Co-chairs of the MDX LGBT+ Network at the University Ant Babajee and Dr Robert Vesty are on a mission to promote the inclusion of the LGBT+ community within Barnet.
In collaboration with Inkluder CIC, the first LGBTQ+ led community organisation in the borough, and Barnet Council, the pair will help organise the first Barnet Pride in the Park on Sunday 20 August.
The event will include an inspiring exhibition courtesy of award-winning photographer Chris Jepson who earlier this year photographed around 20 LGBTQ+ people from across Barnet.
MDX students, staff and alumni feature in The Identity Project, which celebrates LGBTQ+ people and promotes Barnet’s diverse and inclusive community.
MDX senior lecturer in performance art TJB, a pansexual, queer, non-binary, trans-person with invisible disabilities was photographed for the project.
Speaking about identity, xe said: “I value it. I respect that it’s fluid and try to encourage that others respect that as well.”
Councillor Zahra Beg, Cabinet Member for Equalities, Communities & the Voluntary Sector said: “We’re thrilled to be holding this event. We are a council that cares, and we want to create a safe space for everyone to come together, celebrate their identity, and promote equality and acceptance for all.”
Ant, Customer Relationship Management [CRM] Manager at MDX, said that Barnet Pride in the Park was for everyone: “Even if you don’t know anyone in your social circle who is gay, queer or trans, which is unlikely, as we are spreading our rainbows everywhere, isn’t this a wonderful opportunity to come along to a lovely event in the park, meet people and create a little bit of understanding?”
Former BBC journalist Ant, who has been an MDX employee since 2016, said that there had been “zero visibility for marginalised communities in Barnet” for too long.
“That’s not because LGBTQ+ people don’t live, work and study here; it’s because there’s not been any kind of community organisation,” he added.
“Now there has been lots of time and energy put in from lots of community groups, and the dream eventually is to establish an LGBT+ community café and events space in the borough.
“MDX has joined the partnership as the largest employer in the borough and we’re working all together to towards bringing visibility of LGBT+ people.”
Ant described 2023 as a “fantastic year” for MDX, which started with the university jumping up to place 58 and achieving a gold award in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.
MDX also won University of the Year from the Queer Student Awards, which recognise the work that schools, colleges, universities and employers are doing to create inclusive spaces that support young LGBTQ+ people.
Ant said: “We are a very community-facing university: you only have to walk into our quad, which is a wonderful community space, and you can sit there and learn and find out about people who are from completely different backgrounds to yours and have completely different life experiences to yours.
“It’s really important for MDX to be at the heart of creating understanding and trying to create a more equal, fairer, friendlier, kinder society.”
Ant, a HIV activist who has campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness about the virus following his own diagnosis in 2007, was recognised as a Change Maker of the Year by Stonewall back in March.
He said: “I’m incredibly fortunate that I work for a university that allows me to bring all of myself to work, and it means I don’t have to hide and pretend that I’m something I’m not, because that’s exhausting.
“LGBTQ+ people exist in all walks of life in all areas of society. We’re just there. We’re part of your communities and helping us to feel like we can be ourselves and we don’t have to pretend that we’re something we’re not just because we might face stigma, prejudice and discrimination is so important.”