Living Gender in Diverse Times: Young People’s Understandings and Practices of Gender in the Contemporary UK

Virtual Conference 21st May 2021

with British Sign Language interpretation throughout

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Living Gender in Diverse Times is a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) that has been running in Sociological Studies at the University of Sheffield and in the Department for Sociology, Social Policy and Politics at University of Leeds since 2018. Set against a backdrop of increasing social awareness of gender diversity, the interdisciplinary project used a multi-method approach to explore young people’s understandings, experiences and practices of gender in contemporary UK as this intersects with sexualities, class, race, age and other social identities in families; intimate relationships; peer groups; leisure spaces; formal spaces of school and employment; and social media spaces.

This one-day virtual conference considers the emerging findings from Living Gender in Diverse Times. It seeks to situate the project’s key themes and findings alongside others who, from academic, practitioner and third sector backgrounds, work with the broad questions around shifting understandings, experiences and practices of gender among young people today. The event will address themes of intersectionality, education, cultural production and social media, activism, community support and organisation.


Session 1: Living Gender in Diverse Times: A project overview

10:00 – 10.45am

The project team (Sally Hines, Sharon Elley, Karen Cuthbert, Joe Hall) will present an overview of the ESRC project ‘Living Gender in Diverse Times’. They will consider the broader social context of the project and consider the project’s research questions, methods and emerging findings.

Session 2: Working alongside Young People

10.45 – 11.45am

Campfires and Classrooms: how to (un)do gender in space – Francis Ray White

Creating ‘gender inclusive’ or ‘gender diverse’ spaces, particularly for young people, is often talked about as something we’re working towards, a lofty aim; something that could be realized if only we had just the right toolkit/toilet signage/pronouns policy to put it into action. In fact, this future has already happened, and this talk will consider how it has been made possible, and but also how it is still frequently made impossible. To do this I will draw firstly on my five years of experience as a youth work volunteer at the charity Gendered Intelligence and discuss the work the organization puts into making its youth groups and camping trips spaces where gender can be, and is, ‘done’ differently. Secondly, as a counterpoint, I will draw on my academic work on the Non-Binary in Higher Education research project. Survey data from the project sheds light on the ways higher education institutions continue to shut down possibilities to change how their spaces operate around gender. Through a comparison of these disparate spaces I will argue that creating spaces where gender can be lived in more expansive ways must go beyond considerations of gender alone and encompass a more thorough rethinking of concepts of inclusion and care. 

Francis Ray White (they/them) is a senior lecturer in Sociology at the University of Westminster where they mostly teach gender, sexuality and body studies. Francis is currently working on research projects on fat/trans embodiment, trans pregnancy and the experiences of non-binary people in HE. They are also a youth work volunteer and occasional public speaker for the charity Gendered Intelligence.

Working with young men’s power, privilege, and agency – Justin Hancock

It was once said that in tackling unplanned teenage pregnancies, young men were part of the problem and part of the solution. What are the challenges in taking this kind of affirmative approach in preventing sexual violence and promoting a culture that takes consensual sex and relationships seriously? What can educators and policy makers take from the learning of ‘what works’ when working with young men? Where are the structures for positive work with young men and ‘challenging macho values’? How might shifting the discourse around identity from scarcity to one of abundance and solidarity help us?

Justin Hancock is a sex and relationships educator, writer, trainer, and consultant. His latest book is Can We Talk About Consent, which is published by Quarto Books. He also creates resources for young people at, which is one of the leading RSE websites online. 


11.45 – 12 noon

Session 3: Lessons from Research and Practice

12 noon – 1.30pm

Ruler-skirts, Rotifers and Rights-Kites: making children and young people’s gender and sexuality agendas matter – EJ Renold

This presentation will share the co-produced, arts-activist research praxis that has informed the making and mattering of the AGENDA resource ( AGENDA has equality, inclusivity, children’s rights and social justice at its heart and offers affirmative, creative ways of how educational practitioners can support children and young people to explore and express what matters to them. Following an overview of the conducive socio-political context and collaborations that have made this resource become resource-full, I will then share some of the research-engagement case studies of how creative, critical and ethical pedagogies can enable children and young people to speak out about gender and sexuality rights, identities and relationship cultures.  

EJ Renold is a professor of Childhood Studies at the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University. They are the co-editor of the Routledge Critical Studies in Gender and Sexuality in Education and the co-convenor of BERA’s Sexualities and Gender Special Interest Group. Their research investigates how gender and sexuality come to matter in children and young people’s (age 3-18) everyday lives across diverse sites, spaces and locales, from school corridors and classrooms, to youth centres and cyberspace. EJ has spent the last 10 years exploring the affordances of co-productive and creative methods to engage social and political change on a range of gender and sexuality education topics (see Blurring the boundaries of research, engagement and activism, their research aspires to make a difference in the world, from national policy and practice to the micro-relations of everyday experience. A core part of EJ’s praxis is collaborating with young people, teachers, youth workers, artists, policy makers and third sector organisations. To find out more, watch: ‘Transforming Relationships and Sexuality Education in Wales’.  

Inclusive approaches to identities and relationships in classrooms – Mark Jennett

The presentation will give a brief overview of some of Mark’s work to support schools around promoting inclusion and acceptance of diversity, in particular around gender identity and sexual orientation.  It will include examples such as the use of picture books and trans-inclusive approaches to RSHE; the importance of acknowledging how gender norms impact on everyone – whatever their sexual or gender identity – as well as a range of identities and relationships; and the significance of overlapping and intersectional identities.

Mark Jennett is an education consultant specializing in equality and diversity, PSHE and RSHE, mental health and anti-bullying.  He has undertaken work for the National Education Union around challenging gender stereotypes in primary schools and written several resources for the Union on using children’s books to promote inclusion.  He has also worked with the National Children’s Bureau and Sex Education Forum. 

Lessons from Advocacy – Shaun Dellenty

LGBT+ inclusion in UK schools is still relatively new in UK schools and despite the introduction of LGBT+ inclusive RHSE, teaching and learning about LGBT+ lives, relationships, identities, histories and societal contributions still remains controversial to some individuals and groups. Despite this, research shows that homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying is an issue in schools and an increasing body of research shows that COVID 19 has left many LGBT+ youth feeling vulnerable and isolated. In 2009, faced with a significant issue with homophobic bullying in his (then) London primary school Shaun Dellenty came out as gay to his whole school community and devised a now award-winning and globally deployed approach to intersectional LGBT+ inclusion. A notable aspect of this training offer was Shaun’s work with faith schools and with children with a range of special educational needs and their families. After now delivering training around the world, some key themes have emerged in terms of approaches, entry points and the building of empathy. Shaun Dellenty explores these themes in this session.

Shaun Dellenty is an ex primary school leader, educator, author and multi-award-winning change-advocate in respect of diverse identities around the world with specialism around LGBT+ identities. He was designated a Point of Light by the UK Prime Minister in 2016 for services to the LGBT+ and education communities. In 2019 his first book for Bloomsbury ‘Celebrating Difference- A Whole School Approach to LGBT+ Inclusion’ was recommended in the House of Lords.  He is a member of the NAHT and a Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching and the Royal Society of Arts. Shaun was bestowed with the Freedom of the City of London in 2021.


1.30 – 2.00pm

Session 4: Youth at the Intersections

2.00 – 3.30pm

Crafting Masculinities:  Embodying, Recuperating and Redistributing Care in Young Lives – Anoop Nayak

The impact of the Covid-19 global pandemic has placed a renewed emphasis upon the need for care – health care, emotional care, family care as well as personal health and mental wellbeing.  Feminist research identifies carework as low-paid, menial and ultimately feminised activity.  Much of the work in the field has unsurprisingly focused upon women and how the sexual division of labour produces and sustains gender inequalities.  This paper engages with new generations to understand gender and work, and the possibilities for generating hetergenous caring masculinities.  Using creative methods, the study engaged young people in a series of critical masculinities workshops through which participants were asked to reflect upon what it means to be a man and materialise these ideas through the medium of arts and craft.  The school-based discussions with young people and their artworks revealed how participants placed an acute emphasis on the felt, affective and emotional register of caring masculinities.  Here, I explore young people’s creative endeavors to critically interrogate care as a gendered concept, interpret its ‘troubled’ relationship to masculinity, and analyse possibilities for future change.  The findings suggest firstly that place and political economy shape gender relations of care.  Secondly, that hegemonic forms of masculinity may become consolidated and recuperated through caring acts, suggesting gender power relations are not easily disrupted.  Thirdly, that despite these drawbacks masculine care practices still have the potential to disrupt and redistribute power across the gender order.  

Anoop Nayak is Professor in Social and Cultural Geography at Newcastle University, UK. His research interests are in: Race and Ethnic Studies; Youth Culture and Social Class; Gender, Masculinities and Social Change. Anoop has published widely in these areas and is author of Race, Place and Globalization:  Youth Cultures in a Changing World (2003 Oxford: Berg).  He is co-author with Mary Jane Kehily of a joint monograph Gender, Youth and Culture:  Global Masculinities and Femininities (2013 2nd Ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan), and has published a social theory book on spatial relations of power with Alex Jeffrey entitled Geographical Thought (Routledge, 2013).  Anoop is currently leading a funded project exploring ‘Young People, Diversity and Belonging in a Post-Brexit Age’ (REA) and a co-production award, ‘Boys to Men:  Developing New Templates for Masculinities in Primary Schools’ (ESRC). 

Challenging homonationalism: LGBTQ-inclusive Education in Schools Serving Faith Communities – Anna Carlile

This paper reports on the experiences of teachers delivering an LGBTQ-inclusive education programme in four English primary schools serving faith communities. These teachers tended to start the work from an anti-bullying standpoint, finding that whilst they might need to strategically begin at this potentially pathologizing starting place, they could later develop the programme to embed LGBTQ-inclusive input across the curriculum. Legislative and policy frameworks gave teachers the courage to deliver the materials, particularly the Equality Act 2010. Lead teachers found a range of ways to work with colleagues, with some drawing on their religious commitment to embrace the work. The children’s openminded responses encouraged their teachers, and over time the schools were able to conduct LGBTQ-focussed community celebrations with parents from the faith communities they served. The paper will offer a range of starting points to support LGBTQ-inclusive education in schools serving faith communities.

Anna is the Head of the Department of Educational Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is a former youth worker and teacher and is now a Senior Lecturer in Inclusive Education. Her approach to research and teaching is collaborative, intersectional and participant-led, and includes projects on decolonising the university; valuing the expertise of PoC in HE; Black girls’ survival, agency, and resilience; transgender children’s experiences in healthcare; and LGBTQ-inclusive education in primary schools serving faith communities. She has published several articles and books, including  (with Elly Barnes) How to Transform Your School Into an LGBT+ Friendly Place: A Practical Guide for Nursery, Primary and Secondary Teachers London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers 

Check out Anna’s research articles and books on inclusive education at: 

Anna blogs at: 

Twitter: @anna_carlile  

Creating Time for LGBT+ Disabled Youth: Research Involvement in Pandemic Times – Rhi Harvey Humphrey & Edmund Coleman-Fountain

The Supporting Sexualities and Genders study is an NIHR School for Social Care funded project exploring personal assistance, sexuality and gender. It aims to find out ways to improve personal support for young adults whose relationships with personal assistants (PAs) touches on intimate identity matters. Co-production is at the heart of this project and co-producing during Covid19 with a diverse Participatory Advisory Group of young disabled adults who are LGBT+ has created a context that draws out the potential of virtual space and the need to take and give time. This presentation will outline the co-production work that underpins this study, and how that has given us an opportunity to discuss the importance of creating an accessible approach to talking about sexuality and gender in a time in which such things may appear to be off the agenda. Our presentation speaks to co-produced research with young disabled people that focuses on flexibility (Brady et al 2018) and that has made commitments to taking ‘more time’ with co-production (Liddiard et al, 2019). This shift in temporal expectations has led to a commitment to constructing ‘more time’ into the plans for the on-going research project as well as a variety of creative options for the future participants of this research to respond with in this time (Kafer, 2013, Carr and Gibson, 2017). This ‘slowing’ down allows for us to offer various options for participation in order to include a diversity of young disabled adults in this research.

Rhi Humphrey (they/them) is a Research Assistant on the Supporting Sexualities and Genders Study at Northumbria University. Rhi is currently attempting to be an activist academic and a creative sociologist. Their PhD addressed trans and intersex activist relationships across the UK, Malta and Australia with the use of ethnodrama.

Ned Coleman-Fountain (he/him) is a senior lecturer in Sociology at Northumbria University. His research sits at the intersections of sexuality, disability and youth. He is currently PI on the Supporting Sexualities and Genders Study.

Session 5: Living Gender in Diverse Times methodological discussion

3.30 – 4.15pm

In this session the project team (Sally Hines, Sharon Elley, Karen Cuthbert, Joe Hall) will examine in more detail the project’s methods and reflect upon the methodological considerations apparent in carrying out research with young people and working on gender issues. The session will show a film produced by Rome, one of the research participants, who took part in diary methods to explore the impact of COVID on the lives of young gender diverse people.  Rome will take part in the Q & A session following the presentation.


4.15 – 4.30pm

Session 6: Understandings and experiences of LGBT+ youth: Reflections on fifteen years of research with LGBT+ young people – Eleanor Formby

4.30 – 5.15pm

In this talk Eleanor will draw on a range of research with LGBT+ young people, from small-scale projects funded by LGBT+ charities, to large Government-funded projects with thousands of participants; from regional studies to international comparative work. Across these, she will examine common themes throughout young LGBT+ people’s experiences, and highlight what research with practitioners tells us about prevalent understandings of LGBT+ youth. Overall, she will identify ways in which thinking and practice has developed, and ways in which it has largely remained the same.

Dr Eleanor Formby is a Reader in Sociology and Youth Studies at Sheffield Hallam University, UK. She has been researching the experiences of LGBT+ young people for over fifteen years, and has published a range of articles exploring LGBT+ people’s experiences of sex and relationships education, sexual health, bullying, schooling, youth services, and higher education. Eleanor is also the author of Exploring LGBT spaces and communities: Contrasting identities, belongings and wellbeing (Routledge, 2019) and Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and LGBT inclusion in English schools (Emerald, due for publication 2021).

Session 7: Gender Matters: A conversation between Meg-John Barker and Sally Hines

5.15 – 6.00pm

Grab a drink and join us for a ‘sofa’ type conversation as Sally Hines talks with Meg-John Barker about communicating about gender diversity at the current cultural moment. The session will cover diverse kinds of public engagement including comics, zines, self-help materials, podcasts, and social media with a focus on Meg-John’s experiences with ‘Gender: A Graphic Guide’ and ‘How to Understand Your Gender’ and Sally’s with ‘Is Gender Fluid?’. We will explore the kinds of messages we want to get out there about gender, engaging different audiences with different existing knowledge/opinions, and what different materials and approaches open up and close down.

Meg-John Barker is the author of a number of popular books on sex, gender, and relationships, including graphic guides to Queer, Gender, and Sexuality, How To Understand Your Gender, Life Isn’t Binary, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and IF You Want To), Rewriting the Rules, and Hell Yeah Self Care. They have also written a number of books for scholars and counsellors on these topics, drawing on their own years of academic work and therapeutic practice. Website: Twitter: @megjohnbarker, YouTube: MegJohnBarkerPsych

Sally Hines is Chair of Sociology at the University of Sheffield, UK. Her work is in the areas of gender, sexuality, intimacy, and the body; addressing transformations in these identity practices and everyday experiences. Sally has published widely in the areas of transgender, gender, sexuality, intimacy, citizenship and recognition, the body and feminist politics and theory. As well as leading the ESRC project ‘Living Gender in Diverse Times’, Sally is currently the Principle Investigator of a 3 year international ESRC project on Trans Pregnancy.

To register email