Here, one of our Diversity and Inclusion network members, Helen O’Donnell, talks about her personal coming out journey and how we can support each other.
I’ve been with the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) for roughly two and a half years now and not a lot of people know I’m a lesbian. This is mostly because I haven’t felt it necessary to proactively share this detail of my personality; however I understand that if I did start to do so, it might encourage others to open up the discussion about the LGBT+ community in the workplace. Stonewall reported that over a third of people are not out in their workplace which is quite a high statistic.
I often have difficulty sharing aspects of my life, especially something which is so personal and can be discriminated against. When I first came out in 2012, my family and friends were extremely accepting. Coming from a Roman Catholic upbringing, I worried about how they would react and what it would mean for me in society. There were not many LGBT+ role models in my school or in the media at that time; and in the part of Gateshead where I live, same-sex relationships were very rarely seen.
Although my friends and family were all extremely supportive, that’s not to say I haven’t experienced discrimination. I came out around the time it was popular to say “you’ve dropped your gay card” and “that’s gay”, and it’s these kinds of comments that pushed people that little step further into the closet.
I do, however, believe the UK is becoming more inclusive as a whole to the LGBT+ community and equal rights. In January this year, Northern Ireland legalised same sex marriage in line with the rest of the UK which is a great step forward. There is also more representation in pop culture, TV, media and music, which is great as they provide more relatable role-models for those growing up and struggling to understand who they are.
Of course, there’s still a lot of work to be done worldwide, especially on behalf of our transgender cousins. Unfortunately hate crimes still exist and are predominant against transgender people, in particular a recent homophobic attack in Sunderland showed me that it can still be quite a difficult time to live in, which also makes it harder for people to show who they are through self-expression.
Changing your attitude and challenging others can make all the difference in breaking down these barriers and making others in your community more accepting. I believe that the language we use is powerful in this; making sure we don’t dead-name transgender people (call them by their previous name), assume or stereotype. Challenging other’s attitudes, although difficult, can make the difference between someone coming out or feeling able to share a part of themselves.
As a member of the LGBT+ community you never stop coming out (unless you decide not to). It’s often assumed that people are straight, so being in an inclusive environment can make the difference in someone correcting their friend/colleague/neighbour.
We’re lucky in the NHSBSA to have a close community and network who supports equality, diversity and inclusion, after all, we’re just people with preferences. Feel free to join us in any of our Diversity and Inclusion events, or to grab me for a chat, whether you are part of the LGBT+/another protected characteristic community or not, allies are just as important. Stonewall offers some fantastic advice for everyone; from coming out to supporting the LGBT+ community as an ally.
I hope this has raised awareness about the need of inclusive language which breaks down stereotypes, and hopefully this will encourage people to discuss this and what they believe the current difficulties are. If you want to open up a conversation on being ‘your more authentic self’, I would encourage sharing a fact about you that others may not know.