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Rachel talks about why visibility of the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace matters.


Why do you think it’s important to have LGBTQ+ role models?

There is a well-known phrase in the LGBTQ+ community - visibility matters. The only way for LGBTQ+ people to not be regarded as different is for us to be open and visible, so that people can see that our sexuality is just one element of who we are. There is rarely such a focus on the sexuality of people we assume to be heterosexual and I live in hope that this will eventually be the case for everyone. Ironically, the only way for us to achieve this is to be visible until sexuality and sexual identity becomes almost an irrelevance in terms of how we relate to each other as human beings.

What was it like ‘coming out’ as an LGBT person?

In my experience, coming out as a gay woman can be an almost everyday occurrence. I have to make this statement less and less these days (probably because my haircut and fashion choices play more obviously into stereotypes) but this was certainly an issue earlier in my career. I feel able to take it in my stride when it happens now, but when I was younger it was awkward having to correct people’s assumptions or make an ‘announcement’ about my sexuality. I often found myself feeling responsible for people’s reactions too - sometimes I ended up being apologetic that my ‘disclosure’ had made them feel uncomfortable.

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

I have found it very easy to be open about who I am in the 3.5 years I’ve worked here. I am in a relatively senior role and I do wonder whether that makes it easier for me out on a number of levels. I am lucky to have supportive colleagues and a close team of peers who I feel fully accept me for who I am. It’s also really encouraging to see the creation of the LGBTQ+ Steering Group and the development of LGBTQ+ staff network, which I hope will make the University feel like an even more supportive and inclusive environment.

Does being LGB or T influence your working life? If so, how?

It doesn’t seem to affect my working life directly these days, but then I do feel very confident about my identity and have no qualms about being very open. I can imagine for other people who for whatever reason don’t feel as confident, or work in a less open and supportive environment than me, it could have a major impact.

I have experienced indirect discrimination in a previous role, which was very difficult to deal with. However, I truly believe the person responsible thought they were doing the right thing in outing me to a committee in my first week in role and later announcing to the whole team that obviously I would be interested in a conference on inclusive graduate recruitment practices run by Stonewall. Both incidents were embarrassing but I had no idea how to express how I felt.

What can we all do to make Northumbria University a better place for LGBT staff and students?

A few key things spring to mind:

•Avoid making assumptions about people’s personal relationships and how they identify

•How and when to come out is such a personal choice, so please resist the temptation to do this on someone’s behalf if you know about their sexual orientation

•If you aren’t sure about something ask the question 



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