Words: Allie Garside
This is the mantra my parents taught me. It’s a simple enough concept, who else would I be?
At school my best friend was a little different. The first words he said to me were
“Do you want to come and play McDonalds?”
We were nine and I remember thinking, why isn’t he playing football with the other boys? All through our school lives people would call my best friend ‘gay’. They would use the term ‘gay’ as an insult: “You’re soooo gay”. Naturally we defended him from this, not because we thought there was anything wrong with being gay but because he was adamant that he wasn’t. He was being wrongly accused.
When we moved to high school, he changed. He went from being an eccentric, warm and hilarious character to someone who was angry and closed off. His anger was unrelenting, I couldn’t understand why he hated the world so much and why he was unable to tell me the problems he was facing. He had a loving family, a nice house, plenty of girlfriends and was bright. For years I could see his internal struggle, but I didn’t know what he was battling inside.
When we were seventeen, he kissed a boy. My best friend who’d had many girlfriends in his teen years had kissed another man. I was shocked: I had spent so long defending him that I hadn’t taken the time to consider that he might be gay. He’d been so adamant that he wasn’t, I’d never even thought to ask the question.
Shortly after this he came out and the bullying stopped. The “you’re gay” comments stopped. His response changed from “No I’m not” (followed by some form of expletive) to “Yeah I am… so?” – and there wasn’t much to say back to that. My eccentric, warm, hilarious friend returned because he was able to be his authentic self. He was finally living by the words, “Just be yourself”.
7 in 10 LGBTQ people feel they need to lie about their sexuality. Coming out doesn’t necessarily fix everything; everyone is different and has their own journey. My friend has a strong support system, he was lucky. But with nearly one million adults in the UK identifying as LGBTQ the chances are you are working alongside someone who either openly identifies as gay, lesbian or bi sexual; or they are hiding their sexuality in the workplace. This needs to change.
According to statistics from charity Stonewall, 19% of LGBT workers have experienced verbal bullying from colleagues, customers or service providers because of their sexual orientation. It should be the responsibility of a business to provide them with a strong support system within the workplace where they feel safe and comfortable. Everyone deserves to be able to come to work as their authentic self no matter who they choose to love.
My friend inspired me to support the LGBTQ community and this has made me passionate about this area of diversity, inclusion and belonging. No matter what sexuality you are I believe you should be able to come into work and be accepted for being you.
Sexuality has no reflection on how hard working someone is or how capable they are at their job, so why would we discriminate against someone because of who they choose to love? Making sure there is an open and supportive culture in a business is paramount, not only to the success of the business but to the success of the individuals who work there.
My learnings from my friend have been this:
- Don’t be afraid to ask the question, if I had asked my friend earlier he might have felt comfortable to confide in me sooner.
- Equally, don’t push people if they’re not ready. People will come out when they are ready to come out, there is no set time for anyone.
- The term ‘gay’ should not be used as an insult in any context. Full stop.
- If you create a supportive, open culture people are more like to be themselves, and therefore work to the best of their ability.
- Strive to “Just be yourself” no matter how tricky or how scary it may seem, it might be the best thing you ever do.