Pride Month is dedicated to celebrating acceptance, equality and the work of LGBTQ+ people.
In 2022, Lucy Catley, a Senior Lecturer and course leader for Food here at Harper, shared her son, Elijah’s story to staff at a #Respect Policy evaluation meeting, one year after the policy had officially launched.
The Harper community welcomed her talk and showed an abundance of support, opening up the topic for questions and discussion.
We spoke with Lucy to share her story with the wider community to continue to raise awareness for this important month.
Here’s what she said.
“I receive an email last year from a member of staff asking to share my story and, being an impulsive person, I just had to do it.
“In many ways, the University has always shown so much respect but it wasn’t always directly promoted, so holding events such as the Respect chat last year has really raised the profile of respect and shown the importance of embracing everyone.
“Prior to this, I believe the Vice-Chancellor had done a staff talk about embracing and sharing stories, as well as understanding pronouns - and it really inspired me to get involved.
“Discussing pronouns that are different to someone’s gender they were assigned with at birth is still a very new topic area, but it’s important that there is a space to talk about it openly.
“This sparked interest in me straight away as my son is transgender… he was assigned female at birth but at a very young age he decided he wanted to express himself as male.
“This was something we as a family had to adjust to, to ensure we were understanding and supporting our son as much as we could. It was difficult at first, and quite emotional, but I think some of that stems from it being a closed topic widely.
“It was a whole family adjustment, so I wanted to share my story to show the reality first-hand in hopes it will stop the topic being uncomfortable, or to help people feel less worried about addressing the topic rather than avoiding it.
“In the run up to the event, I was nervous and quite emotional as it’s a really personal story – most people didn’t know and I wasn’t sure what feedback I was going to get.
“However, as soon as I started talking, I felt like people were very understanding. It was very emotional for me at the time, to the point I was crying whilst presenting my talk, which I’d put together with the help of my son, and I could even see other people tearing up as I was talking – it was really refreshing to see such a positive response.
“I’ve had so many people contacting me since in the Harper community – asking me questions and being so kind, checking up on Elijah - which is so heart-warming – it really hit home just how important this awareness was.
“It’s very much opened the discussion without people being worried to ask questions – I’ve had people come to me asking how to deal with certain situations, such as how to respond when you make an error, which is really nice to hear. I don’t have all the answers of course, I’m still learning myself - but the fact this environment is being created is fantastic!
“I feel that the University has come a long way, and I think a lot of that is to do with the Vice-Chancellor encouraging people to be open and to not be afraid to ask questions. The world is changing and it’s important that these topics have been made to be opened up for discussion without worrying.
“When we were at the recent brand launch on campus, I was sat with a group of students and they were talking openly about personal topics like sexuality and disability, and told me that the VC is someone you can openly chat with and put ideas forward to, which is exactly what the community needs! I thought it was refreshing to hear.
“As I said before, my son helped me with writing my presentation – he’s so passionate about raising awareness and making a difference, so he was so proud of me for coming forward to tell our story. It’s been a good thing for our relationship too because it showed him how proud I am and also meant I could understand what he’s going through.
“It was also very timely too…Elijah was just about to start university so he had his apprehensions about moving to a new community and fitting in. When he was looking at universities, one of the things he was researching was the community he would be moving into and basically how accepted and safe he would be.
“Students should be free to go to any university and feel safe but unfortunately that isn’t always the case, but I’m happy to say though that he’s now started university studying Psychology and he’s really settled in well and enjoying it!
“Sharing this story is not just about helping my son, it’s about helping everybody - and I feel like if I can be another person fighting that corner for those who might feel like they can’t, then I will always share Elijah’s and my story.”