Taking Pride in our research – focus on Jo Clough

Today’s blog is the last of the week of LGBTQ+ research focussed articles and is a special edition to celebrate Autistic Pride Day which takes place tomorrow, 18 June 2022.  In it, we are featuring Jo Clough who is a PhD student looking at the experience of autistic women accessing social care.  Although we particularly wanted to showcase her work for Autistic Pride Day, Jo explains why her work is also relevant to the LGBTQ+ community in general. 

What is the research project you are currently working on? 

I did a master’s in social work at Bristol University and I guess my dissertation and work as a student social worker inspired me to do what I’m doing now. Alongside this, the project also stems from personal and professional experiences of male bias and seeing how this plays out time and time again in research, practice and day-to-day life. 

I’m looking to interview autistic women and that’s anyone who identifies as a woman or basically non-male – so non-binary, trans, anyone who doesn’t exclusively identify as male!  

It’s to do with their experiences of adult social care, so whether people have had support from social care or whether they’ve tried to access it. I’ll be doing semi-structured interviews and I’m offering a variety of different formats to try and capture as many voices as possible because there’s a large number of people that quite like typing, for example, rather than just your traditional face-to-face talking interview.  

How is this relevant to the LGBTQ+ community? 

I’m coming from an intersectional lens, so I’m interested in how all different kinds of marginalised groups are impacted. For instance, a black gay autistic woman is very likely to have different experiences compared to a white, heterosexual autistic guy. I’m looking at how these characteristics and social identities overlap and can pose as barriers to accessing services and support. At times these can be subtle barriers that it’s not always easy for people to see.  

More specifically to the LGBTQ+ community, current research shows that there are higher rates of ‘non-heterosexuality’ in the autistic population and then, even more specifically, it’s higher in autistic women than it is in non-autistic women. So it’s very pertinent to the community, and going on from that, gender diversity is higher again in autistic populations compared to neurotypical populations, so it is very relevant to the community. 

Is the motivation for your research more to raise awareness or do you have a specific goal of increasing support for these people in some way? 

It’s quite a few things really. Even though there is research that might talk about autistic women or autistic people, it might not even report on sexuality or race. If you just talk about the LGBTQ+ community specifically, research shows that mental health outcomes are poorer, and then you throw autism into the mix and it’s even poorer again. So yes, it would be great to raise awareness, not just about getting support, but knowing that the support is there. The funny thing is that although there’s all this medicalised talk going around with autism, the way you get a diagnosis is through behaviour. So it’s a very socially diagnosed label and a lot of people don’t realise they’re entitled to social care support. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge of getting to hear those voices?  

There’s all kinds of reasons I think.  I’ve found going out and putting up paper posters in the community more difficult than I expected – people almost treat me like I’m a big company looking for free advertising!  We’re living in COVID times – charities are stretched, some are stressed. And because I’m trying to get a variety of voices and do something a little bit different to what’s out there already I haven’t gone through standard routes, like contacting the National Autistic Society for example.  So far I have found online methods to be the best, which makes sense when, as I said, there is a preference for online forms of communication, because obviously, you can have your video off, you can type, and also have that processing time which is really valuable in a world where that is not really the norm yet. 

Will you be celebrating Pride yourself?  

Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

Yes, I will be going to the parade but also to Bitch, Please! which is an afterparty in the courtyard of the Christmas Steps. They have some great local DJs and the profits go to the Albert Kennedy Trust, which is an LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity, and to the All Out Ukrainian LGBTQIA+ fund.  So it will be great fun but all in a good cause as well! 

 

A big thank you to Jo for giving up her time to talk to us.  If you would be interested in taking part in her research you can contact her directly at j.clough@brtistol.ac.uk.  And if you would like to know more about how we are celebrating Pride please visit our Pride webpage. And if you have your own stories to share about Pride or being part of the LGBTQ+ community please get in touch: student-comms@bristol.ac.uk. 

#BristolUniPride #BristolPride

Taking Pride in our research – focus on Dr Mario Campana

Mario Campana is a Lecturer in Marketing in the School of Management and has been at the University of Bristol since 2021. His research is focussed on consumer research and consumer culture theory specifically. His research programme is partly centred on diversity and inclusion, focusing on LGBTQ+ themes. We spoke to Mario about his recent work on RuPaul’s Drag Race and its place within LGBTQ+ brand history. 

What is the main motivation behind your research areas? 

I started my PhD in a different area of research, looking at alternative economies. I think it was something like 2012, 2013, and I just came across RuPaul’s Drag Race.  I got hooked to the point that I nearly stopped finishing my PhD! I watched all the series that were out there, and I kept watching it again and again and again!

I hadn’t been to any drag shows before watching Drag Race. So, I really entered this world more socially rather than on any research perspective. What I really found interesting were the stories that they were telling on the show – the experience of being excluded, of being the outcast in school, of growing up at the margins. I found that these stories were resonating with me, and with other people within the LGBTQ+ community. 

I found myself at a party, where two people were talking who were not LGBTQ+ and they were watching Drag Race as well, and these stories were also resonating with them! I found this interesting because when you look at the literature in Marketing, it says that the things that are for LGBTQ+ people are only for LGBTQ+ people, right?  

So, how could Drag Race have achieved mainstream success, despite carrying the LGBTQ+ stigma? We are in a period where there is more, I would not say acceptance, because different letters in the spectrum are facing very different challenges, but at least a bit more legal legitimation of LGBTQ+ people. And while the challenges are still steep, you have this show that showcases drag queens and normalises them. 

So, this is where the project started from. But as I started my research, other things came up too. I am now looking at, with other colleagues, the academic literature in marketing on LGBTQ+ people as consumers. We are trying to map the literature and look at underrepresented consumer segments. For example, transgender men and women or transgender people in general, who almost disappear when it comes to these studies, which are normally focused on white gay men in the Western Hemisphere. 

Has Pride itself taken a similar route to Drag Race in becoming a mainstream brand? 

I am an advocate of Pride as a protest, I think that’s the function of Pride, rather than having a parade of corporate sponsorships. Effectively, as they became a brand, they also become more commercialized. I think Pride is a bit of a crossroad in terms of what it represents. Pride really has to reconfigure what they stand for.  

Will you be celebrating Bristol Pride this year? 

So, I’m not sure I’ll be in Bristol for the march, but I celebrate Pride in general. You have to celebrate Pride if you can. Despite its identity crisis, Pride needs to be celebrated. The creation of visibility is always important. 

Has the response to your research themes changed since you started looking into them and if so, how? 

When we started the research, we were basically trying to show a case of a brand that was becoming mainstream, and we saw that there was more to it than that. So, we integrated this idea of stigma, and spectacles and trying to create visibility around this, the theme of the research has shifted since the beginning.  

In terms of participants that we interviewed, it’s quite interesting to see. I thought that my experience with Drag Race was a shared experience, but then as we started to interview, we started seeing that this story really resonates with people that have had hardships in their lives. So, people that had less hardships, they somehow see less in the show. 

Do you see a difference in responses to Drag Race, across different demographics? 

Yes, there are the very young people! Though we don’t yet have many of them in our research interviews. We have people more or less my age, that went through being in the closet when they were younger, that hardship there. And we’ve interviewed older people, who have been through the same thing, but they’re also really attracted to this fabulousness of drag queens! 

Another aspect is that I was very surprised how drag queens are cultural in the UK. A lot of older people, even non-LGBTQ+ people, have been to drag shows. They will watch RuPaul because they are familiar with drag shows. This gives them something in common with the younger demographic.  

Who has been your favourite drag queen on the show?  

Hands down Bianca Del Rio! But I have to say in the UK, Tia Kofi. 

A big thank you to Mario for giving up his time to talk to us.  If you would like to know more about how we are celebrating Pride please visit our Pride webpage. And if you have your own stories to share about Pride or being part of the LGBTQ+ community please get in touch: student-comms@bristol.ac.uk. 

#BristolUniPride #BristolPride

Taking Pride in our research – focus on Dr Peter Dunne

In today’s blog we talk to Dr Peter Dunne about his fascinating work around LGBTQ+ rights and legal reform. If you ever wanted to find recent, relevant and meaningful research in this area then look no further!

What is the main focus of your research?

My research focuses on LGBTI+ rights. I’m particularly interested in both diverse family units and how the rights of LGBTI+ people have been affected by the European Union in recent decades. I work on all types of questions, including who can get married, how best to protect LGBTI youth and how the law should shape experiences of gender and sexuality. I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to work in a significant number of inspiring collaborators – in academia, civil society and the policy sphere.

In recent years, my scholarship and policy work has touched upon a number of less obvious or less visible questions, such as male pregnancy. In the United Kingdom, one of the positive aspects of our gender recognition laws (although, I do still think that these laws need to be updated) is that individuals can legally amend their gender without compromising their capacity to have children.

This raises the question of how the law can and should respond where people reproduce outside traditional expectations. An example might be a person, who is legally male, but who decides to conceive and give birth to a child. This is an issue which politicians, judges and policy-makers are increasingly trying to address, both in England and Wales, and in Europe. My research explores this subject from different angles. I also served as an expert in a recent case regarding this question in England and Wales.

What is the main motivation behind your work?

I think that there is often a perception that, within the UK, progress for LGBTI+ people has been unidirectional. Both as a matter of law and social acceptance, we sometimes assume that the situation for LGBTI+ in this country is almost universally positive. Of course, in a comparative context, where we look around other parts of Europe, it is true that some LGBTI+ people in this country experience relative levels of equality and non-discrimination. Yet, many problems remain – both in terms of legal rights (or an absence thereof) and in the lived-experience of LGBTI people. At least in terms of my work on domestic LGBTI+ rights, I am motivated to identify and explain outstanding gaps or problems in our current legal and social frameworks, and to think about ways, big and small, that we might be able to improve the equality and well-being of LGBTI+ communities in this country.

Do you find you get a positive response, or do you feel you’re always meeting resistance to this kind of research?

I think that, within academia, there is a real appetite for understanding how laws, social structures and cultural practices negatively impact the lives of LGBTI+ populations. In recent times, the UK, particularly our different funding bodies, has been good in terms of providing resources for LGBTI+-focused research, and in encouraging and creating relevant conversations within academic spaces. At present, there are numerous academics across the UK who are undertaking really important studies into the lives and experiences of LGBTI+ communities.

My perception is that, within the wider public sphere, it has become, within the last five years, more difficult to respectfully discuss the rights and experiences of LGBTI+ individuals, in a manner which acknowledges the dignity and humanity of the people involved. As an academic, I have a strong commitment to free expression and robust debate. Furthermore, as somebody who is interested in policy reform, I understand that proposed legislative changes, whether or not directed towards LGBTI+ populations, must be subject to appropriate scrutiny. Yet, I worry that, increasingly, our public conversations, particularly about gender and sexuality, disregard the dignity and humanity of those most affected. Furthermore, free speech works both ways. While individuals have the right to critique LGBTI+ rights, so too they must accept pushback against their own comments. Free speech protects both opposition to LGBTI+ rights and those who would criticise that opposition,

Do you have any advice for someone thinking about going into research and the challenges they might face?

For anybody who’s thinking about doing research in the area of LGBTI+ rights, I would say it is a hugely rewarding area of scholarship. In the social sciences, there are a number of questions out

there which remain unanswered, so I’d say it is a very exciting time to be doing doctoral work, post-doctoral work, or even undergraduate dissertations. Every year, I read dissertations from undergraduates who write on issues relating to LGBTI+ rights and it is always fantastic work. It’s really inspiring, and I hope that a number of these students will consider further research after their degrees.

And lastly, how will you be celebrating Pride?

Well, I’ll be celebrating Pride by doing quite a lot of marking! But I’ll also be celebrating how much the community has come on. I’m definitely not going to say there aren’t challenges, but even in the face of those challenges, there are people doing fantastic work. So, I’ll be spending time with friends, attending Pride-related events and taking the opportunity to engage in the research that inspires me!

 

A big thank you to Peter for giving up his time to talk to us.  If you would like to know more about how we are celebrating Pride please visit our Pride webpage. And if you have your own stories to share about Pride or being part of the LGBTQ+ community please get in touch: student-comms@bristol.ac.uk. 

#BristolUniPride #BristolPride

Taking Pride in our research – focus on Dr Sarah Jones

In the first of this week’s blogs focusing on research we are talking to the vibrant Dr Sarah Jones, a lecturer and researcher in the Department of History.  Dr Jones’ teaching in 2022/23 will include the units Gender in the Modern World, Under the Covers: Sex and Modern British Print Culture, and Sexualities, reflecting her interest in histories of gender and sexuality.  She generously gave her time to discuss some of the challenges around researching queer history, and what appealed to her about taking part in a multi-disciplinary project organised by the Brigstow Institute. 

What was your motivation for getting involved in Jenny: Posed as a woman

The big motivation behind the Jenny project is the fact that queer histories, and especially trans histories, are often told through what we would consider regulatory bodies, so we tend to hear about people when they’re arrested, or oppressed in some way, or when horrible things are happening to them. And that’s obviously a really important thing to look at and understand, but it also means that you don’t really get that much of a sense of these people as real, living people.  History has often tended to focus on victimisation, oppression, and persecution  – what Tom (Marshman) wanted to do is think about different ways we could look at the archive and build a more rounded, human story about someone like Jenny.  Just a wonderfully complicated person living a complicated life in a complicated moment.   

Why do you think queer history is important?

I think it is important for a couple of different reasons. For one, I think it would be a wonderful thing if queer history stopped being something that is only covered as a sort of aside, an appendix to other kinds of ‘normal’ history. There’s this tendency to see it as kind of niche and to assume that it’s only done by angry queer people –  the power of history is showing that these are just people living their lives, and they are just as important and just as much part of history as everybody else. But I also think history is actually really important in helping us understand why we are the way we are now, how we’ve got here. I think it’s actually quite a powerful thing to look at people and say the oppression you’re facing is not inevitable,  it’s a product of historical processes.  And actually, if we understand that, maybe we can challenge it – that’s a really formidable, empowering thing.   

Have you seen many changes in responses to your research and teaching during the last 10 years? 

I would say in my experience, as our student body gets more diverse, I’m teaching more students who are openly, confidently, and happily queer, which is great. And of course that means they want to see histories of themselves. I’m seeing lots more students working on queer history as  part of their assessments for their own research, which is really exciting.  

What are the greatest challenges you face around your areas of research? 

So it’s quite difficult to find the same sort of evidence for queer history as it would be for other forms of history, just because you don’t always have that same kind of archival presence. People were either deemed to be not important enough to keep their archives, and lots of families burnt the papers of people who were in queer relationships after their death because they didn’t want to attract unwanted or negative attention. People wanted to keep their clandestine activities under the radar.  Funnily enough, they’re not going to write a diary that records all the crimes they committed!  

Will you be celebrating Pride this year? 

I think Pride is brilliant. I remember going to my first Pride when I was about 16, in Cardiff, and I was a little baby gay and I was having a proper in the closet, out of the closet the moment. I remember it was slightly terrifying at the time, but also just absolutely brilliant. I love to go to Pride and see the genuine diversity and people celebrating in their different ways. One of my favourite things is going along and seeing people find a comfortable space to be themselves, possibly for the first time. 

 

A big thank you to Sarah for giving up her time to talk to us.  If you would like to know more about how we are celebrating Pride please visit our Pride webpage. And if you have your own stories to share about Pride or being part of the LGBTQ+ community please get in touch: student-comms@bristol.ac.uk.  

#BristolUniPride #BristolPride

Taking Pride in our research!

The University of Bristol is known for its world leading research, and throughout this week we will be showcasing some of the work carried out by and for our LGBTQ+ community in particular.  We are very lucky in Bristol to have a commitment to ensuring a positive research culture for all staff, and this is reflected in the diversity of the research we are going to highlight.  (more…)