I was forced ‘out’ when I was 22 and had some horrendous experiences as a young man. I was outed by a work colleague who found a letter which she sent to my parents, my family and my ex-fiancé. I was spat at, physically, verbally and emotionally abused. My grandmother sadly died at the same time and I was told that if I wanted to go to the funeral I should never mention ‘it’ ever again. But I got through that experience and I promised myself that if I can get through that, I can get through anything.
I am a proud gay man. I was brought up in a seaside town in northern England and moved to Manchester when I was 25 years old. I then moved to The Netherlands in 2001 where I’ve been for the last 20 years. Yorkshire folk are known for being direct and careful with money, so I’ve slotted in well and consider myself ‘Dutchified’!
I’ve been at Liberty Global for seven years, having previously worked for our Dutch subsidiary, now VodafoneZiggo. My skills are a mixture of IT and finance and in my present role I manage our IT vendor commercial relationships.
Due to my early experiences I promised myself I would always try to be true to myself and not lie. Which has of course had consequences. In a previous company, I was asked by my director to come to dinner with my wife. When I explained I had a partner his response was, “You’re a gay, but you don’t look gay.” From that moment everything changed – I was put under unreasonable stress, was made to work 18-hour days, nothing I did was good enough and finally after six weeks myself and another gay guy were told we were ‘surplus to requirements’ and asked to leave.
This was in the supposedly forward-thinking Netherlands, this century, showing discrimination based on sexuality still exists. This experience made me return to being semi ‘back in the closet’. But, over the years, and while working at Liberty Global, I have been able to be myself. In 2019 an informal group was set up in the company to celebrate Pride, and this has now become established as an Employee Resource Group (ERG). There will soon be ERGs for each of our five diversity pillars. I have become involved in helping the Proud ERG in order to challenge myself, to get over my negative experiences and to create understanding to help people, perhaps those who have children who are curious. I want to share my experiences, and how I dealt with them to have an open dialogue to make it easier for people to ask questions and overcome prejudices. If me being open and being my true authentic self helps one other person then I feel I’ve succeeded.
I have helped a member of my extended family in such a way through talking, addressing her negative emotions and providing resources. And also challenging her expectations – ultimately what is important is that any child is happy, supported, loved and accepted.
What do we as people or as businesses need to do more of?
We need to stop making assumptions about people. We need to ask questions, listen, accept difference and not have preconceived ideas – that is so important.
There are challenges people in our communities go through, that many people simply don’t understand – we are surrounded by images of the perfect nuclear family. When I was growing up there were no positive roles models in the media so I believe having these can make a huge difference. And if people can ask questions without making assumptions – ask “do you have a partner” rather than asking “do you have a wife or husband” – these small changes can make a difference and signal that someone is aware and empathetic.
It takes somebody to stand up for themselves, and for people to stand up for other people to challenge any form of discrimination and these small interactions are helping to make changes in the workplace. And by removing unconscious bias and gender bias in our language – in recruitment for example.
I can see that both the setting up of the ERGs and the conversations we are having are already creating a ripple effect. My boss has started having conversations and asking me questions – for instance, I was asked to explain the letters in LGBTQIA+ which I was more than happy to do. So all this DE&I work is about helping people talk to each other, connect and ask questions. If we understand each other, if we communicate with each other better and accept each other, it is absolutely helping us have a more welcoming and inclusive culture.
That’s what has been happening with Pride over the years – Pride isn’t just about partying and waving flags. The movement came about to raise awareness, to fight for rights and create equity. I was bought up during a dark time when the UK government introduced Section 28 and the world was surrounded by pictures of Aids. I nearly forced myself to marry a woman to ‘fit in’ for which I felt doubly guilty for lying to myself and to my ex-fiancé. Friends of mine did this.
The Proud Employee Resource Group
I’m acting as a spokesperson for our ERG and we are looking forward to building momentum again, which has been somewhat lost due to lockdown restrictions with many Pride activities being cancelled in 2020. The key things we want to achieve from this group are dialogue, education and communication. This could help people feel empowered to come out at work and know their jobs are not at risk, and/or support family members. There are still US States where you can be fired for being gay, lesbian or transsexual. So I’m proud of Liberty Global for taking a stand – it does mean a lot to see the company changing its logo and senior leaders being involved. These steps are having an impact – for all of us who have been scared, harassed or can’t be ourselves – and directly result in happier employees and a dynamic work culture.