"Inclusion is about being asked to dance": How Virgin supports the LGBT+ community

Members of the Virgin Family celebrate Pride in London
Image by Clare Kelly
Selfie of Eleanor Ross
by Eleanor Ross
3 July 2019

Virgin has long been known as a balanced and equal opportunities employer. And when it comes to supporting the LGBT+ community, they’re no different.

From organising a Pride flight to sponsoring Pride marches in Birmingham, the Virgin Group is committed to supporting their LGBT+ customers and employees at all times. 

The Virgin Atlantic Pride Flight was the pièce de résistance of Virgin’s Pride celebrations this year. Tickets went on sale in October 2018 and the flight sold out in 48 hours. Passengers were serenaded by some of the biggest drag queens on the circuit, and were served by an almost exclusively LGBTQ cabin crew. There was drag queen bingo and when they landed, Richard Branson was there ready to start a huge party. 

Richard Branson outside The Stonewall
Image from Virgin Voyages

On the plane was special guest Tree Sequoia, a bartender at The Stonewall Inn on the night of the riots in 1969, and still works there three days a week. He met people at his seat and chatted about his experiences, delighting on-board guests.

On the ground, worldwide, the last five weeks have been a celebration of love and equality. And nowhere else more than at Virgin. 

For starters, Virgin employees marched. Many of Virgin’s companies had spaces to march at Pride events across the UK: Virgin Media was represented at the Reading, Sheffield and Manchester Pride marches, while Virgin Atlantic marched in Brighton and London. 

Virgin Active also introduced a creative schedule to support this year’s pride month. As well as changing the Virgin Active logo to a Pride flag to mark the month, they launched a great social campaign along with lots of Pride-related fun.

The clubs themselves have also fully embraced the Pride vibe, showing how Virgin fully supports equality with their Pride Ride, Pride Run and Pride Race classes at each gym. It can be easy to make Pride campaigns about words and symbols, without working towards equality and justice for all. But at Virgin Active, they introduced #ThisIsMyFreedom, where both employees and customers discussed what freedom meant to them. 

During June’s Birmingham Pride, Virgin Trains invited people to board their Pride Train from London to join the party in the Midlands.

Vic Whitehouse with her team at Virgin Trains celebrating Pride
Image from Virgin Trains

Virgin Management, the company at the heart of the Virgin brand, organised a panel discussion with key members of LGBT+ groups from different Virgin groups invited to speak, boosting engagement and understanding on why Pride is so crucial for the community. 

During the panel, Virgin Management expressed their commitment to three main areas: employee experience, culture and recruitment. They acknowledged their responsibility as a brand to positively represent the LGBT+ community. And they agreed the important of recognising what's happening in the rest of the world. For example, when stoning as a penalty for adultery and gay sex in Brunei was announced, Richard Branson spoke out against the practice.

"This is what Virgin is about. We're about standing up for equality," said Virgin Trains’ inclusion lead Vic Whitehead on the Virgin Management LGBT+ panel. "When I started working at Virgin Megastores, this is when I felt most comfortable about coming out."

Virgin Atlantic cabin crew members holding Virgin Atlantic pride flags
Image from Virgin Atlantic

People need to feel comfortable at work, that's the most important thing, she adds. "We spend so much time at work, it's so important that we're ourselves. And Virgin Trains supports that. It's important to create a warm, friendly environment."

There's still so much work to be done, Stephanie Matthews, senior campaign manager at Virgin Management, who chaired the panel explained, as she drew attention to recent homophobic attacks on two lesbian couples. It's important to be inclusive, to celebrate friends of the LGBT+ community too, and that's something Virgin is committed to across the companies and Virgin Management. 

After all, diversity is about being invited to the party and inclusion is about being asked to dance. Virgin is doing both.