John Nicholson MP wrote a very personal account of his coming to terms with his sexuality. In his account he shares the lengths he went to in order to hide being gay. He goes on:
I’ve lost track of the number of people who’ve told me subsequently that when I came out in the papers they told their parents. Gay kids should have role models. They should know that being gay doesn’t stop you doing anything as an adult
John was born in the 1960s, what seems like a completely different world from where we are today. The social change has been tremendous. We have openly gay characters on
television, in Parliament, in business. Many young gay men nowadays have an inbuilt sense of entitlement, that equality is just something that is there.
A huge part of me resents this attitude. That they don’t recognise the pain and suffering the LGBT community went through to have that sense of equality. Without exaggeration, people lost their jobs, families, lives.
And yet this is what the fight has been about. That people shouldn’t feel ashamed about who they are. That job offers no longer get retracted once employers find out you have a same-sex partner. I have included images of Lt. Cdr Chris Wood and Ali Berryman because they are both excellent role models in sectors that haven’t always embraced diversity.
Up until 2000, identifying as gay or lesbian could see you dismissed from the Royal Navy and other armed services. Since then we have seen openly gay service men and women develop their careers and build support networks.
Of course it isn’t easy. Equality never is.
According to The Telegraph:
Incidents of aggression against gay personnel are still reported. In 2013 it was reported that soldier James Wharton was threatened with beatings from servicemen in a rival regiment before Prince Harry stepped into defend him, while in 2009 the MoD was forced to pay £124,000 to a lesbian soldier for harassment she suffered in the Royal Artillery.
Likewise the City has a mixed reputation when it comes to sexuality. Many large corporate firms rank highly for their diversity, but there can be a disconnect between a policy and experiences in the job.
The Guardian interviewed gay people working in Finance:
One former City worker who quit a large investment bank, partly because of homophobia, said: “It’s very much a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation in most City offices. None of the gay men I know are comfortable being ‘out’ at work, and I felt I couldn’t be when I was working at the bank.
“It’s better than it once was. You hardly expect to be sacked if they found out you were gay but when your boyfriend rings, you still lie and say it was a friend on the line. At the top end of the company, they don’t really care, so long as you’re making money. But on the trading floor it can be like the football terraces. You’d be slaughtered if you came out as gay.”
BNP Paribas sponsor a “Pride Power” list of influential LGBT people in the UK. This looks across all sectors – from charities to banks, the Army to education. John Nicholson lamented the lack of role models when he was coming of age, we now have such lists where role models can be found even in unlikely situations.
As with everything, it is the risk takers who challenge perceptions and force change. Equality is not about showing indifference but allowing such differences to contribute to society, to business, to Government equally.
We have come a long way since John Nicholson’s youth. And it is remarkable that Justice Minister Sam Gyimah enacted Lib Dem Lord Sharkey’s Bill to pardon thousands of gay men prosecuted before the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
It is up to us all to become role models for future generations.