I think a portion of my upbringing was relatively “normal”, with a nuclear family consisting of me, my half-sister from my mum’s first marriage, my mum and my dad. We lived in a nice house, went on family holidays each year and often had sibling style squabbles with my sister, one time she even put me in a suit case and threw me down the stairs; but that’s what little brothers are there for right?!
However, my Dad’s “coming out” was not a simple one for anyone in my family to say the least. I was in Year Five at school, nine years old when I found out - and I was the last person in the family to know. I was having a childish argument with a neighbour and was thrown back with “At least my Dad’s not gay!”. My sister, only four and half years my senior, had to sit me down and explain what being gay meant and that my Dad was actually gay. On reflection, I don’t think I truly understood the impact of this at the time, but also in the same breadth my 14-year-old sister having to comprehend and explain this to me really astonishes me. It wasn’t until a year or so after that I told my Dad how I found out about him being gay.
My Dad’s sexuality didn’t really become an impact for me until his boyfriend moved in a couple of years after his coming out. We both knew that having a gay father had the possibility of opening the door to bullying from other children, as I received from when I found out about his sexuality. So for many years my dad’s boyfriend was known as “The Lodger” in the house.
When I was fifteen, I did confide in one my best friends and after a few months, this news had spread round my friendship group. At the time, I was very hurt and concerned what the fallout would be, but I never got any negative comments from my friendship group about the situation. To be honest, it was never spoken about, which may appear to signal I wasn’t supported, but my friends understood I didn’t really want it made a big deal of at that age and I am so very grateful.
I didn’t really come to terms with my own sexuality until around the age of sixteen when I started to think about it more and started to have confidential conversations with close friends and everyone was always very supportive of me. I am not going to sugar coat things, I did get the odd comment from strangers I came in into contact with, however with my hardy personality and my exceedingly dry sarcasm, I never had any issue in shutting the negativity down.
Having an LGBT+ parent is actually a very positive thing; it enabled me to be very open minded when it came understanding who I love and not having to feel that I have to be in a heterosexual relationship. Although this is not exclusive to having an LGBT+ parent, my Mum would always say to me “When you find that person that you love”. This is one thing I have to encourage any parent, please use open language with your children, let them know you will love them no matter the gender of their partner. By doing this, you will allow them to grow up knowing they can love who they want and will be a lot more forthcoming as it has already put the groundwork in to remove that fear of potentially difficult conversations.
I always find “Coming out” such a funny phrase, as to me, it sounds like there is a massive surprise party with balloons and banners and it’s a one-time occasion. In my case, I came out to my Dad, my Sister and my Mum at different times and in very different ways. When I joined the LGBT+ network when I was in Retail five years ago, I was lucky enough to win a trip to Amsterdam Pride with Vodafone Netherlands. I called my Dad to let him know and I said I had won it through the network and he asked me how come I had joined; my response? “Look Dad, you know, I know you know, let’s not make a big deal of it, alright?”. He just laughed and that was that.
Later on that year, I was having drinks with my Sister for her birthday and I told her, she was so happy I had come out to her and wished I had told her sooner, but also called me a thunder stealer for coming out on her birthday! The sibling banter forever lives on.
My Mum, on the other hand, was the hardest person to come out to, people always assume having a gay parent makes coming out a total breeze; however, what about the other parent, whose life was turned upside by finding out their partner was gay? I didn’t actually have the power to come out to my Mum, I had actually come back from Uni after having a relationship break down and she was the one who asked me if it was with a guy and as soon as I said “Yes” and broke down into tears. Due to what had happened with my Dad, I felt like coming out to her would have added insult to injury and didn’t want to hurt her any further. She dispelled this fear as soon as I said it, she was my mum, she loved me no matter what. As you can see here, coming out is not just different for different people, but also different to the people they come out to.
I believe my relatively unique/complicated upbringing has actually me a very well rounded person and has enabled me to be very open minded when it comes to building relationships with people. We can never make assumptions on people based on how things appear on the outside, be this the happy family in a four-bedroom house who go on holidays, to the person who is always smiling and chatty. Things could be happening behind closed doors and effecting people quietly, always be supporting, engaging and always try and understand things from their perspective.
For me, being exposed to a wide range of situations and relationships has given me the drive to support others who are or have been in similar situations. Being involved in the LGBT+ Network at Vodafone isn’t just for me, but also for people like my Dad. I know him coming out at work was one of the hardest things for him to do, especially after being married in a heterosexual relationship and having children. People always ask why we need an LGBT+ network at work, but if a colleague came out to you like this, do you think you’d take that news without blinking? This is the type of change in perspective and perception I want to try and influence.
I don’t want anyone to read this as a sob story as this is never how I see it. I am so extremely thankful for how I was brought up and for all my experiences, positive and negative, as they have truly made me the person I am today. It has empowered me to build genuine and authentic relationships with people, in and out of work, due to the fact I am accepting of everyone and their backgrounds. If there is every anything you are unsure of, ask the question (appropriately) and gain the knowledge, the understanding and the perspective.
Society has moved along from when I was a child and being LGBT+ is much more accepted these days, however, there is still much more to do. You have the power to change this in the workplace, but also anyone who has children, nephews/nieces, grandchildren, godchildren… the list goes on. You have the ability to empower this generation: they can love who they want, be open minded and supportive to those around them. Being LGBT+, even as a child, doesn’t just affect the individual, but those around them and should never be subject to bullying or prejudice.