Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Trans History month is about claiming our past, celebrating our present and creating our future.
Cath Tomlin, one of the people who takes part in City's community walking football sessions reflects on some of the LGBT+ history that she’s lived through.
How old were you in 1988 (if you were born)? I was 15, a bit gangly, a bit awkward and a bit “different”. I had an inkling of why I felt different, but didn’t know who to talk to. I couldn’t talk to my friends at school as none of them were going through the same thing as I was. I was so wrong about that, but none of us opened up and talked about it because, well, as one of my school friends told me recently, she didn’t really know what a lesbian was back then. I couldn’t talk to my parents as they were both Christians and I feared the worse (also wrong); who was left? Perhaps a teacher who I got on with?
May 1988 was when the Government of the time enacted Section 28 of the Local Government Act, 35 years ago this year. This piece of legislation forbid councils to intentionally promote homosexuality or promote the teaching in any state maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship. It wasn’t just that they were saying homosexual relationships were not acceptable; they were saying they were “pretended”. As in faked, bogus, imitated or untrue. So it wasn’t just that section 28 prohibited my teacher from talking to me, advising me, consoling me, about what was going through my head about being gay: it also belittled how I was feeling and demeaned any potential relationship I might have. Thankfully my sports teacher was there for me, and it was a blessing she was. Because all I can remember is the sense that what I was feeling about myself was frowned upon, that I was wrong somehow.
That was also my first memory of LGBTQ+ activism - the marches going on in London and the newsreader Sue Lawley carrying on when the BBC Six O’Clock news was disrupted by a group of lesbians. It was section 28 that led to the setting up of Stonewall, the LGBTQ+ charity, who were founded a year later.
Going to university was a time for finding myself, and finding my first girlfriend, first gay bar, first Pride. I have played football for as long as I can remember, and that didn’t change when I went to university. Like at school, being good at sports meant there was always somewhere I could feel comfortable and included, but I also joined my first LGBT+ organisation – my university’s gay society. Other than provocatively wearing my favourite baggy t-shirt that had mimicked a famous sports brand with a big tick on the front (“D***, just do it”), I didn’t feel like an activist. I just wanted to be me, and meet other people like me.
Then, when I started working, I realised that every time I met a new person who saw a wedding band on my finger, they assumed I was married to a man and asked what he did. I always had that brief moment when that question flashed through my mind – do I tell them? If I do, what will they think? How will they react? Will I be ok? Like a lot of LGBT+ folk, I had been on the receiving end of homophobic abuse. I always did tell them, but it wasn’t always easy, and sometimes I was fearful of the response. The university memory of wanting to find my place, my queer family, and feel like I belonged, was never far below the surface.
And yet it never occurred to me to set up an LGBTQ+ Network – some awesome people had that idea – but I joined up as soon as I heard about it. I’d found my work family. Hearing other people’s stories, some tough, some easy, none straightforward, drove home to me the importance of workplace inclusion in all its various guises - not having to risk assess how someone will react; not having to censor what you say; not “covering” for your difference – but instead, being able to bring your whole self to work, and as a result, being able to focus on enjoying the job you’re paid to do, and doing it well.
And so to the present. This year is the 20th anniversary of the repeal of Section 28 in 2003, and we should not underestimate the damage it did to a generation of LGBTQ+ folk. But we should also celebrate - lesbian, gay, bi, and trans equality has come a long way since 1988. I can now get married, adopt, serve in the military, and not be sacked by my employer simply for being gay, which was entirely possible when I first started full-time paid employment in 1996. But there is still a lot to be done. A Stonewall report in 2017 showed that more than one in five LGBT+ people in the UK had experienced a hate crime or incident due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in the past 12 months, compared with 16% in 2013.
Stonewall’s LGBT in Britain – Work Report (2018) found that almost one in five LGBT employees (18 per cent) had been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues in the last year because they’re LGBT. This includes being the target of derogatory remarks, experiencing bullying and abuse, and being outed without consent. More than a third of LGBT people (35 per cent) had hidden or disguised that they are LGBT at work in the last year because they were afraid of discrimination. These statistics demonstrate that many LGBT people still feel unable to be themselves at work. Editing their lives with colleagues can be exhausting and leads to values being compromised and relationships being undermined. The business case for being an inclusive organisation is clear. Colleagues in LGBT-inclusive environments have greater job commitment, higher levels of satisfaction and improved workplace relationships – which has an overall positive impact on the productivity of an organisation.
While I don’t work at Lincoln City Foundation, I know some of the awesome people who work or volunteer here. And I know what it’s like as a participant in the services you provide for the community. I also know how welcomed I felt when I first turned up.
But what do you think? How does it feel at Lincoln City Foundation? Do you think everyone is able to be themselves and bring their full self to work? How could it become an even better place to work at, volunteer at, and be part of the community? All of the folk I’ve met at the Foundation are allies, be they cis or straight. We all need our friends and allies to support us, whatever our difference. I’m glad my teacher was there for me in 1988.
Cath Tomlin MBE