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30 Jul 2019
Ahead of the Pride march in Leeds, we spoke with Alex Dalton - founder of the LifeSearch LGBT+ Group
Tell us a bit about youI grew up in the troubles in 1980’s Belfast. My family suffered, just like many others. To be totally honest, I didn’t know being gay was even an option. I had a long-term girlfriend and even planned to get married because, well, because it was expected of me. Being different really wasn't something to shout about over there. There was a lack of visibility of gay people in the media. In the crosshairs of Section 28, anything remotely related to homosexuality was painted in a negative light.
I moved to Leeds for university, and I stayed. I love the city and the people. I’ve built a life for myself, by myself. Of course I miss Northern Ireland and the family but we stay in touch and meet up regularly.
What is Leeds' history and presence in Pride?The 2011 census didn’t collect data on sexual orientation but if the 10% rule is applied to Leeds' 775,000 residents then we can assume there's a large LGBT presence here.
Leeds has been forward-thinking - looking to other world cities for advice and inspiration in supporting inclusion and embracing diversity. As part of its Culture Strategy 2017- 2030, key decision and policy makers have joined forces with influencers in the arts and beyond to support each other and build stronger communities. And recently, we have seen initiatives like the Freedom Bridge and promoting Lower Briggate as a safe space.
Why is Pride (still) important?I grew up in Northern Ireland, which is for now the only place in the UK where I can't get married. I'd feel very uncomfortable holding my partner's hand there; even in the city let alone smaller towns or villages.
Pride is extremely important. Reports still come in every day from somewhere; of violence and discrimination perpetrated against LGBT people. In several countries there has been a lurch to the far right and gay people have always been at the front, protesting and standing tall against biased and bigoted politics.
How is it as a gay man to work at LifeSearch, or in financial services generally?In the financial industries, LGBT people are underrepresented. Again, apply the 10% rule and there should be a much bigger LGBT workforce in finance.
LifeSearch is a little different. The company's values and 31 daily practices naturally speak to equality, tolerance and embracing one another. I started the LifeSearch LGBT+ Group about a year ago in order to nurture LGBT people inside – and outside – of the company.
I've been involved in similar groups at other organisations but they've felt forced and stuffy. Ours is much more relaxed. As well as running comedy nights, support sessions and stress clinics, we bring in speakers, from Leeds City Council for example, to understand and assist in progress more generally.
We also connect with other local organisations, in financial services and beyond, and last year ran a mini Pride event with a team from the Yorkshire Building Society – pizzas and cocktails on the roof!
How might Pride and the LGBT equality movement evolve?There has been progress globally and locally for LGBT+ rights: the LGBT resolution at the UN Human Rights council was adopted in September 2014, and governments across the world – including in South Africa where LifeSearch have an office – are signed up.
Even governments traditionally opposed to human rights supported it. But the march of LGBT progress is, in some quarters, seen as a Western phenomenon. And as LGBT people become more visible, there is an inevitable backlash from countries where the Western dogma, or the perceived Western dogma, is frowned upon.
The community is frequently scapegoated by embattled governments, dictators and autocrats to galvanise populist support. We're seeing it in Uganda, Russia and even in some parts of the US.
So Pride is still hugely important. And LifeSearch continue to help the movement by being proactive in their support for humans and human rights. Any company that wants to show how #tolerant they are needs to back it up with actions. Pride is more than just a rainbow-coloured logo.
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