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In the first of the ‘Our Voices’ Insights, IST Communication and Engagement Officer Thomas Lock, looks at “What #Pride means at Transport for the North?”
Due to coronavirus, Pride Month feels a little different this year, but Pride and the celebration of the LGBTQI+ community has always been about much more than glitter, street parties and rainbow-washed corporate logos.
Pride symbolises different things to different people. For some it’s about being free to love who you want, for others it’s about being able to publicly kiss who you want without fear of being beaten up. For me, it’s sharing the joy found in the music of Kylie Minogue and the filmography of Laura Dern.
Of course, Pride is serious stuff and can be about access to equitable healthcare, the ability to legally self-identify, and the freedom to vote against regressive politicians who threaten to turn back the clock on hard won liberties.
Pride is rooted in protest, with modern gay liberation catalysed by the Stonewall Riots in 1969, and it has also always been intrinsically linked with support for other social movement such as feminism and the alliance with the miners strikes here in the UK. This year, it’s also important to acknowledge any celebration of pride alongside Black Lives Matter.
With Transport for the North showcasing its support for Pride month, I have been thinking about what does this gesture really mean and why is Pride in the workplace important to me?
Personally, I cannot say I have ever experienced outward homophobia or been overtly discriminated against for being gay at work – no doubt because I am relatively young – but there are still challenges and times where you are made to feel ‘othered’. Inclusivity is not a given. Sometimes it’s the banter and jokes you overhear, or your own anxiety about how you may be judged – ‘is this shirt a bit too camp for a meeting with that group of stakeholders?’.
I also still regularly notice other people hesitate before deciding whether to mention their same-sex partner by name. Leeds in 2020 is a good place to be a gay man but some in society still consider us not “normal”. To be truly diverse and inclusive, companies have still got to go beyond HR policies, celebrate different cultures and champion the cause.
A formative moment in my own career was when a job in health promotion led me to work supporting a campaign to promote pride and diversity in the Australian Football League. It was powerful to know my employer, VicHealth, was not only telling me I mattered and was included but was actually putting efforts and resources into trying to make this the case in wider society.
This was against the backdrop of the 2017 Australian Marriage Law national survey, whereby the Australian government had sanctioned another vitriolic public debate about the morality and humanity of gay people (so much for a care-free gap year!). Luckily the vote went the right way and after 21 years committed to being anti-sports, I am now a diehard Aussie Rules fan. Feeling empowered to be unapologetically and proudly gay at work is also something that has stuck with me.
Being able to feel yourself at work can also help make people feel accepted out in the world more widely. Like many colleagues at TfN I’m sure, my professional career plays a big part in my self-esteem and own sense of identity so it’s great not feeling like one person between 9-5, Monday to Friday, and then someone else different outside of the office. When I finally ‘came out’ to my family – much more recently than I’d care to admit – it was satisfying being able to say I have been living openly and happily as a gay man with my friends and colleagues for many years. I can’t understate how important it was that my experiences at work had supported this.
Last year, I was lucky enough to march with TfN teammates in the Manchester Pride Parade. It was fantastic opportunity provided by work to celebrate my own pride and I am thankful for that. I do think TfN is an inclusive workplace and somewhere I am free to be myself. But we can still do more, and it’s great to see the Diversity Action Group tackling this head-on. I say all this as a white man from a middle-class background, which I think is how as an organisation we still look and feel to the outside world.
Diversity comes in many forms and must be proactively encouraged at all levels, from leadership down. Team culture plays a big part too and I think that’s one of TfN’s main strengths. I hope this year’s acknowledgment of Pride will support other LGBTQI+ people to recognise TfN as a place they will be treated as an equal; and I also hope it will encourage more conversations about how we, as an organisation representing the North, can champion and put into action this agenda to support everyone who lives and works here.