By Brian Jennings, Business Development Manager, Riverside Care and Support
I joined Riverside Care and Support in 2001, starting out as a New Deal placement. I remember noticing just how many local managers were out gay men and women. This was in stark contrast to the places I had previously worked.
Never had I access to gay role models before. As a 21 year old, who wasn’t confident about his place in the world, joining this organisation was a real eye opener. I felt blessed, I had a job I really enjoyed and role models I could relate to. They didn’t need to do anything, just being there was example enough to say that sexuality wasn’t a career limitation in Riverside.
Now 16 years later, I have the pleasure of being a senior manager myself. As the Business Development Manager for Riverside Care and Support, I have national responsibility to deliver a competitive tendering team. I am a happy out gay man, and very rarely am I aware that I am a minority. Although it hasn’t always been that way, and it isn’t this way everywhere yet.
My partner came to the UK in 2005 from Eastern Europe. His matter of fact way of describing the situation of gay people in his home country is a deliberate tactic to avoid feelings of pain and fear. We’ve been together for 10 years now. It was only recently did his family ask about my wellbeing. We have never visited them, and have no plans to do so. Not because his family are bad people, far from it, more that they are part of a political and social system that is decades behind on gay rights and we wouldn’t feel safe there.
It is in this contrast that I really appreciate how fortunate I am. I am also humbled by and grateful to all those brave people before me, who risked life and limb to complete the first Pride marches.
This year. Pride was particularly important for me as my home town of Hull held the first march of 2017. My partner and I attended. The venue grounds for the post-march festival was jam-packed, sexuality wasn’t a defining issue for anyone. No bad words, no aggression, no intimidation. But what struck me most of all was actually a small gesture on our way to the march.
We passed a pub, which we had both tried to enjoy in the past, but felt uncomfortable due to the sideways glances and whispered comments of the other patrons. This week that same pub was flying the rainbow flag proudly – well many of them in fact. This small act gave me a real sense of inclusion. ‘Strange’ I thought, ‘I didn’t previously feel excluded’, but I did, and I hadn’t admitted it to myself, because I didn’t want to be hurt by it. So I guess both my partner and I have a similar avoidance coping mechanism.
As a senior manager in Riverside who happens to be gay, I wonder if I too am a role model for others who are just finding their place in the world. I hope they do.
A big part of writing this blog is to make my sexuality visible and assure my LGBT-Q colleagues that they can approach me anytime for advice and encouragement. It’s a great organisation and I am proud that we associate ourselves with Stonewall – who carry the name and torch for one of the most poignant acts of Gay Pride, back in 1969.
I am grateful for all the rights and privileges I enjoy, but we are not there yet. We will be there when I can go anywhere I want without doing an immediate risk assessment. We’ll be there when gay men and women publically hold hands and no one shouts at them in the street. We’ll be there when the rainbow flag can fly proudly in any city, anywhere in the world. But for today, I am happy to fly the flag with Riverside.