I am always slightly reticent about 'opening up' about my experience as a gay man. Not because I don't want to tell my story but because, like many others, I spent a significant portion of my life supressing or trying to hide that part of me in day-to-day life. Don't get me wrong: I've known that I was gay for as long as I can remember and I love being gay: it is 'me' and something that I have always felt completely comfortable with in myself. The problem came when I had to interact with the outside world.
For many of my generation (and those before me), the societal messaging around being gay - subliminal or explicit – was in large part that of 'negative' difference. It is difficult to exaggerate how ingrained this was in day-to-day society and the effect which that can have on young people and how they live their lives. The fear from a young age of not being accepted is very real and the long-term effects should not be underestimated.
I came to work in the City in 2005 and deliberately hid my sexuality from everyone at work. I want to be clear: the firm I trained at was, and is, a wonderful place to work and is incredibly open and accepting. But it didn't seem that way to an already anxious 20 something who was terrified that his sexuality would become a defining, and negative, characteristic in the eyes of others. It was only after I had been taken on as an NQ and, as I saw it, accepted and judged on a level playing field with my contemporaries that I felt comfortable coming out.
I wish I had had the courage to do it earlier, because the reaction couldn't have been better. But without role models to guide you along the way it is easy to let fear rule. At Withers, I have always been out, and I have found a multitude of role models to give me confidence in being open about my sexuality. I want to reciprocate that and to ensure that others can have someone to look to and to talk to whether that is about their sexuality or something entirely unconnected.
The reality is that LGBTQ+ people still need to think twice about whether to hold hands with their partner in public, whether to kiss their partner in public, whether to show affection to their partner and community in public. Think about that. And give time and energy to understanding people and creating an environment where they feel they can be themselves; whether at work or in any other area of their lives.
Be proud. And kind. Happy Pride everyone.