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Blog – LGBT+ History Month – Karen Bennett

To mark the end of LGBT+ History Month, Community Rail Network board member Karen Bennett shares her thoughts on the recent Archway conference and its impacts on the community rail movement.

As LGBT+ History Month draws to a close, I’d like to share some thoughts with you as an education officer, member of the Community Rail Network board, and bisexual woman.

I attended the Archway conference on Thursday 24th February in Birmingham. For those of you who don’t know, Archway is Network Rail’s LGBT+ network that is open to anyone in rail who identifies as LGBT+ or as an ally. I must say, I have been to many a conference, in my past life as a teacher and now on the railway, and it really was one of the most inspiring. Network Rail have been awarded Silver in the Stonewall Workplace equality index and Archway, network of the year! An amazing achievement from the steering group led by chair Shane Andrews MBE, who of course all have their day jobs in the rail industry too!

As an education officer, something I am keen on doing is getting more young people to pursue careers in the industry. Sharing news that the railway’s LGBT+ network is the best around is very reassuring for young people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans or something else (the +). In the words of Alex Hynes, managing director of Scotland’s Railway, “the railway is for everyone”. Even as a 38-year-old woman, it is great to know I work in an industry that supports my sexual orientation and means I can bring my whole-self to work.

A common take-home from the conference was that a lot has been done by trailblazers in recent years to improve the rights and quality of life for the LGBT+ community, but we still have a way to go. I’d like to share a couple of thoughts about how we (staff, board, officers, adopters, volunteers, TOC members) can make community rail an inclusive movement by becoming allies of the LGBT+ community.

*Never assume. Be open when talking to someone about their personal life. If they talk about their partner use gender neutral pronouns like “they” until you know for sure. Don’t assume someone is heterosexual. 

*Respect pronouns. By sharing your own pronouns (she/her, he/him, they/them) you’re making it the norm for gender-nonconforming people to share theirs. If someone tells you their pronouns, be sure to get them right. Everyone makes mistakes, especially if pronouns change, but a small effort on your part can make a big difference to someone else.

*Calling it out. If someone around you makes homophobic or transphobic comments they will probably continue to do so if they’re getting away with it. Remind them it’s wrong and call it out for what it is if you feel confident and safe to do so. If you don’t, speak to the person you would usually discuss these matters with, such as your line manager.

*Be open minded. Take time to listen to your LGBT+ friends, family, and colleagues. We’re all different and our expectations, tolerances, views, and mindsets are varied. Terminology changes a lot – what is acceptable and what isn’t. Sometimes you might make a mistake, I know I have, but we can be committed to being open to change and doing better when we know better.

I am happy to talk about my experiences and my inbox is always open. If you’ve any thoughts or questions please do reach out to me.