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Why we need to have pride beyond Pride Month

12 June 2024

Jessica Patterson discusses how international LGBTQ+ celebrations can teach us the importance of year-round community initiatives.

Why we need to have pride beyond Pride Month
Events like Pride Month remind us of the need to work towards a world where we can all be valued for who we are. Image credit: Shutterstock

As a child of the 1970s, growing up in the back streets of Newcastle, I was inspired by the construction of the Tyne and Wear Metro.

I knew then that a career in civil engineering would be for me.

But there was something else I knew at a very early age, something that I could barely put into words, let alone understand.

It wasn’t an idea that faded over time. It was a fundamental part of me.

It required a deep and very extensive exploration once I had the tools and resources to do so (much like an engineer would!).

I learnt, and began to accept, that I am transgender.

This was far from an easy process of self-acceptance and one which took me to a very dark place.

However, friends, colleagues, and people in the industry have been so supportive.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that they saved my life.

Tackling LGBTQ+ hate

When I was growing up, Newcastle wasn’t a safe space for a trans child and, although the world has moved on a little way, in many respects, it’s still very, very far from being where I'd like it to be.

Raising awareness

As well as Pride Month, which is celebrated in June in the UK, 17 May each year is International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT).

The purpose of these events is to raise awareness of violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people to drive positive change and support the rights of LGBTQ+ groups.

IDAHOBIT reminds us that there’s still a long way to go until all LGBTQ+ people are free and safe from harm.

It’s now celebrated in more than 130 countries around the world.

As of 2019, 69 countries criminalise same-sex relationships, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Also, in 26 countries, transgender individuals are subjected to punishments, and evidence shows that they're disproportionately at risk of violence across the globe.

In the UK, transphobic hate crimes have quadrupled in the last five years, with four out of five trans people experiencing a transphobic hate crime, and one in four experiencing physical assault or the threat of physical assault.

Some UK media outlets very frequently – some nearly daily – carry articles that actively undermine trans people.

The number of homophobic attacks is also increasing, with data suggesting that these have risen by 22% in London in the space of one year.

Social outcomes in engineering

In engineering, I found a safe space.

One where I could be valued for what I contribute and where different perspectives bring strength and resilience to the work that we do.

I’m very proud to lead practices that are advancing social outcomes in Mott MacDonald’s UK and European business in the transport, health, advisory, education, defence and education sectors.

Social outcomes focus on placing people and communities at the heart of the projects we develop. This moves beyond purely technical solutions and focuses on accessibility, inclusion, empowerment, and wellbeing.

Serving communities and users

For example, in some recent projects we have:

  • Taken active decisions to build diverse project teams. For example, on a large-scale regional rail development project, women made up over 30% of the team – double the UK rail industry average.

    The project involved an extensive optioneering process to find the best route for the scheme.

    The diversity of experience and perspectives of the people working on the scheme meant that we had an environment that challenged assumptions and conventional ways of working.

    This enabled options to be stress tested and ensure that they were as resilient as possible, focusing on the needs of communities and users.

  • Worked with clients to develop transport schemes to unlock better access to parts of the region poorly served by transport.

    These are areas that have high levels of deprivation and poor opportunities compared to other parts of the region.

  • Developed a long-term plan for the regeneration of a brownfield site, with rail at its heart.

    We took an outcomes-based approach to highlight projects that:

    • achieved safety and security for all;
    • were fully accessible and inclusive;
    • fostered a healthy community;
    • enabled public participation and community bonding; and
    • delivered equitable economic opportunities.

Planning inclusive spaces

One aspect that’s very close to my heart is the planning of public spaces.

As an industry, we’re brilliant at designing spaces that create exclusion, but quite poor at designing inclusive spaces.

Inclusive spaces should:

  • foster social interaction;
  • have a diversity of design;
  • include the natural environment;
  • provide cosy corners (this is quite an art);
  • offer a range of social capital to appeal to a variety of social groups; and
  • be accessible to all.

The simple message is: more diversity = less threat.

Creating a world we can be proud of

Despite the negatives, there’s much to be positive about.

Events like Pride Month and IDAHOBIT should also remind us of the need to work towards a world where we can all be valued for who we are.

We should be respected as such and provided with the same life opportunities through a focus on equity – something that doesn’t exist everywhere.

And as engineers, we can help build a world that gets us there.

If you’re interested in learning about how to advocate for yourself or other LGBTQ+ people in your life, you can access resources at MindOut and the LGBT Foundation.

  • Jessica Patterson, buildings and cities social outcomes leader and principal consultant at Mott MacDonald