By Mandy Lewis, Customer Service Centre Advisor
Most people will be familiar with the term LGBT, but I prefer to use LGBTQIA+, which covers lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual and anything else that doesn’t fit into one of these broad descriptions.
I think it’s important that everyone within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum is acknowledged and represented, and that’s why I’ve been involved in our Spectrum LGBT staff group for the last seven years.
As a now openly pansexual woman who has spent many years seeking to understand her sexuality, I’ve come to realise that some of the issues people identifying as LGBTQIA+ face are unique to them.
I’d previously completed Stonewall’s LGBT and Bisexual Role Model Programmes as I sought to understand my own sexuality so that I could, in turn, better support colleagues who needed advice or information, or just someone to talk to.
I’m also part of the Enable staff group, which is a support network for those who may have differing abilities and need support in order to do their job.
I have been part of the group for several years now. I joined after surviving a mental breakdown, because I wanted to promote the importance of good mental health and to help shape group policies that would reflect that. Through this group, I have the opportunity to further support the excellent work they do in supporting colleagues who find themselves in need of help or advice.
While I applaud the work of all our equality and diversity staff groups, Spectrum, Enable and Origin, for black Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) colleagues, we need to recognise that people are multifaceted and don’t simply fit into one group specifically.
As someone who has experienced poor mental health which was, in part, due to my own struggles and to homophobic reactions to them, I want to speak out about the importance of enabling people to live their lives without fear of prejudice of any kind.
It’s well known that people who identify as LGBTQIA+ are more likely to experience poor mental health as they struggle to choose the aspects of their lives they feel safe disclosing to family, friends and colleagues. But it’s also well known that these same people are happier and more productive if they feel safe and able to be their authentic selves.
As a Customer Service Advisor working for Riverside, I have heard the odd ill-thought comment and had thoughts of concealing my sexuality to avoid having to come out multiple times, but the overwhelming experience has been one of total support and encouragement from my colleagues and management which has helped to improve my mental health and my abilities to help support and encourage others.