Why do you think it’s important to have LGBT role models?
Some people have gone through awful experiences because of other people’s reactions to their sexuality and, consequently, will find it difficult to trust others. It’s good for them to know that there are other people out there who are LGBT and proud. I’ve been fairly lucky – I’ve ‘only’ been threatened with a knife a couple of times (for holding hands with my partner). My family, friends and colleagues have generally been very positive and supportive.
What was it like ‘coming out’ as an LGBT person?
I first came out to my sister and my best friend when I was about 13. It was fairly scary the first few times, but it gets easier. I still go through a mental process, though, of thinking ‘What is this person like?’ ‘Will they be OK about LGBT people?’
How easy is it to be ‘out’ while working at the University of Leeds?
For me, it’s mostly been a good experience.
Does being LGB or T influence your working life? If so, how?
Yes, it makes me appreciate what it is like to be oppressed or discriminated against and hopefully that makes me more empathetic towards others who are going through difficult situations. It’s also made me want to campaign for human rights and workers’ rights, which is why I’m involved in the University and Colleges Union.
What advice would you give to other LGBT staff or students who may be facing difficulties as a result of their sexuality?
Seek out support and allies, through groups like the Staff LGBT network and for students, the Leeds University Union LGBT* society.
What can we all do to make the University of Leeds a better place for LGBT staff and students?
Use inclusive, supportive language that will make LGBT people know that you are comfortable with differing sexualities.
- A few years ago, when I was writing a profile for our staff newsletter, a colleague (who has now left) kept asking me to say more about my family – I’d reply about my siblings, but my colleague’s reply was ‘What about your wife and kids?’ or something similar. That was the first time I’d felt pressure like that for a few years.
- If someone says ‘my partner’, don’t give a gendered reply, unless you know their partner’s gender! Say ‘your partner’ or ‘they’ in your reply, so that they know you haven’t assumed!
- In a previous role at another academic institution, a straight, male colleague used to go out to the cinema and the occasional bar with me. One of his male colleagues warned him off, saying ‘you do realise he is gay, don’t you?’ Hopefully, this one is obvious, but it is OK to go out with LGBT people without assuming that they are attracted to you.