Kirsty Mulholland: Leading Change in LGBTQIA+ Advocacy

Tell us about your accomplishments to date?

In 2017 I became the first person ever to transition in work in Bank of Ireland Group, joining the Bank’s “With Pride” group committee later that year and leading the Bank’s first ever participation in Belfast Pride in 2018.  The same year she was instrumental in ensuring Bank of Ireland signed up to the campaign for equal marriage in Northern Ireland, the first Irish bank to do so and the first time in its 200+ year history that Bank of Ireland had ever taken a public stance on a social issue.  She assisted in the development of the Bank’s gender identity and transitioning policy, and has gone on to consult with other organisations on the formulation of their own policies. 

Arising from recommendations in the policy, in 2019 the Bank completed a program resulting in gender-neutral bathroom facilities being available in every Bank premises on the island of Ireland.  Also that year, I was a founding committee member of the FuSIoN NI, the Financial Services Inclusion Network for Northern Ireland, bringing together the LGBTQIA+ networks of local financial services companies to work together on policy and social matters.  This included a networking program for member organisation, delivered remotely during the pandemic. 

I became co-chair of the Bank of Ireland Group With Pride committee in 2020.  During this time we developed an ally and awareness training programme, which I delivered to teams throughout the Bank right up to the UK and group executive committees.

In early 2022 I stepped down from the Bank’s committee and took up a position on the board of trustees of the Belfast Pride Festival.  I became treasurer in May 2022 and a year later in May 2023 I was appointed co-chair of the board.  I am very proud that during my time on the board we have taken a festival that was in a financially precarious position and put it on a very sound financial footing, while simultaneously improving our transparency and accountability to the community we serve.  In 2023 I was one of the public faces of the festival with an explicitly trans-supportive theme, “Stand By Your Trans”, leading the parade alongside 4 other trans people and the Lord Mayor of Belfast in front of over 80,000 people on the streets of Belfast, and addressing nearly 6,000 at the rally and after-party. 

In 2024 we are concentrating on a mental health theme, “Love Your Mind”, and my vision is to use our festival to improve the mental health of our community, to platform appropriate organisations and to signpost avenues for help with those who most need it.  Although I am no longer directly involved in the Bank’s LGBTQIA+ network committee, because of my connections in both the business and queer communities I have considerable involvement in both, and have appeared as a speaker or panelist at several business-related events, including the Pink News Summer event 2023 and an upcoming event in Belfast’s Grand Opera House.

What are the barriers in representing many intersectional identity groups?

This is an interesting question as someone who identifies as both trans and lesbian.  It is not always easy to find common ground among for example a cis white gay man and a straight trans woman of colour.  But the onus falls on us who take up leadership positions in our community to find that common ground.  In my first year on the board of Belfast Pride, we chose a theme of “Community: United In Diversity” to really lean into that.  Our strength should be and is our diversity, we people of differing sexualities and gender identities.  So for me I think the main difficulty is in making ever section of our community feel included and represented.  And I think that this is done by visibility, by making sure that those of us in leadership positions are reflective of every stripe of the rainbow.  Different sub-groups within the queer community have slightly differing outlooks, but ultimately we all fight for the same cause against a common enemy.  I am proud that when I stood down from the co-chair position in the Bank’s With Pride committee, I was able to hand over to a non-binary person of colour, who in turn has handed over to a bisexual woman.  Many cis gay men and lesbians have done incredible work for all our community, but there is no substitute for knowing that people like you are included in organising for the community.

Do you think acceptance is improving?

Sadly I think that acceptance has been regressing in recent years, even since I came out 7 years ago.  Over longer timescales then yes, there has clearly been a huge improvement in acceptance.  I am old enough to remember when homosexuality was illegal in Northern Ireland, and I also remember the homophobic “jokes” in school when it was legalised.  I marched against Clause 28 in London in 1990 at a time when I was still very firmly in the closet, but I remember clearly the level of homophobia in the UK and particularly in Northern Ireland at that time.  Belfast Pride began the next year and it has been a slow journey to acceptance for cis gay people, and while acceptance of trans people was not at the same level, it had definitely improved greatly with the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act.  This latest media-led transphobic hysteria, is nothing more than recycled homophobia from 30 or 40 years ago, seized upon by desperate politicians eager to distract from their own failures.  This has then affected acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole.

So acceptance is a lot better than it was 40 years ago, but considerably worse than it was 5 years ago, aided by media and by government.  In particular, it is a frightening time to be trans in the UK.

What does been nominated in your category mean to you?

When I was first told that I had been nominated, just that one of my colleagues had taken the time to submit a nomination to the British LGBT awards on my behalf, I was really touched and honoured.  On finding out that I had made the final 12 in my category, I was speechless.  I still am finding it hard to put into words what it means, but I think I mostly feel unworthy.  Nothing that I have done has been done alone, and I think that my nomination and shortlisting mostly makes me feel incredibly proud and grateful to have been supported but such a fabulous group of people.  From my own line manager and HR in Bank of Ireland who were a textbook example of how to support someone in their transition, to my colleagues on the With Pride committee who all worked so hard on delivering for our LGBTQIA+ colleagues and customers, to my fellow board members and everyone involved in Team Pride in Belfast.  My nomination is a tribute to every single one of them because nothing that I have done could have happened without them.