This week is Lesbian Visibility Week. To mark the occasion, Chief Financial Officer Cris McGuinness talks about changing times and the importance of visible lesbian leaders.
The other day, in a meandering dinner time conversation about all manner of things – my teenage daughter, asked me how, when I was young(er), I knew which girls liked girls?
It was a good question. It occurred to me that when I came out at 19, many more lesbians than today looked androgynous (we called them butch) and those that didn’t tended to date butch women (I know that is a generalisation – but it was my experience). But there is more to it than that.
I was young and partied hard. Outside of work and studying – all my friends were gay. We would go out four or five nights a week – every week without fail. Always to gay bars. The simple reason was that we wouldn’t have felt (or been) safe in straight bars. We always travelled in pairs (at least) because there was safety in numbers. We all knew never to leave a bar or club alone. This was a decade before the tragic death of Michael Causer.
To this day, my wife and I would not walk down the street holding hands or ever kiss in public. The shadow of those days will be with us forever.
I am always delighted to see young gay couples holding hands in public and want to give a little ‘whoop’ – you will be glad to know a combination of teenagers and public decency stop this happening.
The simple fact is there has always been a ‘code’ of some description – my wife talks about pinkie rings, black triangle earrings and waistcoats. Gaydar is real, but as I get older mine is far less effective than it used to be. Part of that is because lesbians don’t feel the need to conform anymore and that fact couldn’t make me happier.
I asked my daughter how her generation ‘know’ – certainly these days they know better than to assume sexuality based on looks. So apparently, if you want to know if a girl likes girls – you ask her if she listens to ‘Girl in Red’ – if yes, then they are a lesbian. If they say ‘actually I prefer ‘Sweater Weather’ then they are bisexual. You learn something new every day.
I count myself as lucky. I was able to legally marry the woman I love (albeit we had been together fifteen years and had three children by then). I have been able to become a parent and the law has progressed so much, that despite not carrying our youngest child – I am on the birth certificate as parent alongside my wife. I am able to live safely and visibly without much drama these days.
But that safety is not guaranteed around the world. Only last week many Polish towns declared themselves free of LGBTQ+ ideology. In fact, last year The Guardian published an LGBTQ+ danger List. Reading it is essential if you are venturing outside Europe and are LGBTQ+. In some situations, some countries, some communities, it is simply not safe to be out.
In my work supporting our BAME colleagues, I often say ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. The same applies for sexuality. I think it is important for me, as a lesbian, to be as visible as I can be (where it is safe to be so). Even though I wouldn’t dare to try and represent the young and upcoming generations of lesbians – I know my presence as a lesbian leader is important.
Even if I don’t have a clue who Girl in Red or Sweater Weather are – know I am here to support you.