All this month, the Civil Service’s LGBT+ network has been running PrideON, a virtual online celebration of events.
As Pride month began at the start of June, we look back and commemorate the Stonewall protest against police brutality towards the LGBT+ community.
Standing in solidarity this Pride month
It would be wrong of us to celebrate how far we have come without acknowledging the current Black Lives Matter protests, especially when people from the BAME community were also on the front line rising up and fighting for us at Stonewall.
We cannot remain silent while celebrating Pride Month, and we will do more than stand in solidarity. We will speak up. We will be actively anti-racist. This is the message from our DWP LGBT+ network, who are working hard to keep Pride going during the lockdown.
Being inclusive is a really big part of any network, so it is encouraging to have so many online events taking place.
One of the sessions I attended was a panel discussion about being an LGBT+ professional. The topics included personal experience, intersectionality, progress and representation.
Panellists talked about their first coming out experiences at work, something which I could really relate to. Each of us has our own coming out at work story, and it was good to hear that overwhelmingly peoples’ Civil Service experience was positive. I’ll always remember the very first time I came out at work and the sense of relief and freedom I felt afterwards.
Unfortunately, more than a third of LGBT+ people have hidden or disguised that they are LGBT+ at work because they were afraid of discrimination. And according to a 2018 Stonewall report, 58% of young people are more likely to hide their sexuality when they start their career.
So going back ‘into the closet’ when you start a new job was also discussed. This is something I’ve been conscious of when I’ve changed companies or moved jobs. With each job it can often feel like you’re coming out all over again. The panel touched on the negative impact of ‘going back in’ when we’re not being our true selves.
The very first time I came out at work was after I had relocated from Ireland to London. I was in a new job working with people from all over the world. One of my colleagues had a gay flatmate that she used to talk about, so one day, after several months I dropped the fact that I’m also gay into the conversation and that was it. I had already made some good friends there and they all accepted me without judgement. All the concerns that I’d worked up in my head just disappeared and it felt wonderful to just be accepted for who I was.
Bringing our whole self to work is so important. Luckily I work in an organisation where I can be myself and have the freedom to be who I really am. Being my true self is something I strive for and as a teammate this makes me more proactive, motivated and helps me excel at work.
I’ve been with DWP Digital just over a year now. When I first joined my manager encouraged me to join DWPride (our LGBT+ support network) and introduced me to Rachel. Having a team mate like Rachel has helped me feel even more comfortable in bringing my authentic self to work. I don’t just see Rachel as a colleague but consider her a dear friend. I feel fully accepted for who I am and what I can bring to the table, not just professionally but from my own life experiences.
I’ve also had good experiences of coming out at work, it can be really nerve wracking as it’s such a personal aspect of yourself to share with others, but I’ve always had positive responses from my colleagues. Being gay isn’t an obvious physical characteristic, so unless you act the stereotype or drape yourself in rainbows it’s not something people automatically know. I usually mention my partner and follow it up with a ‘her’, I remember feeling self-conscious at first, but now it’s completely normal to me, and nobody has ever fallen over in shock! Our team is really diverse so I don’t feel different and it’s great having Oliver to relate to. It’s also good to be part of an inclusive network where we can meet with other LGBT+ colleagues.
As part of the PrideON celebrations Oliver and I went to the first DWPride online social, a quiz night hosted on Zoom. As the communications lead for the network I was excited to take part in a social event with my friends and network colleagues – some of who I had never met before. And it was great to be able to join in from the comfort of my own living room.
The quiz night went really well and actually overran by an hour as we were all having such good fun. On joining we were put into teams of 6 and for each round we went into virtual rooms to discuss the questions. It was a great way to get to know other people and it was nice that other government departments joined us too. In my team we had a lady from the Ministry of Defence who I was able to share details of a cross-government WhatsApp group with. For people who have been living alone the event was a real lifeline.
I really enjoyed the experience, not least because as a parent I often find the logistics of face to face events difficult. It’s not always easy to get babysitters, so I’m personally finding the online events really inclusive.
On Global Pride Day, 27 June, I wanted to do something to mark the occasion, even though we are still living in lockdown. I put on some rainbow colours and joined Global Pride online with a friend so we could hear messages, music and performances, from all parts of the world. Being Irish myself it was lovely to hear a message from our first gay Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister). And it touched my heart hearing from people that are still, to this day, fighting for equal rights in their own countries. It made me feel blessed to live somewhere I can be myself.
As LGBT+ people we’re a minority group and it’s important that we support and lift each other up. So be proud, be true and most of all be kind to yourself and others.
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