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UCD LGBT Staff Network

Greasán LGBT do Bhaill Foirne UCD

Report of Open Meeting 2010

Establishing an LGBT network of staff in UCD

1.  Introduction

The opportunity to establish an LGBT network at UCD has arisen from an interest in raising the profile of LGBT staff issues in UCD. It follows on from successful networks established in other universities and workplaces in the UK and Ireland. In particular, the experience of an LGBT staff network in UCC has provided a model that Equality Officers in universities across Ireland view as being a good practice development and that provides valuable learning about how LGBT university staff can be supported.  

As a result Fiona Donohue, UCD’s Equality and Diversity Manager, initiated a consultation exercise based on two facilitated meetings to explore the possibility of establishing an LGBT network at UCD. As part of the equality agenda and with a view to progressing equality for LGBT staff, the development of a staff network is seen a viable way for breaking down the isolation of LGBT staff and ensuring that LGBT issues are progressed throughout the university. As a result, two facilitated meetings took place with staff at UCD on 14 January and 10 February 2010. The meetings were facilitated and written up by Dr Jane Pillinger.

The consultations followed on from two previous successful workshops held at UCC and TCD on the role of staff networks that were also facilitated by Dr Jane Pillinger. The first, organised at UCC on 14 March 2009, examined the role of staff LGBT networks in public, private and NGO organisations, with a particular focus on the staff LGBT network established in UCC. The second, held at TCD on 7 May 2009, drew on the learning from the UCC seminar and the explored the role of staff networks for other equality grounds, including disability and gender, and drew on the success of existing networks in the university. The two staff network workshops also brought together the Equality Officers from the universities in Ireland.

The workshops found that staff networks can play a valuable role in achieving equality outcomes and in supporting staff across different equality grounds. In particular, it was found that they can help to break down isolation and exclusion in the workplace, help build equality focussed organisations that meet the support needs of staff, and increase the participation of under-represented groups. A consolidated report of the two workshops, outlining the main themes and conclusions from the two workshops can be found can be found on:


2.  Open evening with LGBT staff, 14 January 2010


2.1     Introduction

The Open Evening was organised by Fiona Donohue UCD’s Equality and Diversity Manager, based in UCD HR. It was attended by fourteen members of staff at the university, who came from various schools/units and staff roles.

The objectives of the Open Evening were to:

  • Provide information to staff on UCD support services and to show a commitment to LGBT equality;
  • Enable staff to discuss the role and function of an LGBT network;
  • Explore how the university can best respond to the support needs of LGBT staff.


2.2 Presentations from Fiona Donohue, Jane Pillinger, Eibhear Walshe and Davin Roche

A welcome and introduction was given by Fiona Donohue, UCD Equality and Diversity Manager.

Jane Pillinger (facilitator) provided an overview of the two previous workshops.

Eibhear Walshe, LGBT Staff Liaison Officer at UCC, provided some experiences and insights into setting up an LGBT network at UCC. Eibhear talked about the importance of the encouragement and support provided by the Equality Office at UCC and acknowledged that establishing a network requires a lot of work and effort. Critical factors that have made the UCC network a success include the importance of having an official presence, having endorsement and support from the senior levels of the organisation, and having resources to support a network. Eibhear had himself experienced discrimination in his job regarding promotion and the Equality Officer took the issue very seriously.

The network was established in UCC in 2006 after the Equality Officer approached the group. Following an initial facilitated session the network received funding. A high level launch of the network, attended by the President and several Deans was important in sending a message to LGBT staff about the commitment, recognition and support for a network at the senior level. The network meets on a regular basis and alternates business meetings with social events. Two co-chairs were elected to ensure and this was particularly important to ensuring lesbian visibility. Terms of reference were agreed and launch of network was on the front page of the UCC staff web site.

A web site has been established and the network is facilitated by an email list. The list has the names of approximately 30 people, while fewer than this attend the meetings. Eibhear was clear that it is very important “for our protection to be visible”, particularly in tackling homophobic comments. The importance of this was realised recently when a discussion was held with one of the University Chaplains. Eibhear also suggested that it was important to ensure that an LGBT representative is included in university structures, for example, a seat on the University’s equality committee, and that the University provides training for managers to raise awareness on LGBT equality issues.

The network has been successful in establishing contacts with representatives from other universities, for example, the recently formed LGBT staff network at Queens University. A meeting has been proposed for a national network and Eibhear envisages that a national network of LGBT staff has the potential to be formed in the future.

Davin Roche, Director of Community Development Policy, Gay and Lesbian Network, provided an overview of recent developments in LGBT equality and civil partnership rights. Davin provided an overview of the role of GLEN, which has been a national LGB organisation since 1988. He spoke about the importance and value of LGBT staff networks in supporting equality objectives and outcomes.

Davin gave an overview of some of the issues arising from the NLGF Burning Issues report, based on a survey of LGBT people across Ireland, and also the GLEN/BelongTo report on LGBT Lives. Both reports highlighted workplace issues and the need to address discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace. For example, in the LGBT Lives research it was found that 25% had experienced verbal harassment at work and less than half were out to their line managers. These research studies have shown the importance of addressing workplace culture and discrimination.

Davin also provided an update on the Civil Partnership Bill and the importance it has for the workplace. By extending the LGB equality ground on marriage to civil partnerships, the legislation will provide for the same benefits that are currently received by married couples, such as, pension entitlements, parental leave, as well as health, insurance, travel and other benefits. Pensions are specifically mentioned in the legislation, although there will be no retrospective payments to those who are civilly partnered, as in the UK.

Davin highlighted the importance of the economic case for diversity in the workplace and how many employers in Ireland now recognise the importance of the business benefits of LGBT equality. He described this as the importance of employers understanding that ‘people perform the best when they can be themselves’. GLEN has been working with employers’ organisations in identifying the role that knowledge sectors and knowledge based companies can provide to the economy, and the intrinsic role of LGBT equality to this. This also draws on some proactive work carried out by Stonewall with employers in the UK, including the publication of resource materials. GLEN has adapted the Stonewall guide to diversity which will be launched in March 2010.  

Richard O’Leary from Queens University, Belfast, provided a brief synopsis of the recently formed LGBT network, which was inspired by the UCC network.

The group has held its first meeting and this was supported by publicity in the University magazine and an outside speaker to gain some visibility and support. The network is hoping to receive a small grant and is keen to be part of an all-Ireland University LGBT staff network. It is anticipated that the network will grow and gain in visibility. Richard stated that it is important for universities to recognise that LGBT friendly institutions attract the best staff and that has benefits for everyone.

2.3  Break-out groups

Breakout groups were held to explore the interest in and feasibility of establishing a UCD LGBT staff network and what a network could do. The following is a summary of key themes from break-out groups:

a) What role do you think an LGBT network could play in UCD?


  • Provide support, visibility and break down isolation
  • Social role and bridging the gulf between academic and administrative staff. 
  • Share experiences and gain advice and information
  • Make new friends and contacts, and have a safe space to meet
  • Give the university sense of ownership of LGBT equality and inclusion
  • University is a place for learning and leadership and should be at the forefront of new thinking
  • Promote awareness in UCD, including senior management and University Unions
  • Mainstreaming LGBT equality throughout the university

b) Do you think an LGBT network is needed at UCD?
Everyone attending the Open Evening stated that a network was needed and gave full support to the establishment of a network, and also to participating in future meetings.

c) What are the main issues faced by LGBT staff?


  • Discrimination / homophobia
  • Isolation
  • Harassment
  • Cultural assumptions and compulsory heterosexuality
  • Lack of visibility and stereotypes
  • Issues around promotion and career development

d) Recommendations/Feedback


  • Important to have a place in the University governance structures
  • Play a role in commenting on and critiquing university policies and practices on discrimination
  • Help to build on equality training for all staff (although currently this is built into existing training provided by HR)
  • Future meetings should be held at UCD
  • HR can send emails to all staff (through university relations)

It was agreed that a second meeting should be held in UCD to discuss the next steps in setting up a UCD LGBT network. There was a very positive response to the Open Evening and to developing a network in the future.