LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) History Month takes place every February. It’s an opportunity to celebrate LGBT life and culture and to recognise the achievements of LGBT people and communities.
History month is not just for those who identify as LGB or T – it’s for everyone; community groups, organisations, individuals, activists, service providers, non-LGBT people and allies. It gives organisations like ours the chance to show our support for LGBT staff, patients and their families. The theme for 2018 is ‘When We Were Young’ to tie in with the Scottish Government’s Year of Young People 2018.
There is no doubt that LGBT equality has progressed over the decades – it would be difficult to argue that things haven’t progressed at all for LGBT people. But is there still some way to go? Have things progressed enough?
I wanted to hear from people who identify as LGBT to hear some personal stories and reflections from their point of view to try to find out more about what, in their minds, has changed since they were younger. With this in mind, I spoke to some staff members and members of the local community who were happy to share their stories and some reflections from ‘when they were young’, and have shared some of these below. It may be my name at the top of the page but this week’s blog wouldn’t exist without the input from others and sharing of experiences – to those people I give thanks.
My first job in the public sector was back in 1999, out with D&G. After a few months in post, I decided to tell my colleagues that I was gay. They were all very friendly (apart from a few homophobic jokes), so I had no real concerns about telling them, but was still nervous. I knew from my previous experiences of coming out that a little ‘Dutch courage’ would come in handy, so I decided to do it on the Christmas night out.
I’d already confided in one of my colleagues, and she knew what I was planning to do; she bought me several large vodkas, but towards the end of the night, I still hadn’t built up the courage to say anything. Finally, she asked if I wanted her to say ‘it’, and I nodded. The response from all of them was very positive. All except one that is; the manager started shouting at me, asserting that I should have told the interview panel about my sexuality! Needless to say, I was quite taken aback by this, but managed to stay calm – maybe the vodka helped!
Going back to work after the Christmas break was nerve wracking; what would happen? I needn’t have worried, because as soon as I arrived, the manager walked into my office and apologised for his behaviour. Maybe he was worried that I was going to complain about him, or maybe he was genuinely sorry for what he had done.
I stayed in that job for ten years, and despite the rocky start, things settled down. I made some friends for life there.
In 2009, I started working for NHS D&G. From the start, I’ve felt equal. All of my colleagues know that I’m gay, and I can talk about my life – husband, family, home etc – in the same way as they do about theirs. All of the team (including the manager!) are very friendly and inclusive. There are no homophobic jokes and I’ve not had to come out to anyone, I can just be me.
I feel lucky to have been able to be openly gay to my colleagues for all of my working life – bar those first few months. There’s still a long way to go until all workplaces are inclusive, but our society has progressed a lot, and that is something to be celebrated. Equality and diversity is a human right and Scotland should be proud that it’s a world leader in this field.
Employee, age 41
As a member of the LGBT community I am glad to see that acceptance in the community is both growing and improving. There are still some shops, some people and some services, that need people to challenge with respect the outdated views they hold on the freedom and the rights of LGBT people.
In particular trans and non binary people in our communities can be treated as if they have something wrong with them and are forced to negotiate daily aspects of their life in the community in a way that can ‘out them’ even thought they are protected by both the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act. For example, being told to ‘just use the disabled toilets’ and are being ill considered when it comes to new services and buildings, resulting in the potential for them to identify themselves as trans or non binary, even when it is not appropriate. They may be a small minority, yet it is an identity which is growing in numbers across Scotland the UK and yet still services are not being developed in a way that is fit for purpose of the expected change in our local demographics.
However, LGBT people, in general, have a positive experience in D&G, especially the young adults coming through our community now, who are great advocates of their rights, who do not stand for inequality and are skilled and confident to challenge any discrimination they experience. Let’s hope their strength and confidence continues and those with more vulnerabilities can follow in the wake of the standards they demand.
Through the diversity of the few, we change the impact on the many.
Member of the local community, age 42
I still remember vividly applying for my first senior post in the mid 90’s and being taken aside afterwards by my line manager who noted that someone on the panel senior to her had suggested that, whilst I had been successful in my application, she should feed back to me ”not to put on future applications – under personal information/ background – that I was gay and lived with my partner”.
At the time, I didn’t question it but there was a climate post AIDS of ‘ tolerance’, and rarely would I speak about my personal life at work unless I knew someone very well and felt it was safe to ‘disclose’.
I also recall my partner and I moving into our first home together, and a neighbour coming to the door to let us know that they, and everyone in the street, had received a letter telling them to ”stay away from the paedophiles at number…..”
So, have things changed for the better?
Most definitely, but to those who would say ‘ Why make a big deal out of it these days, as I treat everyone the same, sexuality isn’t an issue’ I would reply that generally what that means is ‘I treat everyone as if they are straight’, and that the battle for equality was exactly that – a struggle over many decades by many who didn’t live to see the benefits of their efforts. As many people across the world know, rights can be given and rights can just as easily be taken away.
However, in this LGBT history month 2018, we should celebrate the fact that many LGBT young people can enter adulthood feeling good and not ashamed re. who they are, and that employees can feel welcomed and not just accommodated in a diverse, inclusive NHS.
Employee, Age 52
Discovering who you are and finding your ‘tribe’ can be a long, challenging and often puzzling process. There are highs, lows and an entire spectrum of emotions in between. A recurring theme throughout my storyline has been the importance of learning through watching, listening and talking to others about their experiences, although, it took a long time for me to build up the courage to do so. While some find comfort outdoors or in books, looking back on my adolescent years, I realise that my escapism was through television. Whichever medium we choose, it is important to remember that they play an important part in establishing how we see ourselves fitting into the world around us.
During the mid-late 90s it felt like all LGBT storylines were met with a wave of controversy and widespread debate about whether it was right to have that kind of thing on television. From the lesbian kiss on Brookside, to the mockery of a trans character being introduced to Coronation Street and the seemingly endless number of affairs which resulted in the destruction of a normal relationship, it seemed like being gay would always go hand in hand with shame and isolation.
This came to a head with the transmission of Queer as Folk. Even for this 14 year-old it was clear that this was an important time – a landmark piece of television which would either blow the closet doors wide open or set our place on screen back decades. Fortunately, the strength of Russel T Davies’ writing meant that the series was shocking not for daring to exhibit a set of predominately LGBT characters, but for daring to show them as having normal everyday lives. Being gay was not the drama; it was a starting point for a cultural landscape which promotes acceptance by establishing strong LGBT characters within the fabric of everyday life.
While entrainment only plays a small part in influencing the choices made within society, it is comforting to know that today’s young people can learn about themselves in a more open and vibrant environment. While there is still work to do, particularly in regards to services and support provided for the bisexual and trans communities, the fact that we have the term LGBT, support groups in schools, networking groups within workplaces and even this blog are all signs that times are changing for the better.
Member of the local community, age 32
I remember age 11, during sex education class in school asking how 2 men or 2 women who loved each other had sex. I was angrily told by the teacher that this was not an appropriate question to be asking, and that I should be quiet. In the early 80s as a young girl experiencing my first feelings of same sex attraction, this was pretty much the attitude of everyone – my parents, my peers, the school, the media – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were almost totally invisible, only being mentioned as objects of ridicule or disgust. The message it gave me as a young lesbian was “your feelings are very wrong, tell no-one”, and that’s what I did, for a very long 10 years, until I was 21 and could contain it no longer.
Even when I did come out at University, life was very different then – schools were prohibited from talking about homosexuality by Section 28; there was no formal recognition of same sex relationships; you could be sacked from your job for being LGBT; indeed you could be sent to a psychiatric institution to be cured, as homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder until 1992. Although relationships between same sex partners was legal, the age of consent was still 21 and I remember that my friend Hugo’s boyfriend had been arrested because he was 24 and Hugo was 20, so in the eyes of the law he was abusing a minor.
When I finally did come out, I made the decision to be VERY out, however this didn’t come without its problems: I was physically assaulted 3 times, sexually assaulted once; had graffiti written about me and my girlfriend at the time within university buildings and received hate mail from a neighbour in my block of flats. I also had to go through the difficult period of estrangement from my family and disownment from some friends, until they came to terms with the ‘new me’, even although for me it was the way I had always been. It was a difficult time and predictably, mental health issues resulted from feelings of being different, unlovable and somehow ‘wrong’. Luckily, I did have a loving family who were willing to love me despite their prejudices, and a good group of supportive friends, which gave me the resilience to get to where I am today. For people who don’t have that though, the outcomes can be really different.
25 years on, looking back, for me all that seems a million miles away. In Dumfries and Galloway (although it took time) I have a life where I am accepted, loved and included in my work, in my community and by everyone I meet, and my sexual orientation is a ‘non-issue’ the vast majority of the time. LGBT people have more or less full legislative equality now (although there is still a way to go for trans and intersex people) and many LGBT people are thriving within loving, stable families and communities, with children, great jobs and good lives. The media portrays many LGBT role models now and certainly for the younger generation there is a normality about LGBT issues and most children are growing up knowing about and accepting LGBT issues and LGBT people. However, that is not to say that there is no bullying in schools and that it is yet easy for LGBT young people to come out – people of my age (44) and older still grew up in an era when homosexuality was outlawed and considered wrong, and so there are still attitudes like this that exist within our communities and which impact on people of all ages within our communities every day.
When I was 11, what I needed were adults to give me the very strong message that being LGBT was OK. Although we have moved on a huge amount in rights for and attitudes towards LGBT people, surely every young person and adult still needs to be given that message, and that’s something we can all do.
Board Member, age 44
The last Friday in History Month is Purple Friday. This year celebrate the #EverydayHero, those people in our lives who do the little things everyday that make our world more inclusive.
Take pictures and tweet using the hashtag #EverydayHero
Lynsey Fitzpatrick is Equality and Diversity Lead at NHS Dumfries and Galloway