In honour of Coming Out Day this month, I would like to share something I wrote to help me process my own inner journey when I was in my teens.
We drop gently to the ground,
Without a peep, without a sound,
As our roots begin to grow,
Into the ground, as onwards we flow.
We grow up tall, we grow up straight,
Up beside the garden gate,
Our petals gleaming in the sun,
Like gold for each and everyone.
As winter comes and it’s cold wind blows,
We drop into the glossy white snows,
We fall and start to fade away,
Until spring comes another day.
Coming out isn’t easy, there is no right or wrong way. It is individual to every person and never an easy decision to make. My own coming out story is not linear by any means. Coming from a very religious family and a rural town had its challenges, but I am thankful that through time and understanding people grow and learn. That includes myself.
People might not realise that the very idea of coming out in itself is insulting to many. Why is it that a person needs to “come out”, do people “come out” as straight?
This public declaration of sexual orientation has widespread implications and understandably is difficult for many to disclose. From the family unit to the workplace, every facet of a person's life is impacted by this very decision.
The damaging impact of homophobic language
We are surrounded by homophobic language and content every day. Its very existence normalises this behaviour and for the most, it is deemed acceptable.
Things like “that’s so gay”, “no homo” are common terms used and even used by public figures. ‘‘I don’t want that one, it’s gay.” Radio 1 DJ, Chris Moyles referring to a ring tone. “Little gay-looking boy / So gay I can barely say it with a straight face looking boy...” lyrics to a 2013 song by rapper Eminem.
Likewise, the term sexual preference is regularly used. This is an outdated and discriminatory term which indicates that sexuality is a voluntary choice – the terms orientation or sexual orientation are recommended instead.
In the workplace, homophobia can be a lot less obvious but no less damaging.
For example: ‘John’ works in customer service and jokes are often made about him being gay and about LGBT people. These are made in John's presence and often in front of the company manager, who fails to challenge it. The general view among staff is that John shouldn't take these seriously as the jokes are meant in jest and are all part of the work culture where everyone is teased about something.
Some people may say this is just 'banter’ and not meant to upset anyone, but if an employee feels they are being targeted because of sexual orientation, gender identity or their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and this makes them feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended, then this behaviour can be defined as harassment and would be unlawful under the Equality Act 2000 - 2018.
Colleagues who feel they are close with each other might feel it is acceptable because the “banter” is with good intentions. Well in short, some of the worst actions in history began with good intentions.
Just because one person feels they have the right to say something doesn’t make it right. I have heard this sentence many times, “well my relative/friend is gay” as if to justify the comment. There is no time and place for discrimination regardless of who you know or your level of seniority in a company.
Harassment in the workplace can be:
Jokes or banter
Insults or threats
Unnecessary and degrading references to someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity or their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity
Excluding someone from activities or social events
Spreading rumours or gossip, including speculating about someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or outing them
Asking intrusive questions
The Equality Act states that an employer is responsible for the behaviour of its employees. This means employers need to take reasonable steps to challenge and prevent homophobic harassment. If you are a manager and have noticed any of these behaviours please take note and take action.
Not all homophobia is conscious, some behaviours can be unconscious bias such as gendering roles or choosing a person based on a stereotype, not actual ability. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been asked about someone’s fashion or beauty products or if I watch Ru Paul’s Drag race (that last one I do but not the point!) even though I have never expressed interest or knowledge of those topics. Even with the best of intentions, it can be insulting.
Media and public figures have a lot of influence over what the general public see as LGBT so I understand the need to visibly come out in that sense but again “coming out” is an incredibly personal decision. No one has the right to pressure or force anyone to do this. It can change the very course of a person's life.
Now more than ever, especially in this COVID-19 bubble, we all need to take time to educate, appreciate and the most important of all, accept each other, including our differences.
It is in those differences we find strength. Remove the assumptions and stereotypes from conversations and replace them with genuine curiosity and compassion. The results would bring an entirley different conversation, one which allows for growth and for us to evolve.