I am a lesbian and I am visible.
But it hasn’t always been that way. I struggled, like many people do with coming to terms with my sexuality and eventually coming out. I chose to do this at university, it didn’t feel safe to do it before in the place where I grew up. There were no visible LGBT people of my age around me, and it was the same when I started work. I was in my early 20s, in a long-term relationship but very quickly I went running back in to the closet.
The funny thing is it didn’t shield me from any homophobic comments that were being thrown around the office as banter. I could still hear them. They still hurt me. It was just people weren’t aware of the impact of their words.
The strain of being in the closet took its toll and I had a breakdown in the office. I can still vividly remember being on the phone to my sister as it happened, she had to talk me through how to put my coat on so I could get myself home. The next few months were a blur but slowly I healed and eventually I managed to put myself back together enough to go back into an office environment – and took a part-time role at King Sturge.
Going into the interview I vowed to be my whole self and I was.
Throughout my property career I have been an out proud lesbian but, with no visible LGBT+ people, work could be quite a lonely place at the start of my career. I was still cautious of being vocally out to clients, the banter was still there, but I would not actively hide my sexuality but equally I wasn’t comfortable calling it out. Then in early 2012 I was introduced to Freehold, the LGBT+ networking group, it was like a breath of fresh air – I wasn’t alone, but as a lesbian I was in the minority.
Supported by the incredible Freehold board I gained the confidence to be more vocal in the workplace and was part of a team that created the first LGBT+ employee network group at a real estate consultancy. Collectively we raised awareness around language and behaviour, casual homophobia was no longer brushed off as a bit of banter. By being more visible colleagues became more conscious of their actions and slowly their behaviours changed, and the office environment became more accepting.
I hadn’t appreciated the impact of being out and visible in the workplace until one day a new starter told me that seeing my being out at work made them realise it would be ok for them too. They would not have to go through the stress of editing their language and making sure they “didn’t give anything away”. They wouldn’t have to listen to those barbed thoughtless throwaway comments that cut invisibly deep and I can’t tell you the joy that gives me.
Let’s be clear, not everyone wants to be out at work, and that’s ok. But no one should suffer mental anguish because they cannot be themselves at work. If being visible makes it easier for one other Lesbian or GBT+ person to be themselves then I am happy to be visible. Here I am, the Lesbian.
Written by: Kelly Canterford