5 Steps for Making Events More Inclusive for LGBTQ+ Attendees

The End of the UK’s LGBTQ+ History Month 2021 and the Future of Events: 5 Steps for Making Events More Inclusive for LGBTQ+ Attendees

As February comes to a close so does the UK’s LGBT+ History Month. LGBT+ History Month was established in 2004 with the first month being held in 2005. Stemming from Schools OUT (itself an evolution of The Gay Teachers’ Group), Sue Sanders and Paul Patrick established the month to promote equality and diversity for the benefit of the public. It simultaneously celebrates the past, reflects on the present and looks towards the future.

As an academic venue we are very lucky that our staff have had access to such a wide range of events that have been hosted at our institution. The University of Hertfordshire has delivered a talk from Sue Sanders, reflections on the life of Ivy Williams led by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Matthew Weait, workshops on pronouns led by our LGBTQ+ Student Society, and a drag make-up tutorial. This is to name only a few.

In the spirit of looking forward and creating more inclusive environments we thought we’d turn inwards and reflect on the events industry; our industry. Angela Tupper wrote an excellent article last year for the eventmanagerblog.com. She asserts that, ‘[t]he fact is that the events industry in the US is now a safe space for the LGBTQ community.’ She also asks, ‘But is safety the same as progress when it comes to D&I? Or is it just the most basic prerequisite for any attendee?’

We don’t want to spoil the article, please go read it, but we thought we’d pool some ideas on how the events industry can be a more welcoming environment to the LGBTQ+ community.

1) Normalising pronouns

Events, conferences, and meetings are the hub of networking. You will meet new people throughout the day and want to introduce contacts to one another. Recognising that someone may use pronouns different from that usually associated with their gender presentation is important, recognises diversity and promotes inclusion.

You can include pronouns:
• On your name badges
• In programmes
• At the start of meetings
• When speakers introduce themselves
• Sign up forms

Remember to include “I do not wish to self-identify” as an option too.

2) Make space for LGBTQ+ speakers

This may sound obvious but the more diverse your panels, thought leaders, and speakers are then the more diverse range of views you will receive. This is not saying panel discussions need to be about issues effecting the LGBTQ+ community (it could be argued they should not be), but alternative perspectives will emerge.

3) Choosing inclusive venues

For event organisers this may mean asking whether staff receive equality training, looking for accreditation from LGBTQ+ organisations, or asking if they have gender neutral toilets available. This is where choosing an academic venue can be an advantage. The Higher Education and Further Education sectors tend to lead the way in equality, diversity and inclusion policies as they work with such a range of staff and young adults.
This is worth bearing in mind for organisers of international conferences. What laws exist in the other country to protect LGBTQ+ people? What is the general experience of LGBTQ+ people from the area?
For event coordinators look at your training records, facilities, and suppliers. Do these reflect the values of your company? Is the work culture in the events team inclusive? Are small things, like evacuation procedures, written using gender neutral language?

4) Collect the right data

For event organisers you can ask the following:
• Do you need to know the sex or gender of your attendees?
• How can you ask for this information?
• Can you allow for a “free type” option on your forms?

For event coordinators:
• Look for pronouns in email signatures
• Does your events system allow you to enter pronouns?
• Do you need to split accommodation?
• Do you need titles?

5) Establish a zero-tolerance policy

This is a zero-tolerance policy on homophobic, racist, sexist or any other biased language at your events. Publicize this on your website and during the event. When you arrive for that first coffee of the day you may be asked what you did at the weekend. If someone does not feel able to say they went for a romantic picnic with their husband, because it would out them, then they are already not bringing their full self to the event. Some people may still choose to keep this private but feeling as though they would not be judged makes it a choice.
Communicate this policy with the venue too and ask if they can assist you in publicising it. Ask your speakers to use gender neutral terms in their talks.

In conclusion

These months of various histories can often feel like self-contained bubbles of thought; they don’t stay contained though. LGBTQ+ people will still exist, black lives still matter, discrimination based on gender, disability, age, pregnancy, and religion will still take place at institutional levels. The lessons learned or new understandings garnered in these months should guide our thoughts and actions through the next year.
If you have got any further thoughts on this or think we’ve got something wrong or missed something we would love to hear from you. Please share your experiences, best practice or learning below.