Words and stories are important.

At Vodafone, we marked LGBT History Month by sharing some of our stories and experiences with our colleagues. I decided to share my story too, and the cautionary tale it tells…

I was 10 years old when Section 28 of the Local Government Act came into play, an act which stayed in place until I was 26 – essentially throughout all the time during which a child becomes a person and starts to figure out who they are.  The thing is, as a child heading into his teenage years, Section 28 was utterly invisible.  And thanks to previous legislation from 1979, the notion of homosexuality wasn’t mentioned in any way at my school whatsoever!  So I had no concept of gay or homosexual or anything – all I knew was that I preferred the company of my male classmates at school and REALLY liked watching He-Man!  I make light of it, but it is an important statement to make as I had no idea that anybody else in the entire world felt the way I did, or that how I was feeling even had a name!  Imagine how isolating that is, how lonely a kid must feel in that position.  Grown-ups might know about Acts and Sections and all that, but all my teenage self knew was that everyone around me seemed to be hooking up with girls and I just wasn’t like them.  It didn’t feel wrong or anything; quite the opposite, how I was feeling felt like the most ‘right’ thing in the entire world!  I never had any desire to be any other way – I just felt like I was on my own.

I was lucky – I had my first experience with another guy when I was 17, which prompted me to finally tell my friend Susan how I felt and what I was experiencing.  That was when the snowball started.  Susan was incredible – she introduced me to another guy in my year called Leon, who helped me pull myself out of the closet and start realising that I wasn’t on my own, that there was a whole world and community out there! I don’t think Susan and Leon ever realised how much of a massive impact they had on my life and I don’t think I ever told them – I must make amends for that!  We are so quick to say when something is bad, that we often forget to appreciate the good!  Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t all wine and roses; one of my best friends that I had grown up with for most of my life stopped speaking to me completely, and I suddenly became the talk of the village in which I lived - something my Mum had to deal with for a time.

I guess my point is this – words and stories are important. LGBT History month is great, but it is only one month. People find out who they are every day of the year and every single person has a story.  Cher sang that words are like weapons that can wound sometimes, and that’s true – they can. But they can also be a massive help and a great asset. I saw who my real friends and allies were by the words they spoke to me and their actions, and I know I was lucky in that. Words can tell a person they are not alone, that they are supported, that you’ve got their back. And I can tell you now that no Facebook Friend, no Instagram Like, no Retweet will ever, ever be the same or mean as much as a friend buying a cup of tea and listening to your story.

So here we are. A tad rambling, somewhat disjointed, but 100% real and true. I am happy with who I am and I know who I have to thank for that.  So talk, use words, tell YOUR story. And if you are lucky enough to have someone come to you, then listen to their story and be honoured that they have chosen to trust you with something so personal and intimate to them. And remember the tale of a lonely kid who grew up with no idea that there was anybody else in this huge, wonderful world like him - and don’t ever let anything as damaging and fearful as Section 28 ever happen again.

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Vodafone’s Future Ready 2018 conference

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