Role: Student Success (EDI) Project Manager, Partnership Development Office
Your coming out story…
It wasn’t until I went to university that I discovered my true self. Throughout my childhood, I never questioned my sexuality. Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s, in a northern, working class environment, notions of difference simply weren’t considered. At the age of 20, a chance encounter made the whole world suddenly make sense.
My parents had completely opposite reactions when I came out. My mother didn’t respond well at all and we barely spoke for the next two years. My father told me she’d come around eventually and that what was most important was that I was happy. Some of my friends didn’t react very well either. I completely transformed my appearance to conform to the dominant gay look (remember this was the 1980’s). At the time, it was important for the LGBT+ community to make itself known so that we could see ‘people who looked like us’. Some people found it hard to accept my need to change.
I think it’s important to recognise that coming out is not a one-time event. We’re coming out repeatedly: new job, new social group, buying a house, opening bank accounts, etc. etc. And judging the ‘right’ time to tell colleagues, friends, neighbours can be a constant negotiation. Then there’s what I call the Star Trek effect: you make your announcement, person looks at you for a moment (in that moment you are beamed up and beamed back – you look exactly the same but everything has changed). Happens all the time!
Have you suffered prejudice in your job or personal life and, if so, can you describe what effects it had on you?
As an older gay woman (see, we still find it hard to say ‘the L word’!) there have been plenty of times when I have felt threatened out in public over the years. It’s still rare to see older lesbians holding hands in the street and my partner and I are no different to that. So I don’t know how people would react these days, but I do know that the prejudice is still there.
I’ve been fortunate to work in environments where equality and diversity have been central to employee relations: the arts, voluntary sector, public sector and education. We can have a certain level of expectation about workplace conduct these days. That doesn’t mean that discrimination doesn’t happen and, when it does, we need robust procedures to deal with it.
What would you say to those who may be facing difficulties regarding their LGBT+ status at work?
Always seek support. This may just be someone to offload to or it may be something more formal. Sometimes I think LGBT+ people might feel that they’re being paranoid or ‘over-sensitive’, but if something doesn’t feel right, it’s useful to get someone else’s perspective on it. The LGBT+ Staff Network is an important part of ensuring that people feel they have someone to turn to.
Why do you want to be an LGBT+ role model? Why is it important?
Visibility is a fundamental part of the drive for equality. Those early pioneers who nailed their colours to the mast, so to speak, have given us the rights we have today. But the LGBT+ journey is far from over and just by saying ‘yes, I belong to this community’ makes us part of the demand for social justice. I want to play my small part in that.