LGBT+ History Month – How far we’ve come
People Project Team Officer at Mind
February is LGBT+ History Month, and this year we’ll be uplifting the voices of the LGBTQIA+ community, to hear how their identity shapes their mental wellbeing and their working lives.
In our opening piece, Mind’s James Glover shares his story – from being given a cruel nickname at his first job to feeling comfortable talking about his husband in today’s workplace.
When I started work in the late 1970’s, my first job was in the Personnel department of a family-owned publishing company. Personnel, now called HR or The People Team, was the department that managed recruitment, coordinated the holiday rota and processed the factory timesheets. Because it was a family owned business, most of the company’s senior team had the same surname, so to avoid confusion we called them‘ Mr Jeremy ’or ‘Mr Sebastian’. It was very upstairs, downstairs.
I soon learnt I was ‘Fay James from personnel’
As the junior member of the department, I spent a lot of my time making the tea, doing the filing and answering the phone. To ease the boredom, I’d find any excuse to deliver internal mail around the factory. I could walk miles in a day,when I should have been working, I was not the only James in the company – I remember one other who colleagues called ‘rugby James in accounts’. I soon learnt I was ‘ from personnel’, which surprised me because I made a real effort to be as straight acting as I could!
To put period into context, theof the time were Dick Emery, Frankie Howard, Kenneth Williams, and Larry Grayson, all outwardly effeminate TV personalities. Many didn’t see them as being gay; they were referred to as ‘not the marrying type ’or ‘permanent bachelors’. We still had more than a decade to wait before Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett hit the screens.
I dreamt of meeting someone special and living happily ever after
Nobody ever said it to my face, but I suspect many thought ‘Fay James’ was also destined to be a permanent bachelor. Thankfully, I never had any– from my early teens I knew I liked boys. I dreamt of meeting someone special and living happily ever after, but I knew this was never going to happen at a publishing factory in Hampshire! I dreamt of living in London and going to gay bars and clubs.
The concept of equality monitoring was non-existent. I don’t remember the Personnel department even recording marital status, let alone ethnicity or sexual orientation. Gay sex between two consenting adults over 21 was only legalised a decade earlier and wider society found the concept disgusting.
Although I was called ‘Fay James ’ I wasn’t comfortable to come out at work. I’m not sure why because I was out with my friends and family – perhaps looking back it was as basic as a fear of losing my job or being overlooked for promotion.
I knew the majority considered same sex relationships unnatural
I realise now how exhausting it was hiding the real me. When people asked what I did at the weekend I always answered, ‘nothing much ’or ‘just the usual’. I was used to the male banter and knew the majority considered same sex relationships unnatural, it was how society felt at the time. Even those who might have been allies in private would not have been comfortable in saying so in public for fear of being ostracized themselves.
Why am I telling you all this? I hope it conveys a little bit of the era and shows how far we’ve come. The introduction of civil partnerships was a key milestone, perhaps the most significant. Back at the printing factory I would never have thought it possible to marry my husband and hear my parents describe him as their son-in-law.
The law protects us now
I’m grateful to have witnessed how far we have come as a community; I’m so pleased nobody starting work today should need to worry about coming out at work or have the fear of being labelled ‘Fay James’. The law protects us now, but more importantly organisations strive to be inclusive by specifically targeting minority groups in their recruitment campaigns. My old boss back at the printing factory would be shocked if she could see how far we’ve come!
Standard two of the Mental Health at Work Commitment encourages workplaces to create opportunities for employees to feed back when work design, culture and conditions are driving poor mental health, such as in the case of discrimination against LGBTQIA+ colleagues. Learn more about the commitment and sign up here.