June marks Pride month, a time to celebrate the LGBT+ community. Learning and development team member Chris shared his journey as a gay man from small mining town to big city life, now with cheeky dog Dexter at his feet…
Hello, my name is Chris and I work in learning and development within the people directorate.
I am really pleased to take part in this Pride themed #AllOfYou blog. I recognise that there is strength in openness and so it’s my pleasure to share with my colleagues about my life, identify and beliefs.
I was born in the small ex mining village of Kinsley. I grew up there and didn’t leave until I was 19. Kinsley is the sort of place where everyone knows each other’s birthdays and business. At 19, I made the decision to come out to my family and shortly after, taking advice from my aunty, headed to Leeds to enjoy the freedom of the city and find my identity within the LGBT+ community.
I come from the sort of family who don’t have the language or narrative to express their feelings and mental health is little known. Consequently, when I broke the news to my large family that I’m gay, it was met with surprise and general lack of understanding. I wasn’t rejected by them, but they literally didn’t know what to make of the news. I told my mum, late one evening that I’m gay and shortly after disappeared to my sister’s house to stay overnight. My mum arrived the next morning and asked me if I was confused or bisexual. I told her confidently that I had no interest in women and definitely wasn’t confused. Later, I received a phone call from my aunt, asking me to go and see her for a chat. What followed really surprised me.
She confided in me that she was gay. I should have known; she lived with a woman and had done for years. She had also been married and had kids in the past, but still the apparent relationship between her and her partner had completely passed me by. Things were just unspoken in our family. We are a large family and love each other but due to the culture and community we are part of, we just didn’t have the language or thought processes for navigating such situations and information.
The conversation with my aunt was life transforming. She pointed out to me that if I stayed in Kinsley, I would be very unlikely to ever meet a romantic partner and that the only real choice for me was to leave the village and choose life, in the city. I took the advice, jumped headfirst into life in Leeds and it was the making of me.
I went to live with a friend; an older gay man who shared his lived experience with me. What he told me sticks in my mind. He is a civil servant and told me that in the 1980s you couldn’t disclose your sexuality to others. He had to use a special knock on a gay nightclub door to be allowed admittance and disappeared early in the morning down back alleys, to gay nightclubs, where under the cover of deserted early morning streets, it was safe to explore his sexuality with other gay men. He told me about the horror of the early HIV/AIDS public health campaigns, which demonised the gay community and created a blame culture where gay men were perceived to be the carriers of the HIV virus, responsible for suffering and terminal illness. It must have been a scary and hostile time for him and his peers. He helped me to understand what previous generations of gay people went through, which gives me the freedoms I enjoy today. I learnt a lot from my friend about the LGBT+ scene – he helped me find my place in the community. We remain great friends.
These days, I live alone with my dog, Dexter. He’s a French bulldog and a bit of a character! I wouldn’t be without him though.
In my spare time, I’m on the board of the trustees for the Yorkshire MESMAC charity. I’m proud of the work we do around sexual health education. We do HIV testing and help to break down the barriers and stigma that people feel in relation to the illness. We support members of the BAME community as well as those from religiously intolerant communities who do not accept LGBT+ people. We also support sex workers and give out free condoms to anyone who wants them.
Yorkshire MESMAC is the biggest organiser of Pride in Leeds. This year, I’ll be joining them to take part in the city centre parade. We’ll be in Leeds on 6 August, with thousands of others enjoying the special inclusive atmosphere of Pride. I love Pride, it creates a safe space for people to be intimate publicly with whoever they want to be; it raises the profile of the LGBT+ community and sets a good example to young people who are exploring their sexuality. Pride gives people the freedom to be authentically themselves. People can dress as they want, love who they want, act as they want in an inclusive and positive atmosphere. I love it.
I’ll also be attending the Wakefield Pride celebration on 13 August. There will be drag acts, cabaret, singers, DJs, food and facepainting as well as stalls for people to visit. Come along if you can make it!
The first Pride marches that took place were a turning point for the community. It gave people permission to be open about their sexuality and brought people together in a joyful and positive space. We have much to thank Stonewall for too – their work to champion the equal rights of gay people has been lifechanging for many. It’s important we never forget their legacy or the prejudice that the LGBT+ community have had to overcome, so that we never return to that type of bigoted society.
I’m interested in how we can protect the next generation of LGBT+ people. It concerns me to see the backward steps that are happening for transgender people. For example, the government are trying to change the wording within legislation that will differentiate between people’s gender identity and people’s sex at birth. This is offensive to trans people. We need to find ways to protect people’s human rights and make all laws equal. Without that, people will continue to be subjected to prejudice and discrimination. We need to normalise and validate difference between people.
At work, I ‘m celebrating Pride month by running a team meeting about it. I’ll be taking my colleagues on a journey to educate them about Pride month and why we celebrate it.
People ask me “Why can’t we have a straight pride month?” My answer is unequivocal: Straight people have 365 days of being themselves and have never had to come out or live with the fear of rejection and judgement.
My hopes for the future of the LGBT+ community are that all rights would be the same for everyone. I wish we could get to a point in time where people don’t even have to come out; that people’s boyfriends and girlfriends could be introduced to the family without announcement or inspection. Like all gay people, I continually have to come out to others, it’s wearing. It alters the dynamics in relationships, as I am under more scrutiny that the other person who is receiving the news.
If you are reading this and looking for more information about the LGBT+ history and scene, I would urge you to watch “It’s a Sin” or the “The Birdcage,” which starts Robin Williams. You could also watch the film Pride.
I accept that you can’t educate everyone. Bigots sadly exist everywhere. It only became legal for gay people to get married in 2015. Throughout history gay people feature in literature and art; Shakespeare included actors in drag. The ancient Greeks had openly gay relationships. Why did it take until 2015 for gay marriage to be legalised? We have a long way to go to create an equal and inclusive society. I’m committed to it. I’m here for it and I hope you are too.