I was 18 when I came out. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this was just the beginning of a coming out process that would continue every time I met someone new, for the rest of my life.
In my first career as a teacher, it was virtually impossible to be out at work. Having been out as a student, it was difficult to adjust to this situation in the workplace and it was one of the factors that contributed to my decision to quit the profession in 2005 after 5 years as a secondary school teacher.
Coming out does get easier as you get more experienced. I am more confident about talking about my girlfriend (now my wife) and I find that if I am at ease with talking about my relationship, other people often follow my lead and don’t make an issue of it either. Paradoxically, as I become more comfortable with this aspect of my identity and more widely accepted by the people I encounter every day, the more the little incidents have the power to hurt me, because I don’t expect them any more.
I’m taking part in the Great North Run this September: the world’s biggest half marathon which starts in Newcastle and finishes 13.1 miles later at South Shields.
I’ve done this run before, but this time I am running for more than just a good finishing time. I’ve decided to invite people to sponsor me, and for this money to go to Stonewall – an organisation which campaigns for the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people.
When this idea first came to me a few months ago, I assumed that people would not be willing to sponsor me for this cause. How deeply my internalised homophobia must run when my mind can still pop out thoughts like this! I really hope that you will prove that idea to be false, and donate some money to support this organisation which does so much to promote the rights and acceptance of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
I feel that I have both so much and so little to say on this matter. But as long as our society expects us to define ourselves in terms of our sexual orientation, and for the default setting to be heterosexual, there will be prejudice and the need to combat it with education and legislation.
Back in 2010, Paul Gambaccini gave the first University of Oxford LGBT History Month Lecture. His main message was that we could all contribute to the cause of sexual orientation equality by coming out to our families, friends and colleagues. Despite my involvement in political campaigning over the years, I have found that one of the most powerful things I can do to help educate people about LGB issues is to come out to them.
I will leave you with a glimpse of the kind of work done by Stonewall:
- Campaigning and lobbying – major successes include helping achieve the equalisation of the age of consent, lifting the ban on lesbians and gay men serving in the military, securing legislation allowing same-sex couples to adopt , the repeal of Section 28, civil partnerships, Equality Act 2010
- Working with a whole range of agencies to address the needs of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals in the wider community, including their Diversity Champions programme
- Education for All campaign, launched in January 2005, helps tackle homophobia and homophobic bullying in schools and works with a wide coalition of groups
- Raising public awareness in terms of civil partnership, and on the changes to the employment regulations relating to sexual orientation through guides for both employers and employees.
- Promoting new research on issues such as hate crime, lesbian health and homophobic bullying in schools
Many of these have directly benefited people like me. But it’s not over yet. Please sponsor me and help to support this essential work. Thank you x