Thursday, 22 February 2018
During LGBT History Month, people from the LGBT community have been asked to share their history, their lives and their experiences. One of our LGBT colleagues has provided an insightful look at how life has changed over the past few decades.
The rainbow flag is proudly flying at UHW and around the city, because every February it is LGBT History Month. The aim is to increase the visibility of LGBT people, so people from the LGBT community have been asked to share their history, their lives, and their experiences. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the introduction of Section 28, a critical event in British gay history.
I grew up in an environment where being gay was taboo. My father was in the army and in those days a soldier, man or woman, who admitted to being gay was dismissed (that didn’t change until 2000). That culture extended into the wider army “family”; I never met anyone who was gay, or at least I thought I didn’t. Coming out at that stage was certainly not an option.
Like many of us, when I qualified as a physiotherapist I wanted to change the world, and so headed off to Manchester to start my first job. It was 1985. Culturally, my early working days in the NHS weren’t really a lot different than when I was growing up; there was still quite a bit of homophobia around. It wasn’t really overt in relation to women, but more a case of sniggering and ridicule if someone happened to see two women together in a restaurant who were suspected of being a couple for example. It was often more overt in the case of gay men. Jokes about gay people were pretty commonplace, and even those who may have seemed quite accepting would pass it off as “just a bit of banter”. Having left home I found new bravery and contacted the Gay Network and met up with others socially, but at work I remained firmly in my closet.
A few years later this culture spilled over into politics. In 1988 the government introduced Section 28, a piece of legislation that banned “promotion of homosexuality” in schools. This meant, amongst other things, that books, plays and music written by gay authors were banned. It created a new anxiety amongst the LGBT community. Authors such as Oscar Wilde could no longer be on the syllabus. It also included banning homosexuals being portrayed as a “pretend family unit”. This law wasn’t repealed until 2003, and seems so far from today’s society. I am sure that these days the thought of not being allowed to read books by Stephen Fry or listening to music by Elton John seems ridiculous. It did prompt protest marches in major cities although, despite my marching in London, I still wasn’t brave enough to come out in work.
By the time I was in my late 20s I’d developed the art of gender neutral conversations. This only changed when I met an NHS senior manager who was both successful and out. This was a combination I didn’t think possible. The realisation that I could be out, and just be me, able to mention my partner by name occasionally, or use the pronoun ‘she’ and not ‘they’, was life changing. I then told my parents, who were really supportive, and my friends, many of whom had already gathered. It was 1997 and I think by this stage I may have been the only person who thought it was a secret. When I heard later that one of my staff team who was worried about coming out was told not to worry because “Sue Rees would not tolerate that being made an issue” it made my internal struggles with coming out seem really worth it.
I am delighted to say that I have now been with my partner for 16 years, to whom I have been married for the past 10. One of my proudest moments was my father walking me down the aisle. We are also the proud mums of a gorgeous little girl in our not so “pretend” family unit of which I am very proud. My mum and dad adored my wife, but sadly didn’t get to meet our daughter but would have been proud of all of us, and adored her too.
We’ve come a long way as a society, but the journey is still not finished as there are many places in the world where such relationships remain illegal. There are also many people, including older people, who have kept their secret for a long time and who worry about lack of recognition of their partners or of being ridiculed.
Flying the Rainbow Flag, and wearing Rainbow lanyards reflect acceptance and support for the LGBT+ community. This is important for our patients as well as our colleagues. Those who are feeling vulnerable need to know that the people important to them are recognised too. Working for an organisation that is listed (no 51) in the Stonewall Top 100 Employers and has an active LGBT+ network is a long way from where I started!
Deputy Head of Physiotherapy Services
Immediate Past Chair Vice-President Chartered Society of Physiotherapy
Source: Cardiff & Vale University Health Board - CVUHB