02/02/2023

LGBT+ History Month – How far we’ve come

James Glover
James Glover

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, chatting to colleagues​Loneliness at work Web page Feeling lonely isn't in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Marmalade Trust, a charity dedicated to helping those who are experiencing loneliness, has created this guide to help you to combat loneliness in the workplace.Free By: Marmalade Trust View resource 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 ‘Fay James​Things not to say series – LGBTQI+ issues Playlist or series Mental Health at Work have created a YouTube playlist featuring six BBC videos which focus on LGBTQI+ people, including tips on what not to ask gay or trans people.Free By: BBC Three View resource from personnel’, which surprised me because I made a real effort to be as straight acting as I could!

The shadows of two men holding hands

To put period into context, the gay stereotypes​Ten ways to support LGBT employees Web page Glassdoor have written a short article featuring 10 simple steps you can take to ensure your LGBTQI+ colleagues are included and represented at work.Free By: Glassdoor View resource of 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 hang-ups about my sexuality​Supporting someone who is LGBTIQ+ Web page Sadly, people who are not straight or cisgender are more likely to experience mental health problems than the general population. This web page from Mind explores what you can do to help if an LGBTQI+ person tells you they are experiencing poor mental health.Free By: Mind View resource – 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.

Two men share an embrace

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.

Someone walks through a rainy city alone.

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.

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