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Katie talks about experiencing life at Northumbria as both a student and staff member.

How did you come out?

As Hemingway said, “Two ways: gradually, then suddenly”. I first thought I could be gay when I was in secondary school, I didn’t really like boys in the way my friends seemed to, but it wasn’t something I wanted to face. So, I put the possibility firmly to the back of my mind, and tried to get on with the rest of my life as best I could. It was when I got to college it became something I couldn’t ignore any longer. At 16 I got my first proper crush. I thought I’d liked people before, but looking back, I’d just told myself I should like them. I’d heard people talk about people they’d liked, that stage where they gush and everything that other person does is amazing, and I’d never had it. I just thought they’d been over exaggerating, until I had it for the first time too. It took me a long time to realise it was actually a crush just for the sheer reason that it was a girl who made me feel this way. 

It took me almost the full two years of college to deal with it myself. I had nothing wrong with being gay, but I feared how other people would react. So for nearly two years, I didn’t tell anyone. I watched myself in conversations to make sure I didn’t use she/her pronouns when talking about the person I liked. I hid part of myself away, and whilst I still had great times with my friends and family, part of me was isolated away, and that takes its toll. I finally decided to tell my best friend on New Years’ Eve, and it took me so long to actually say the words, “I’m gay”, out loud to her, I think she thought I was going to tell her something that was actually bad news. 

She was the first person I told, and we were the only two who knew for months, but when I got to university, that all changed. Walking round the Fresher’s Societies Fair, I spotted the LGBT* Society tucked away at the back upstairs in Reds, and snuck off to sign up. That first 6-9 months of university were very weird for me. I was incredibly out at university. My flatmates, course mates, and of course, in the Students’ Union, they’d only ever known me as someone who was gay, but at home and to my old friends, I was still hiding it away. 

Eventually I came out to old friends from school, and they were all completely okay with it. The biggest challenge remained in coming out to my mam and dad. I worried that they wouldn’t want anything to do with me anymore. My mam knew there was something I wasn’t telling her, because mams always know, and she’d ask about it every time she dropped me back off at halls. Eventually, by the March of my first year of university, I sat her down and had the most nerve wracking moments of my life. I remember making her a brew, sitting her down and saying there was something I needed to tell her and then the words tumbled out. That I was gay and some other rambling as I filled the silence. I remember the horror when she picked up her cup of tea, simply said “okay” and made to walk through to the living room. I remember stopping her and saying I’d been bricking it, worried about telling her. That made her stop. She put her cup down and I remember her giving me the biggest hug I’d ever had and saying “This doesn’t change anything, you’re my daughter, you’ll always be my daughter and I’ll always love you. Anyone that has a problem with you answers to me” and I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much or been as relieved in my life. Similarly, my dad had no problems with it either, and I count myself incredibly blessed and lucky I have such a loving and supportive family. 

The rest as they say, is history. From there, I went on to be the Women’s Rep and then President of Northumbria’s LGBT* Society, and was Lead Delegate for Northumbria Students’ Union on two occasions at NUS LGBT* Conference. I’ve been happier and freer and more open and able to have more meaningful relationships with people by being open and honest and myself. In the end the worry and the fear was worth it, and I wish I’d done it sooner, but I know that coming out is often a process and takes time and different people go at different paces, and some people never come out. But, for me, coming out was the hardest and best thing I ever did. 

Why do you think it’s important to have LGBT* role models?

When you’re realising there’s something different about yourself it’s so important to be able to look up to some and say “yes. I’m different, but I’m still valid and normal. Here are all these other people just like me”. Especially for those in environments where they can’t openly talk to friends or family for fear of negative repercussions, it’s important they have someone to get them through. 

Similarly, the history of the LGBT* Community, at first glance, can seem a scarred one. And it is. It’s full of people who have been unfairly treated, attacked, oppressed, and murdered for being LGBT* and for trying to advance LGBT* people and their freedoms. It’s still happening to LGBT* people across the world. It’s important to have LGBT* role models who, despite short lives in too many cases, lived unapologetically and fully. It’s important to remember the work of people like Marsha P Johnston, a proud trans woman, as well as her friends like Sylvia Rivera, who are responsible in part for the Pride we have today and the foundation of the Gay Liberation movement. In Britain, it’s people like Mark Ashton, who did barrier breaking work in Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners leading to the enshrinement of gay rights in Labour Party policy. And whilst we remember the work of those who have gotten us to where we are, we must also remember the work of those who have lived proud lives as well as lives where they survived and endured. LGBT* people exist everywhere, throughout history, they were just so often hidden. It’s important we remember and celebrate their contributions. 

How easy is it to be ‘out’ whilst working at Northumbria?

I am incredibly lucky that I have always been ‘out’ at work. I talked openly in my interview for my role, of the work I had done as part of the Students’ Union where I had been a representative of LGBT* students. I have felt so accepted by colleagues, and feel that we’re closer as a team because we’re all open and honest with each other. 

When I look back at 17 year old Katie worrying about life as someone who was gay, I feared what being in a work place would be like. Would I have to hide part of myself away again? I worried again when I was graduating. The statistics speak from themselves, 62% of graduates go back into the closet when entering the job market. I worried if the happy, confident person I had become would disappear again. 

Instead, quite the opposite. I’ve continued to thrive and develop, swapping the LGBT* Society for the LGBTQ Staff Network. I’ve watched this University improve so much over my nearly five years here (four as a student and nearly one as a staff member). Our Vice Chancellor last year was a fan of the phrase “we’re halfway up the mountain” and I think it’s an apt phrase to use here. We might not be halfway, but we’ve cam very far, and whilst, there’s still progress to be made, I know I’m at an institution that wants to make it. This LGBT* History Month is a good time to take stock of the view.

Who are your LGBT* icons?

I was 15 when I first heard the lyrics “I’m on the right track baby, I was born this way”, and questioning and closeted me clung to that lyric and made it my own personal mantra, so Lady Gaga definitely has to be an LGBT* icon to me and probably many in my generation. I had the pleasure of hearing Lady Phyll give the keynote speech at NUS LGBT* Conference 2018. She is a co-founder of UK Black Pride, and is a huge champion of building inclusive communities and standing for what you believe is right. Harvey Milk is a huge inspiration, and one of the first openly gay elected officials in history. Finally, although not LGBT* herself, one of my biggest icons is Dolly Parton. Her embracing of key parts of queer culture has been of huge importance, with her famously quoting “it’s a good job I was born a woman otherwise I would’ve been a drag queen”. Dolly’s message of being true to yourself is of a big inspiration to many, as she said, “find out who you are and do it on purpose”.




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