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

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 UK, the Virgin Group is committed to supporting their LGBT+ customers and employees at all times. 

The Virgin Atlantic Pride Flight was the piece de resistance 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, 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. 

Drag queen Jodie Harsh takes to the decks on Virgin Atlantic's Pride flight

Laura Brander, head of global PR at Virgin Holidays, said that during the flight she went to check in on the pilots to see how everything was going. "I asked whether they could feel all the people dancing. The pilots said no, but we've used 15 per cent more fuel just operating the flight to New York because people were dancing so much and Jodie Harsh was DJing by the bar!"

Further down the plane, special guest Tree Sequoia was also on-board: the bartender worked at The Stonewall 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 no more so than at Virgin. 

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

Virgin Active UK 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 supporting Pride-related fun.

Vic Whitehouse poses with colleagues in front of Virgin Trains' rainbow coloured Pride Train

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. We know it can be easy to make Pride campaigns about words and symbols without working towards equality and justice for all, which is why Virgin Active committed to pushing a social campaign called #ThisIsMyFreedom, where both staff and customers discussed what freedom meant to them. 

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

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

prideflight
Image by Virgin

During the panel, Virgin Management expressed their commitment to three main areas, including employee experience, culture and recruitment. Secondly, they discussed their committment to a positive representation of the LGBT+ community by the brand. The third area is about recognising what's happening in the rest of the world. For example when stoning as a penalty in Brunei was announced, Richard Branson immediately spoke out against the practice.

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

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."

Virgin Panel LGBT
Photo by Eleanor Ross

There's still so much work to be done, Steph Matthews, who chaired the panel at Virgin Management 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 commited 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.  

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