Being an LGBT role model

John Glenton, Riverside's Executive Director for Care and Support

By John Glenton, Executive Director Care and Support and Executive Sponsor of Riverside’s LGBT staff network Spectrum

Experience tells me that having visible LGBT role models can have a transformative impact on creating a truly inclusive workplace and society. We shouldn’t underestimate the impact that visibility makes to people, it makes a difference when it’s not abstract anymore.

Visible LGBT colleagues within the organisation help others see that being from a minority group isn’t necessarily a hindrance to reaching senior levels.

I think role models help show that it is OK to be you. They show you that there should be no limits on who you can be and what you can achieve. The more role models there are and the more diversity they represent, the more we can break down barriers and challenge misconceptions.

We have colleagues who say it took years to come out in their previous organisation and just a couple of weeks here at Riverside. I hope that as an out gay man, I have helped to create that environment.

If you’ve reached a position of success, if you can inspire someone else, if you can lead by example, then I believe you should.

In 2019 do we really need LGBT role models?

If there is any doubt as to why authentic LGBT role models are important for young people, the statistics in Stonewell’s 2017 School Report are horrifying.

Nearly half of LGB students are bullied at school, and 64% of trans students. Half of LGBT+ students hear homophobic language regularly in school. More than half of LGBT+ students feel that bullying has a negative effect on their education. 53% of LGBT+ students say there isn’t an adult at their school they feel they can talk to.

When we consider the workplace in 2018, Stonewall released research that revealed more than a third of LGBT staff (35%) have hidden they are LGBT at work and almost one in five LGBT employees (18%) have been the target of negative comments from colleagues because of their sexual identity.

In 2018 researchers commissioned by HouseProud and funded by six of the largest housing associations in the country published findings into the experiences of LGBT Social housing tenants. Nearly 50% of LGBT people living in social housing accommodation do not feel a sense of belonging in their local community and over a quarter report feeling lonely in the area they live. Researchers also found that 60% of trans people and more than a third of LGB people do not feel safe in their neighbourhood.

There is no doubt that over the past 20 years we have seen massive strides towards equality for the LGBT community with new equality laws, same-sex marriage and so many positive visible role models. These include a prospective candidate for the American presidency Pete Buttigieg, the leader of the Scottish Conservative party Ruth Davidson and the Irish Prime minister Leo Varadkar. All of these individuals clearly demonstrate that in many parts of the world things have really changed.

From a personal perspective it is great to work for an organisation that values and respects diversity and is committed to supporting our three staff groups Enable, for staff with a disability, Origin, for BAME colleagues, and Spectrum. So as a gay man I can be my genuine authentic self in the workplace and it only becomes an issue when I want it to be – such as when I am writing blogs.

I never thought I would see this amount of change in my lifetime.