had has literally changed and enhanced my life!

Enjoy all our latest articles, interviews and news by connecting with us on Instagram and twitter or search hashtag #UndressingDisability.

All images copyright Kelly Perks-Bevington.

 

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Disabled Parenting – A podcast with Fran Hamilton

 

Two hands clasped together with the hands and arms painted in the pride flag

Pride Month? Why not a Pride year?

By Disability, Undressing Disability

A guest blog by Carley Owen, Event Project Manager for Pride in London.

This is the first time I’ve ever written a blog, now I’m writing one in Pride Month, as an openly gay woman about LGBTQI+ and all the scariness and greatness that comes with that.  Although a daunting concept to voice one’s opinion in a world of endless criticism and trolling, never has the LGBTQI+ community needed awareness and support more, so here they are stuck with me.

Carley Owen sits at a table in a restaurant wearing a black top and a huge beaming smile

I never was one to ‘fly the flag’ when at university or in a wider capacity related to my sexuality.  Maybe this was because I was the sporting extrovert still stuck in ‘Narnia’ (my first and probably last educational reference). Maybe I enjoyed less lesbian drama (those of you who know, know). Or maybe I lacked the knowledge and understanding of what a powerful difference it can be to speak up.  This has now all changed, and I’ll shed some light on the reasons why.  This isn’t going to be a blog that rants at you but hopefully one that can provide clarity and some understanding from someone who has been there, done that and wears the rainbow t-shirt daily.

Why do we need awareness?

Let’s kick off with a good old statistic from the report ‘A long way to go for LGBTI equality’.

42% of LGBTQI+ people have suffered discrimination in the last year, compared to 39% in 2012.

Some of you may think that’s not a significant increase but the fact is, it’s an increase and it’s moving away from that world we all would like, equality.  We have made strides towards equality in recent times with the approval of same sex marriage in certain countries (maybe now I’ll find a partner…. wishful thinking).  Yet still in 13 countries being a homosexual is punishable by death and in some carries a prison sentence.  This is astounding to me, all for loving someone of the same sex.

The recent protests in the UK against teaching LGBTQI+ relationships in primary schools and the attack of a lesbian couple on a London bus, just shows how far we have yet to go.

I’ll never forget a member of staff in authority at one of my workplaces saying this to me ‘…because you’re northern, fat and a lesbian you’ll need to try harder in a London work setting to be accepted’.

Since when did my sexuality or the fact I’m chunky around the edges effect how I run an event or send an email?  Answers on a postcard please…. Needless to say, I left the company pretty swiftly after that, which should never have had to happen. If only they could see me now, all gay and proud at work!  This is not even the tip of the iceberg with why we need now more than ever to recognise Pride as an important movement. Whether we are in lockdown or not Pride is a time to demand more, to demand better.

A brightly coloured float and a crowd of people attending pride and having a brilliant time

Why do we have parades? 

Pride parades around the globe are being postponed due to Covid19.  Some pessimists may just see this as a glittery piss up in the street, but it is in fact a huge dent in the spirit of pride, tolerance and awareness for and of LGBTQI+.  The Stonewall riots back in June 1969 were the reasons we all now don our most flamboyant outfits and strut our stuff down the capital’s streets without a care in the world, the way it should be every day.  The parades are a celebration of this fight back.  This was the start of a new beginning for us all.

I will be forever grateful of the stand those brave people took 50 years ago for me to be able to do what I do today from writing this blog, to singing Britney at top note on a float in the parade, to being just me.

Last year saw the celebration of 50 years since that uprising and the largest gathering of people in Central London, 1.5 million celebrating as one.  When I read and hear that it was only 50 years ago that you were tormented, harassed or killed for loving someone of the same sex or for changing sex,  it absolutely boggles the brain. It sounds like something from the stone ages (apologies to anyone from that era). But the scary thing is, it wasn’t and isn’t.  This is why educating not just the Gen Z generation is so important but everyone across the board right down to the Baby Boomers, who may need a little more hand holding, hopefully by the same sex.

Changing Perspective

An image of legs wrapped in a pride flag, a flash of left bum cheek is showing where Carley has Enhance The UK and the word Jennie tattooed in black ink

Changing that one person’s perspective can make all the difference.  Let me set the scene on what was a pivotal factor to leading me where I am professionally and personally today.  I was in the mountains of Serbia, supporting in the training of a group of males all various ages who had disabilities with a charity I support, Enhance the UK.  Serbia is well known for housing homophobic attitudes, so for someone like me who was born with jazz hands it was the first time in my life I felt worried about travelling and doing what I love most.  I lived, laughed, trained, drank (sometimes too much) with the group but never disclosed my sexuality when asked, very unlike me to those reading that know me.

It came to the last session of the week which was a debate.  We decided to pick the topic of ‘Pro LGBTQI+’ and ‘Against LGBTQI+’ much to the disapproval of some of the team leaders.  As you can imagine the most talkative and enthused group were those speaking against LGBTQI+, when it came to talking for LGBTQI+ the room fell silent.

A guy I had made a great connection with throughout the trip (and evidently had asked me on a date- little did he know he was in for a shock) responded with ‘Carley there is nothing positive about being LGBTQI+’.

I began to get a little shaky, whether it was anger or nerves of the setting I found myself in I’ll never know, but my friend saw this and posed the following question to the group ‘Is anyone in this room LGBTQI+?’.  I didn’t know I would put my hand up, but I’m glad I did. The reaction was one of shock (as apparently, I didn’t look gay, I still need to find out what this look is) discussion and acceptance, followed by endless selfies – I now know how Kim K feels every day.  There was 30 people in that room who had one idea of what LGBTQI + was, and when they left, I hope to think one if not all had a different perspective. I have a tattoo of Enhance The UK on my backside as a positive reminder of this experience.

Bringing community together

Carley is dressed in black and jumps in the air in front of a rainbow coloured archway which is situated in a parkIn my role as Event Manager for University of East London I was overjoyed to plan the university’s first entry to the Pride parade last year. There was no better feeling then bringing each part of the university community together.  We had individuals who had recently ‘come out’, families of students wanting to share support of loved ones or just allies who simply wanted to show their solidarity for the day.  I was immensely proud of my workplace that day and what I had help achieve.   We had recently launched a brand new LGBTQI+ Staff Network and the parade was our first major event.  It was euphoric to be on a float making friends with everyone and anyone in eye sight.  If you can get the support of your University, SU, business that’s fantastic, but even if not, the application process is simple to be a part of the parade and can be at a cost that suits your budget, a limited cost for a priceless memory.

Staying In / Coming Out

Although the parade can’t happen this year the great people of Pride in London and many across the world have been adapting to the virtual norm.  I have been lucky enough to help create that feeling of euphoria by working as the Event Project Manager for Pride in London, albeit virtual euphoria (it’s a thing, I swear) by leading on the Staying In/ Coming Out virtual events site.

This is a year-round events platform for all LGBTQI+ events.  We promote, deliver and support all events and will continue to do so when Covid19 is all over.  If you or your society / charity/group have an event, or just an initial idea do get in touch with us and we will help make it a reality.  Events, social media and even blogging helps amplify the voices of those who may feel marginalised or isolated in these times. And all of this helps grow towards increasing acceptance, so let’s continue even after Pride Month.

It may be Pride Month but let’s make it a Pride Year, every day of the year.  Let’s keep talking, keep learning and be open to things we don’t know (it’s ok to not know it all).

From a first-time blogger, which I can now add to my CV wahoooo, I hope this helps.

Learn more about pride in London by following them on twitter @PrideInLondon or by searching hashtag #YouMeUsWe! 

Thanks to Carley for guest blogging. Say hi @CarleyOwen5

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