24-30 April is Lesbian Visibility Week. Three members of our LGBTQ+ Staff Network shared their thoughts about coming out as lesbian and why being visible at work is important for them…
Amy has worked for the NHS since 2017, and at the moment she is Team Manager for our Older Adults Community Mental Health Team in North Cumbria. “My coming out story isn’t very simple, but life isn’t! My mum knew from a young age that I was attracted to women, so I never had to ‘come out’ as such to my close family or friends. But for a while I did identify as bisexual, and I had a long-term relationship with a man.
“I have found my managers and colleagues nothing but supportive and understanding. But with the age demographic that I work with, there are a lot of presumptions and questions about my sexuality or relationships. Sometimes I will share or correct something – but more often than not, I will answer questions without telling them my spouse’s gender. For example, if I was then asked what my husband does, I will say, ‘they are a social worker.’
“However, with our aging population I have noticed we are starting to support people who themselves identify as LGBTQ+. When I open up about my sexuality, you can see the sense of relief, and they feel able to talk honestly about their life story.”
Rachael ‘came out’ to her family when she was 38, and is proud of how accepting and supportive her children have been throughout her journey. “After being in a heterosexual marriage for 23 years with three children, I began to feel something didn’t feel right. It took me a long time to realise that the reason I was unhappy in my marriage was because I was gay, and took even longer for me to pluck up the courage to be true to myself – I have always been the one to protect the people I love, but the feelings became overwhelming, and I just couldn’t pretend any more.
“I was most worried about telling my three children. I lay awake at night reciting what I was going to say before I became brave enough to say it out loud. To my shock, the kids were extremely supportive and accepting, and just wanted me to be happy.
“I joined the LGBTQ+ Staff Network at CNTW two years ago, when I realised that I was the only staff member in the Older Adult Memory Later Life Service who was openly LGBTQ+ at that time.
“I want patients to feel that my department is a safe space for everyone in the LGBTQ+ community, regardless of their age. Me being visible as a lesbian is a very important part of that.
Ayesha identified as bisexual from the age of 15, but realised she was a lesbian after splitting with her male fiancé. “For me, coming out was difficult, because I never questioned my attraction to women – but I eventually realised that I wasn’t attracted to men. I didn’t fit the image of what a lesbian ‘looks like’ in most people’s minds. When I first came out, I pushed myself to fit into stereotypes – dress differently, cut my hair, be more ‘masculine’, so that others around me would believe me and my sexuality.
“My family were very supportive, and I am very lucky to be loved unconditionally by them no matter what. But as I became more comfortable with who I am, I now can live authentically as myself.
“We should all strive to be visible at work, but I do find sometimes it hard because of the fear of rejection or homophobia from the people around us. My dream is that one day we can talk openly, without feeling like we are ‘coming out the closet’ daily – that when I talk about my ‘girlfriend’, and they realise that I’m a lesbian, that people won’t have that look in their eyes, that says they have a million questions, and it will just be normal.”