Three years ago, I remember sitting in class where we were asked by my tutor who would be going to the new LBGT+ society which had just been set up in my school. Not a single person in that class put their hand up. Myself included.
When quizzed by our tutor why we wouldn’t go, the consensus from most of the class was that they ‘had nothing against the community, they were just worried about being judged by others for going’ i.e. were worried about people thinking they were gay (which is completely hypocritical considering they’d just said they had nothing against the Queer community, but not the point!)
I remember sitting there in silence whilst everyone did the whole “I’m not gay, I support them, but I wouldn’t go” performance feeling so awkward knowing I would be judged by everyone for saying I wanted to go. I wasn’t worried about being judged by people generally, I’ve learned now that if someone is going to judge you, no matter what you do they still will, but I was scared. I was sitting in a class full of people who were saying they knew people would assume they were gay for going to the society, and all I can remember saying over and over to myself in my head was “they’ll know if you go, don’t say anything and you’ll be safe”. (I was always quite vocal with these kinds of debates normally, but the fear of being out-ed if I said something out-weighed my normal confidence by a long way).
It was months later during the following school year that I finally plucked up the courage to go to the meetings – a few of my friends had come out in the mean time and regularly attended them, and after months of debating it, I finally decided to go. As I got used to going to the meetings I slowly realised I could be more myself and felt more comfortable talking about LGBT+ issues in life generally.
One day at one of the meetings one of my newer friends made a comment about the allies in the room, and asked me in front of everyone if I was straight (she’d assumed I was and was laughing saying it would be really awkward if I said no). She said it as an random comment and didn’t mean to make me uncomfortable, that was just the kind of out-going person she was, but I froze. I wasn’t out, in fact I wasn’t even sure whether I was gay, straight, bi or anything, I was still figuring all that out. Only one of the other people there knew I was questioning who looked at me and smiled as if to say ‘well this could get awkward!’ – I responded with something like ‘I guess’, I’m not even sure what I said or what happened next, but being reminded that I wasn’t out and that I didn’t feel comfortable being out yet was a knock to my confidence. (I kept going to the meetings because I still felt like they were a safe space to be compared to the rest of the school).
A few weeks later exams started and the meetings broke up, and my last feeling of a ‘safe-space’ went with it. It’s safe to say it all went downhill from there. We had posters ripped down, abuse in the corridors, comments made on a daily basis, a lot of this the teachers weren’t aware of, and some of it was from them too. I remember sitting in an RS lesson and the teacher making an incredibly homophobic joke which everyone in the class laughed at – how I didn’t walk out that day I don’t know because even the people I thought were friends laughed too, and as soon as the joke was said it felt as though all eyes were on me for the rest of the lesson.
I never felt safe being myself at school, certainly not after all of that, so I put my head down, finished my exams and got away as quickly as I could.
Not long after that I started to work. My first job was in a place where I felt somewhat safe and somewhat not. Some of my colleagues were homophobic and I certainly didn’t feel safe talking about it in front of them, but a small few were LGBT+ themselves, or had family members who were, and I felt safe being myself around them. My second job everyone I worked with was an ally of the LGBT+ community, and active ones too, which meant I felt safe being myself with there. But in my current job I have never felt more included, safer or more like I can be myself than anywhere else I have been. We have an LGBT+ Staff Network, yearly events where important topics are discussed, and we get a spot in the London Pride Parade each year (and obviously right now we can’t march in the streets today, but last night we had a virtual NHS pride which we all took part in, and had an amazing time despite not being able to celebrate together).
It’s not only the network that is amazing, it’s the community spirit, and the volume of allies we have. Rainbow lanyards are not only provided for people to choose to wear them, but they’re worn by the majority of staff! We have rainbow badges worn by almost everyone, and we’re able to walk around the corridors wearing these whilst feeling like we’re supported and can be ourselves without anyone questioning us. Seeing everyone at our virtual pride event last night all dressed up in their pride flags with rainbow face-paint, and our gorgeous rainbow fans created especially for us in our ‘pride-packs’ for all those involved in the network – I cannot even put into words how incredible it was to see everyone celebrating and supporting each other!
What I’ve learned from this, and the reason I am writing about this today is not only because it is Pride this weekend, but also because it’s important to remember whatever situation you’re in, it will get better!
You can feel like you’re lost and unsupported and unsafe, but over time your situation will get so much better and you’ll be able to be yourself. If someone would have told me a year ago that I would be where I am now, I would have laughed at them (in fact I probably wouldn’t have laughed because I would have been too shy). But being able to be me and celebrate with my incredible colleagues last night felt so amazing I couldn’t help but try to put it into words.
I don’t expect many people to read this, but if even one person sees this and can relate to feeling lost and like they can’t be themselves – please know you are loved by a community of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Agender, Pansexual, Demisexual, Asexual, Non-Binary, Aromantic, Omnisexual, Polysexual, Greysexual, Greyromantic, Demiromantic, Gender-Queer, Agender, Genderfluid, humans (sorry to any I’ve missed – there are so so so many more) who know what it’s like to be where you are now, and when you’re ready to come out we’ll be here to support you no matter what, and even if you’re in the closet, we’re still here if you need us.
So Happy Pride 2020, know that even in the face of a global pandemic we will still go on celebrating and being proud of who we are in whatever way we can. Because we are valid, and loved and we deserve to show our pride to the world no matter what.