Our history shows us that LGBTQ+ visibility is important | News

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Our history shows us that LGBTQ+ visibility is important

 

A blog by our CEO Matt Campion.

Watching It’s a Sin reminded me of my coming out. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in years, and shows the impact of feelings of shame on the lives of individuals, communities and ultimately public health. It also shows the joy and gay abandon (pun intended) of coming out. If you’ve not watched it, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

When I came out, there was no LGBT visibility. I’d heard of this thing called ‘gay’ (in fact I’d often been called it) but I didn’t really know what it was, but thought I might be it. There weren’t any out gay men, not even on TV and certainly not in my real life that I could look to and think, “is that where I fit in?”

“Throughout my career I’ve made the conscious decision to always be out. Partly because I am and don’t want to hide part of myself and partly because I want to show visibility and solidarity to other LGBT people”

So, I went to university so that I could move to a city and come out. It was exciting and terrifying in equal measure. It would have been so helpful and made things so much easier if there was someone or even a resource that could have helped me to understand what being gay meant in the widest sense, including the how to withstand prejudice and how to find community.

I was a teenager when Section 28 was passed in the late 1980s, which forbade any promotion of homosexual lifestyles. At that time, 64% of the UK population thought being gay was always wrong and only 11% thought it was not wrong at all. I knew nothing except that being gay was wrong.

A strange thing about coming out is that it’s not a once in a life time experience, although, like many things, no other time is quite like the first. Every time one meets a new person, a whole lot of unconscious processing goes on. Should I tell them I’m gay? What will their reaction be? Will they know already? Does it matter? Can I hide it?

Thoughts about coming out, a sense of invisibility and lack of representation can return at work. If you chose to be out, will there be negative consequences?

“Me being gay become a non-issue for the students. Except for the handful that tearfully told me that might be gay, were scared and didn’t know what to do. For them visibility made a difference”

Throughout my career I’ve made the conscious decision to always be out. Partly because I am and don’t want to hide part of myself and partly because I want to show visibility and solidarity to other LGBT people.

Prior to working in housing, I taught psychology. When I was offered the job, I remember explaining a condition of my acceptance was that the college was OK with me being out. Initially they thought I meant being out to the other teachers, which they thought was a bit bold but OK. When I explained that I meant being out to the students as well, they were speechless and needed meetings and assurances before we could progress.

“I didn’t raise a complaint or tell any colleagues about it. I probably should have done, but as far as I was aware I was the only gay person working for that landlord”

My rationale was that I could be the visibility for other young people that had been missing from my life. After some giggling and questioning from students, my being gay become a non-issue for the students. Except for the handful that tearfully told me that might be gay, were scared and didn’t know what to do. For them visibility made a difference.

Early in my housing career I worked for a housing association in which a director told me he was going to “hound me out” of the company. He didn’t succeed, but it was intimidating and humiliating. I didn’t raise a complaint or tell any colleagues about it. I probably should have done, but as far as I was aware I was the only gay person working for that landlord. Certainly, there were no other out gay members of staff signalling that the association thought being gay was acceptable.

As time moved on, there were usually a few out gay people where I worked. But none of them were directors, chief executives or board members. While I was confident in my sexuality, I was less confident in my ability to climb the career ladder.

I’d grown up in a single-parent family where no one else had stayed at school past 16 or had a big, professional job. For me, there was a multiplication factor. I had no family or friends in senior positions that could act as role models for me, and I could see no gay people who by dint of their very existence proved it was possible to be both senior and out at work.

It wasn’t until 2003 that legal protections for LGB people were realised and these weren’t extended to include trans people until 2010 with the Equality Act.

“One housing association I worked for deliberately omitted equal opportunities monitoring on sexuality for board members, on the basis that it felt awkward and wasn’t appropriate. My challenge was if you really think that there’s nothing shameful about being LGBT, why do you find it an awkward question?”

Inside Housing found that in 2019 only 2.4% of housing association board members identified as LGBT. This may be an over-estimation, as only 61 out of 300 housing associations surveyed responded. It might be assumed that those who didn’t respond either didn’t hold this data or didn’t feel comfortable sharing their results.

The picture is not much different in London, with 3.8% of board members and 2.2% of executives identifying as LGBT. One housing association I worked for deliberately omitted equal opportunities monitoring on sexuality for board members, on the basis that it felt awkward and wasn’t appropriate. My challenge was if you really think that there’s nothing shameful about being LGBT, why do you find it an awkward question?

If housing associations don’t measure this, how can they be sure they’re not discriminating or see if they’re really getting this aspect of equality, diversity and inclusion right?

You may be aware of the lyric in the song It’s a Sin: “So I look back upon my life, forever with a sense of shame.” That’s such a sad sentiment. That someone’s whole life can be plagued with feelings of shame due to their sexuality which, ultimately, they didn’t choose and can’t do anything about.

Happily, I have no sense of shame, and if my being a visible gay man and chief executive can help even a single person reduce feelings of shame or see that there is a place for gay people in professional life, that’s something I can feel proud of.

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