As exciting and rewarding as getting a new job can be, we all have fears when starting a career. We can have all the A-levels and degrees that we need for the role, but we may still have fears about how well we will perform in the role. However, for those who identify as LGBTQ+, looking for work, or even landing your dream job, can pose specific fears and worries.
When I became a technician at Aston University, although I wondered if I’d make a “good technician”, I asked myself several, much more personal questions, such as ‘What happens if my superiors/colleagues find out I’m gay?’, or ‘Will the students treat me differently (or even want my help) if they know I’m gay?’, and ‘Can I just be ‘myself’ and still fit in?’. Although these questions initially were just niggling doubts, I found that they started to dictate how I acted; I’d shy away from certain conversations, I’d slightly alter my vocal inflections to ‘fit in’, or not voice my opinion on certain issues/conversations to avoid raising suspicions. This desire to fit in only resulted in one thing: I felt miserable. I found my confidence, not only in my abilities, but also in myself was being seriously affected.
I love my workplace, but the fear of being myself was making me doubt who I was, which eventually made me ask the question ‘What am I afraid of?’, and you know what? I didn’t have an answer. I have a brilliant team around me, an incredibly supportive line manager, and Aston has only ever promoted inclusion and support for everyone, regardless of who you are. And that’s when I realised (as obvious as it may seem) that being gay doesn’t affect my work, and supressing who I am was only hurting myself, so when I relaxed and let my true self be seen and heard, I felt a peace of mind that I’ve not felt since I first accepted that I was gay. In fact, I grew from strength-to-strength, and am now currently the chair of Aston’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network!
However, we must all live in a way that keeps us safe and secure, and the fear for many in the LGBTQ+ community is completely understandable. If being ‘out’ puts your health and safety in danger, then err on the side of caution and never put yourself at risk of harm. But remember, the Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for any employer in the UK to discriminate against anyone who identifies as LGBT. If you feel in danger of discrimination or harm, or are subjected to either of the aforementioned, then some of the following options may help:
- Speak to your line manager
- Speak to your Union representative
- Engage with staff LGBTQ+ networks
- Talk to work-based counselling services
- Ask advice from community LGBTQ+ charities/organisations
Another interesting aspect of being LGBTQ+ in the workplace that I and some others I’ve spoken to have found is educating others on matters that they may not know about. Asking questions is how we learn; from infancy to adulthood, if we don’t question, we don’t learn. Since I became more public about being gay, many conversations have started with ‘Do you mind if I ask you something?’ or ‘I don’t want to offend you, but could I ask you an LGBTQ+-related question?’, so now I actively encourage people to ask about LGBTQ+ issues rather than shy away from asking. I obviously can not speak on behalf of the entire community, but if I can educate on certain issues, such as the use and importance of correct pronouns or the differences between different orientations, then I’m happy to. However, this doesn’t mean that any member of the LGBTQ+ community should feel obliged to discuss these kind of issues (only ever talk about subjects that you’re comfortable to discuss!)
The main takeaways from this blog post are:
- Always be proud of who you are – you are beautiful, and you are enough.
- Don’t let anyone else define who you are; only you know your own truth, so live it and express yourself in whatever way you feel comfortable with.
- Stay safe. If opening up to others puts you at harm, then please be cautious.
- If you have been discriminated against, then there are people, organisations, and charities who can help you.
- Education is key, however never feel pressured to talk about issues that you’re not comfortable/knowledgeable about.
- You’re never alone; talk to your staff LGBTQ+ networks (or create one if there isn’t one already!)
- There’s nothing wrong with having fears and concerns, just don’t face it alone!
Pride month is about celebrating the LGBTQ+ community, to remember those who have fought (and who continue to fight) for our rights, what we’ve accomplished so far, and to further our rights as humans. Just remember that being proud of being LGBTQ+ isn’t just for Pride month, but for every month of the year.
I sincerely hope that this little blog post helps you realise that being LGBTQ+ in the workplace can be a source of great inner strength and can also help educate others on our beautiful and diverse community. I’m always happy to be contacted via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further questions and support!
“There will not be a magic day when we wake up and it’s now okay to express ourselves publicly. We make that day by doing things publicly until it’s simply the way things are.” – Sen. Tammy Baldwin, first openly gay Senator in the United States.
Happy Pride month!
Written by Daniel Burrell, Chair of Aston LGBTQ+ Staff Network