Why do you think it’s important to have LGBT+ role models?
I live happily and successfully as a gay woman and I am very lucky to be able to do so. I am acutely aware of all the privileges that intersect in my life that allow me to live this way. I recognise that many people are not afforded these same privileges and so it is important to me to be an out, creditable gay person. I want to give voice and presence to those who may not be able to use their own. I hope that I am a source of support for my students and colleagues who need it.
How easy is it to be open about your identity whilst working at the University of Leeds?
I feel very fortunate with my colleagues at the University and I feel cared for and supported in all aspects of my identity – as a colleague, and personally as a wife and mother. As a member of the LGBT+ community, I feel the University is a welcoming environment where I am able to be out and be myself. As our student population is young and is always renewing, this ensures the university is always pushed forward, making sure we are progressing. I hope all our staff and students, UK, EU and International, find that they are able to express their identities comfortably and in whatever way they chose.
Does being LGB or T influence your working life? If so, how?
I really value being able to be fully out at work and I understand this is something that not everybody can do. About two years ago we had our daughter. At the time I was working as a Mental Health Advisor with students. As I was leaving work for a while, I told my students I was going on parental leave. As the non-birth mother, this meant I was essentially coming out to my students at the same time. Two really wonderful things happened as a result. Firstly, my students didn’t bat an eyelid and were just really happy for me and secondly, it enabled my students who needed to to speak openly about themselves and their experiences. Indeed, some explicitly told me that they felt more comfortable with me as a result. I hope that my own experience showed my students what might be possible for them, if that was something they might want in their own lives. Now I’m a Disability Advisor, I hold the LGBT+ specialism within my role and keep our teams up to date with LGBT+ goings on at the university and in Leeds. I am particularly interested in working with and supporting people who experience compound inequalities as a result of living with multiple marginalised identities.
What advice would you give to other LGBT+ staff or students who may be facing difficulties as a result of their identity?
I would just say that whatever stage you’re at, that’s ok. You might be out, you might not be or you might not be sure what’s happening for you. However you feel is OK and those feelings, and your identities, are valid and important. If those things change, that’s OK too. Don’t be in a hurry. If you’re struggling, find a friend or safe person to speak with, either informally or though staff or student counselling. I can honestly say that if you’re not in a good place, that will feel better in time.
What can we all do to make the University of Leeds a better place for LGBT+ staff and students?
I think in a progressive, cosmopolitan environment like the university, that it’s easy to be complacent and feel that everyone is having a great time with their sexuality. It’s important that we celebrate diverse sexualities of course, but also to recognise that some people might not be up for celebrating just yet, and to support those people. It’s really important that the university and its staff model supportive and healthy attitudes towards sexuality and gender identity, and have a zero-tolerance policy on homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, both formally and informally.
Freyja Douglas-McTurk is a Disability Advisor in the Disability Advisory Team (email@example.com)