The Importance of LGBT+ Staff Networks with Emma Burrow

The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia was created in 2004 to draw the attention to the violence and discrimination experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexuals, transgender, intersex people and all other people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions, and sex characteristics.

The date of May 17th was specifically chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. The Day represents a major global annual landmark to draw the attention of decision makers, the media, the public, corporations, opinion leaders, local authorities, etc. to the alarming situation faced by people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions, and sex characteristics.

Emma writes today about the importance of LGBT+ staff networks and how they can help stamp out LGBT+phobias.

At NEAS I feel I can be my ‘true self’ at work which is hugely important.

I work for North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) NHS Foundation Trust. I started working there in August 2018 as Research and Development Administrator. I soon became involved in the LGBT staff network Proud@NEAS. Firstly as social media secretary and I became chair in June 2019. I had never been involved with a staff network previously so I was a bit unsure as to what to expect. I attended my first meeting and instantly knew that I wanted to get involved with the network. The members were welcoming, friendly and it was clear to me that they really did want to make a difference to the lives of LGBT+ staff and patients. I used to work in elderly care which was not an environment where I felt I could be open about my sexuality.

“I was so proud to attend my first Pride event as part of NEAS marching with them in the parade and chatting to members of the public at the stall afterwards about our services.”

Emma burrow

It also gave me an opportunity to meet staff that I hadn’t met before from different areas of the organisation. I attended Northern Pride 2019 and my nephew, Oliver who was 5 at the time joined NEAS in the parade. This was by far my proudest moment yet! Oliver knows that he is growing up in a world where he can be whoever and whatever he wants to be, LGBT+ or straight, and he will have the same reaction from his family, complete love, acceptance and support.

Emma with her nephew, Oliver at Northern Pride 2019

I have had so many amazing experiences during my time as a member of the network such as:

  • I was asked to be a key note speaker and deliver a workshop at the 2019 Stonewall Scotland conference (unfortunately I was away in Venice at the time!)
  • As chair of the network I am also a committee member of the National Ambulance LGBT (NALGBT) Network. I attended my first NALGBT network meeting in Crawley in 2019 then stayed on and went to Brighton Pride. My first time at Brighton Pride and it was absolutely amazing!
  • I have developed true friendships with people in the network
  • I have the opportunity to meet with senior managers/Exec team within my organisation and outside of it to try and make real change for LGBT staff and patients
  • I was part of a working group to set up a local Pride event which was a huge success and then invited to the Mayor’s Drinks Reception for this
  • I took part in the NEAS ‘Reverse mentoring’ scheme. I was paired with a Director whom I mentored. We created a safe space where they could ask any questions and have frank discussions about my LGBT experiences
  • Took part in a ‘Rainbow Rounders’ event hosted Teesside University playing against teams form the Uni, Cleveland Fire Brigade, Cleveland Police, local LGBT+ charity Hart Gables and Middlesbrough Football Club Foundation
  • Hosted the LGBT+ Video Booth from York University where staff recorded a short 30 second video about their experiences with Proud@NEAS. We had recordings from staff throughout the organisation, including our Chief Executive, Chairman and Directors as well as Operational, Emergency Operations Centre and Support staff.
Proud@NEAS at the NE Ambulance Rainbow Rounders

There is the opportunity to meet lots of people from different backgrounds. This gives you a chance to hear their stories and better understand the issues which LGBT+ people face. I have met some incredible and inspirational people along the way and heard their stories. These can be heart-breaking and hard hitting but are so important to hear. It is truly humbling that they feel comfortable enough to confide something which they do not feel comfortable talking about with others. This is because the network creates a safe and confidential place where the person knows they will not be judged and where support is available.

International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia

It has not all been positive however. I came out when I was 21 and because of my job at the time I hid my sexuality. This meant that I have never suffered much homophobia directed towards me personally. However, at NEAS, we organised a rainbow themed dress down day, cake sale and walk of solidarity for International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) 2019. We displayed posters around our headquarters to advertise it. The posters were then pulled down and damaged. This happened numerous times when new posters were put up. I was really upset and shocked at this. I thought that everyone I worked with, especially at headquarters, were inclusive.

It made me worry about being open about my sexuality when I’m at work. I really struggled going into work and looking at everyone there wondering if it was that person who didn’t like me because I am gay. The management were equally shocked and disappointed that this had happened and spoke to all of their teams to remind them there was zero tolerance for that kind of behaviour. We persevered with the plans and it was a really successful day. I put my own insecurities about what had happened to the back of my mind, wore as much rainbow as possible and I’m so glad that I did. The support and positivity from everyone on the day more than over-shadowed what had happened with the posters. Fortunately that is the only negative experience I’ve had and the positive experiences far outweigh that one bad one. 

“There is a real sense of belonging when you are part of a group of people who have similar ways of thinking and a joint goal of wanting to make things better for staff and patients who identify as LGBT+.”

Emma Burrow

The staff network consists of people who identify as LGBT+, much valued allies and the Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) team.

For me, staff networks are vital. They are a place for like-minded people to meet, chat, socialise, take part in events and try to make real changes within the organisation and with the wider community. It is a place where you can have a real sense of worth and make real connections. It gives people the opportunity to attend conferences, activities and events that they may not have known about previously. NEAS has three staff networks:

  • Proud@NEAS – LGBT
  • Able@NEAS – Disability
  • Together@NEAS – BAME
Some members of Proud@NEAS at the Blue Light Breakfast a head of Northern Pride 2019

We are planning some joint-working in the future as all three networks understand the importance of supporting each other and, although each group’s characteristics have their own issues, many issues are similar and we recognise that we can be stronger together. 

For me in these difficult and uncertain times, the staff networks are more important now more than ever. We continue to support each other and are finding different ways to connect such as Microsoft Teams catch ups, WhatsApp groups and weekly virtual quizzes.

I am very thankful to be a part of a staff network where I know that if I am struggling or need help, I can turn to the members of the group and the support is there every time. 

Find out more about International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

May 17 is now celebrated in more than 130 countries, including 37 where same-sex acts are illegal. Thousands of initiatives, big and small, are reported throughout the planet.

The International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia has received official recognition from several States, international institutions such as the European Parliament, and by countless local authorities. Most United Nations agencies also mark the Day with specific events.

Emma (she/her) started working for the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) NHS Foundation Trust in August 2018 as the Research and Development Administrator. Emma previously worked for many years in Elderly Care Management but has always had a long term ambition to work for the ambulance service. Emma quickly became an active member in the LGBT staff network, Proud@NEAS. Firstly as the Social Media Secretary and taking on admin duties, and was then appointed as Chair of the network in June 2019. During her time at NEAS Emma has taken part and helped to organise various LGBT+ awareness events, helped to organise and attend Pride events, built links with local LGBT+ networks and charities and was a member of the Darlington daytime Pride Working Group. Emma has loved her time so far at NEAS and is committed to raising the awareness and inclusion of the LGBT+ community within and outside of the organisation. Emma is also an active member of the National Ambulance LGBT Network. In her spare time, Emma volunteers for the Anthony Nolan charity with their Hero Project education programme. Emma goes into schools and colleges to talk about stem cell, blood and organ donation and then helps to recruit students onto the UK Stem Cell Register. This is something Emma is passionate about since being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 25, relapsing 3 times and eventually having a stem cell transplant in 2015 from an unrelated donor, which Anthony Nolan found and facilitated the transplant.