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On Being an LGBTQ Role Model: Reflecting on Stonewall’s LGBT Role Models Programme

Prompted by a post I wrote back in March on sexuality in academia (and it being subsequently being republished by Times Higher Education), I asked at work if I could attend Stonewall’s LGBT Role Models programme as I felt I needed guidance about what it means to be out at work and online, something which I hadn’t actually considered before writing the post.

Coventry supported my attendance and its now been 2 weeks since I attended. As such, it seems a good time to take a moment to reflect on what I had learned. (Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that I am only blogging about the event now as I try to avoid reflecting almost immediately after an event. I tend to find that when I walk out of a training room, I leave with superhero ambitions that aren’t that realistic. I prefer to let the learning sink in and to first go back to my daily routines, revisiting the slides a week to two later to reflect more thoughtfully on how to apply the learning to my daily working life).

I want to begin by saying that I found the programme incredibly useful. It helped me to articulate the challenges I face within the workplace and, working with others from a range of different sectors, to identify possible solutions to these challenges.

The morning focused on our LGBT working lives. We spoke about the importance of authentic leadership and discussed research that shows how being yourself in the workplace can improve happiness and boost productivity. This was accompanied by a discussion about the extent to which LGBT people feel they can be themselves at work. What became almost immediately clear was that it is was rare for an LGBT member of staff to be completely themselves at work. We often found ourselves hiding parts of our identity or lives at particular moments or events. One participant introduced a particularly interesting activity of getting teams to talk about their weekends without using gendered pronouns to highlight the live and quick-fire internal conversations LGBT frequently experience. It is a skill I have finessed over many years and have become quite good at – but not necessarily one that I want to, or feel I should have to, employ on a regular basis).

Concealing our LGBT identities can be a result of working in or with particular communities, countries, or spaces, especially when we do not safe space or are in spaces, situations and environments that are new or changed. We also spoke about experiences of where we are sometimes made to feel “other”, or outside, not part of the daily work culture or conversation. These conversations led to what I felt was incredibly important moment of self-discovery. Being bullied as child about being perceived as gay (I didn’t “come out until 21), I have lacked confidence and it has only been in the last five or so years that I have been completely comfortable with being more open about who I am, particularly in the professional sphere. Our private life needn’t impinge on our professional life, right? These conversations, though, made me consider (and realise) the number of times I do conceal my identity when at work and the moments of panic when, in a split second, I have to decide whether to disclose my sexuality or correct someone’s assumption. This is something I find more pressing now as an independent researcher working internationally. We then spoke about the effect this has had upon us and about the “exhausting fiction of heterosexuality” that LGBT staff can experience – as well as the emotionally difficult conversations that may result from revealing our identity, conversations which sometimes can feel as if they take up too much of our energy and of our time.

The afternoon focused on what it means to be a role model and how we could act as role models within our own contexts, reflecting on our own role models as well as the career stories of LGBT people from a range of different sectors – which are really interesting reads and can be accessed here:

We came to define a role model as someone who is “aware of their potential to influence others and intentionally exercises that influence for the purpose of helping to create a more inclusive workplace”. This definition is challenging, as it explicitly brings together my private, professional, and political lives and asks me to consider how they interrelate. This is something I need to think much more deeply about. Indeed, what kind of role model do I want to be and how can I achieve this?

At the end of the programme, we were asked to make a pledge about what we would do as a result of the course. In session, I decided confidence was key to my development as a role model and that I need to be as open as I can be (taking ethical pragmatism and safety into account) to ensure that I am a visible role model for other LGBT staff at Coventry, but also LGBT researchers internationally.

This is something I will need to work on continually and so I’ll set myself the challenge now to blog again in 6-12 months and reflect on where I am, what I’ve done, and what’s changed since writing this.

Although there is work to do, I feel as a result of this course I’m in a much stronger place now than I was before the course.

Details on the Stonewall LGBT Role Models Course

Details on the Stonewall LGBT Allies Role Models Course

And if feels entirely appropriate to leave you with one of my LGBT role models that got me through those troublesome teen years:

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