Coming out at 15 in an all-boys school was probably the best thing I could do. Bullying a gay boy who was openly gay didn’t give the other lads quite the same satisfaction.
However, coming out and accepting who you are, are two different things. I thought the best way to do this was to throw myself into “gay life”. I started to have boyfriends, I went out on the scene, and I began to worry what I looked like and how I was perceived by other gay people. I went to Pride events and wondered to myself, why would you be proud? The mix of concerns cemented how the recognition of my sexuality hadn’t meant I’d accepted it. I remember saying, “If someone could give me a pill to make me straight, I’d take it”.
I worked in various places and had a few gay friends but I was still very much of the mind-set that my sexuality was what it was and so what. Until I joined Essex County Fire & Rescue Service (ECFRS) in June 2014.
I had never worked for an organisation where I knew of any LGBT staff networks I could be a part of (and I only knew of the group at ECFRS because my Dad works there too). People I was soon to be working with knew of me and of my sexuality, so, at least, no more awkward coming out, but still daunting. I made the decision to join the LGBT network.
Just over a year later, the Chair of our LGBT group, BEING, forwarded me an email from Stonewall detailing the Young Leaders programme. Why not? Filling in an application would do no harm. Maybe this was my chance to get properly involved.
I was accepted. The two-day programme had arrived and the excitement and apprehension from everyone was palpable. Before we knew it, we had all bonded and begun sharing our stories, experiences and expectations. An emotional two days had left me with a new found sense of pride. Now I understood what it meant to be proud. To be yourself, truly your authentic self, is not easy and anyone should be proud for doing so. I realised my sexuality is important. I should be openly gay at work and show others it is okay to be yourself. They should see the support that is there for them – and that should be our network.
Driven to go back to work and ignite our network with my new found enthusiasm, I soon found myself Chair of BEING - an amazing privilege and honour. News stories on our intranet and word-of-mouth soon spread and we were able to hold BEING’s AGM in October. Management, operational staff, support staff, HR and Training were all in attendance.
Actions were put in place to review policy, to organise LGBT training for staff, even order rainbow coloured lanyards. We received emails asking what gender-neutral means, what words are appropriate, and how they can be involved. Whole watches on stations were wearing lanyards and wanting to attend Pride events. We became a motivated workplace wanting to visibly be involved in the LGBT Community.
I couldn’t have achieved any of this without the support from ECFRS and Stonewall. The Young Leaders programme truly changed my life. Thank you.