Riverside is proud to say it welcomes employees from a wide range of backgrounds. Here two BME colleagues share their very different experiences of the LGBT community.
By Kelvin O’Mard, Care and Support Area Manager
Being born to parents who came to England from the Caribbean, where attitudes toward the LGBT community are politically incorrect to say the least, one would have thought my experience of ‘coming out’ would have been quite difficult.
My mother had passed away quite a few years before and so the only person I felt it important to tell was my father, who as a single parent had been both mother and father to my three siblings and myself. It meant so much to me to be able to share with him the fact that I was gay and more importantly I did not want to live a double life of lies and deceit.
I was in my early twenties and still living at home. I had already come out to my two closest friends who I had known at secondary school, both of whom I later discovered were also gay. I also had a boyfriend who I would invite home, under the guise of being ‘just friends’.
I remember the day well. It was a Sunday afternoon, my other siblings were either out or in another part of the house and my father was dozing in front of the television. I remember my heart beating really quickly and my stomach was twisted with nerves.
As I entered the room and saw my father asleep, I hesitated for a moment and felt like backing out of the room quietly. Then the thought came – if I don’t do it now, when will I ever tell him? By this time my heart beat sounded like a base drum booming within my chest and I was very frightened and apprehensive about what my father’s reaction would be. My father was from the old-school of parenting. He had anger issues and could be quite strict.
“Dad,” I said gently. “I have something I want to tell you.” My father started to wake and he turned to look at me. “Dad,” I repeated, wanting to make sure he was properly awake. “Yes son? What is it?”
“Well,” I hesitated. “You know my friend Don who often comes here to visit me, well he’s my boyfriend.”
There was a moment’s pause which seemed like an ocean of time that I wanted to dive into and drown and then my father spoke. “I know,” he said. “How did you know?” I asked. “I knew you were going to be gay because I spoke to your nanny when you were about 10 years old and she told me that you were going to be ‘different’.”
And that was that. My father simply adjusted his position on the sofa and went back to his nap. I was left opened mouthed and speechless. My only thought were ones of relief tinged with the sense of my coming out being a bit of an anti-climax.
Over the years my father and I disagreed on many things and sometimes had a tense relationship, however he never treated me any different to my other siblings and I was never made me feel that being gay was anything wrong or bad.
My father was in sense my first LGBT ally and his acceptance has held me in good stead throughout my adulthood.
I joined Riverside in 2013 and became an Area Manager in 2015 – a role that has been both exhilarating and challenging. I love the fact that Riverside supports the LGBT community through its LGBT staff network Spectrum which promotes activities and other diary events to raise awareness and gives the LGBT staff and customers a platform and a voice within the business.
I am quite popular amongst my colleagues and feel confident to speak to them about being gay and other issues related to my personal life.
By Winston Hudson, Housing Officer
I was born of West Indian parents who travelled to the UK at the invitation of the British government with the promise of a better life and grew up in Brixton, South London.
Being the youngest male of 11 siblings with five sisters and five older brothers, I had several role models – good and bad – to choose from, including friends and cousins.
The area I grew up in was very diverse and anyone that knows Brixton will know it continues to be so with a thriving community. I am proud to be part of such a melting pot of views, personalities and cultures.
It would have been very easy for me to be blinkered in my attitude towards anyone who was different due to the fact that men of my background normally have politically incorrect things to say about the LGBT community, however upon leaving school something happened to me that changed my attitude and life forever.
My first job was at Cecil Gee on Shaftsbury Avenue as a junior salesperson in the shoe department headed by a colleague named Nigel who happened to be gay. He showed me the ropes in sales and in no time we became firm friends enjoying the night life in the West End of London and even inviting me to his favourite LGBT bars and clubs.
Being heterosexual, it would have been easy for me to decline his invitations but that would have meant putting a limit on the terms of our friendship and I was not prepared to do that, so we continued as friends for several years until our parting of ways.
He remained the single most influential LGBT person in my life until I met a colleague at work who I count among the very few people I can share my thoughts and feelings with. Our relationship transcends being work colleagues, I call him my friend and I am proud to wear the Spectrum lanyard in support.
As a gay man, he has expressed how comfortable he feels in my company and shares his experiences about life freely and without judgement.
This is not always the case with ‘men with Caribbean origins, men who are usually incredibly homophobic’, to quote him.
I will speak out in defence of bullying and abuse of minority groups of all kinds. I promise not to be a bystander, but a defender of the principles of diversity and equality.