USW LGBT+ Role Models are volunteers who are passionate about promoting LGBT+ equality within the University and committed to being visible role models, conveying the important message that people can be themselves at the University and can be accepted without exception.
The LGBT+ Role Models are points of contact for students (or staff) who are encountering an LGBT+ issue they would like to talk through with an LGBT+ person. They also provide ideas, support and advice on the development of LGBT+ equality to the university.
I realised I was not straight at age 13, but wrestled with my own internal stigma at the prospect of being gay for the next 5 years. I had girlfriends and (secretively) boyfriends until aged 18, when I fell in love and felt the strength and confidence to own my identity and sexuality for the first time!
Coming out for me was not a singular event, but has been a gradual process over a period of years – and coming from a small farming community as you can imagine this presented its own challenges! Initially I found it easier to identify as gay to new friends and colleagues, than those who had known me a lifetime and built up a different perception of me – I felt a bit like a fraud to those long standing friends who still thought me straight!
I feel fortunate not to have suffered a great deal of direct prejudice or discrimination as a gay man, and feel in part that this may be due to the fact that people do not always identify me, and presume me to be straight. However, I have recently become aware to the ‘jokes’ and ‘banter’ among some heterosexual colleagues, where LGBTQ+ groups might be the butt of the joke. Being in the presence of this can be uncomfortable and is indicative of pockets of underlying and latent homophobia which I’d like to challenge and reduce.
In roles gone by, I have been on the front-line of providing support to students in who have been in distress or needing support to manage their mental wellbeing, and have been involved in the staff health and wellbeing working groups too.
I saw over the years how sexuality, gender and transitioning have been a source of anxiety, stress, depression and sadly discrimination for many. My background and own experiences mean that I feel able and ready to support colleagues or students who might want to discuss these challenges, and how to overcome them in a safe and confidential setting. Any staff or students who are looking for a bit of support and advice, or space to offload over a coffee are welcome to drop me a line.
Chris can be contacted on [email protected].
I'm old enough to have grown up at a time when homosexuality was a totally hush-hush topic. There were many people who didn't even know it existed, and any sexual intimacy between men was a criminal offence. When I was about 17 I came across the word 'homosexual' in a magazine article and looked it up in the dictionary. Then it hit me - there was actually a word for the feelings I had. This was good and bad news – good because if there was a word for it I couldn’t be the only one! But bad because it seemed I was a disordered personality and a potential criminal.
It was about the same time that I became an enthusiastic Christian and felt my calling was to be a minister. It was quite obvious that any expression of my sexuality was totally incompatible with that calling. I was terrified of anyone even suspecting that I was homosexual (it wasn't called 'gay' in those days). I lived a completely celibate life, and it wasn't until I was 30 that I dared to tell the truth to another human being for the first time.
Strangely, I don't remember ever believing it was a sin. I was never a biblical fundamentalist, and in my heart I knew that the feelings I had were too beautiful and loving to be called sinful. It was the attitudes of the Church and of society generally that I dreaded. Being gay may not have been a sin, but it was a problem, a misfortune, a cross to bear. But over the years I have found that love is the greatest thing in life wherever or however you find it, and I can now honestly say that I’m glad to be gay.
My experience as a gay man in USW has been very positive. The Chaplaincy is open and inclusive. Its motto is ‘Embracing Diversity, Celebrating Faith’, and the first half applies not just to different faiths but to all kinds of diversity including differences of gender and sexuality. We firmly believe that inclusivity is at the heart of what Christianity means. Our inspiration is Jesus Christ, who reached out in friendship to everybody, especially those who were marginalised.
‘Role model’ can sound a bit pretentious! I don’t see being a role model as being a paragon of virtue or an ideal example to follow. Nor do I see it as being a courageous hero. I am certainly no hero: while some people of my generation were putting their careers, their family life and even their safety at risk, I was keeping my head well below the parapet. My coming out has just about kept pace with the changing attitudes in society and been slightly ahead of the rather slower changes in the churches.
I see being a ‘role model’ as simply letting it be known that I am a Christian minister who happens to be gay and is quite happy about it. My hope is that this will give some people just one more reason to see that it’s OK to be gay.
This reassurance is certainly needed. My experience in the Chaplaincy and other places has shown that many people are still suffering because of their sexuality – or rather, because of other people’s judgment of it. Some are feeling lonely, confused, afraid, depressed sometimes to the point of suicide. Some have been turned out of their homes or cut off by their families. Some have been rejected by their churches and threatened with hell. These things are still happening now in 21st century Britain, but there are many people in this University who come from countries where the situation is far worse.
I hope that being a Role Model will at least make one small contribution towards a society in which people with all their differences are accepted and loved for who they are.
Ray can be contacted on [email protected].
Shwmae! My name’s Jamie and I work for the Wellbeing Team at the University of South Wales in Cardiff. My day to day activities involve being the first point of contact for students on a wide variety of subjects. So by having this regular contact, I’m able to get a real understanding of the issues our students are facing.
My coming out story is not particularly interesting, but I believe there is comfort and solace in that. You hear so often of disappointing and upsetting reactions to a child’s sexuality, but in my experience this was not the case. I remember, when I had finally plucked up the courage to tell my family my sexuality, I had carried a lot of research online previously about how they might react. Loads of articles said to be prepared for the worst, that they’d react negatively, and that they’d feel like they’d lost a member of their family. However, despite this, I carried on, and my mum replied to the news with “oh, well it’ll be nice to get out of the house” and continued to watch TV. So, it’s not always doom and gloom, and people will always surprise you!
I think mostly everyone, regardless of sexuality, has come across prejudice in their life. I’m lucky in that the prejudice I’ve faced hasn’t stopped me from getting what I want, or doing what I want. But I know not everyone is so lucky, which is why I want to further LGBTQ+ equality, much like I want to further equality in general, so that everyone can feel like they can come to study and to work in a safe and productive environment and achieve their full potential without fear or discrimination.
I know how confusing it can be to grow up different from other people, and having someone to talk to who understands how you feel during these confusing times can be a lifesaver. That’s why I’ve decided to become an LGBTQ+ Role Model, as the main purpose of my job already is to be there for students who need help. To be able to extend this, and to give LGBTQ+ students someone on the Advice team they recognise whom they can speak to about LGBTQ+ issues, is an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
In respect to my fellow LGBTQ+ staff, I just want them to know that should they be having any struggles they wish to discuss, that they can come to me. For students and staff alike, I’m only an e-mail or phone call away. Or, if you fancy, pop down to the Advice Zone and ask to speak to Jamie.
Jamie can be contacted on [email protected].
I am very proud to call Wales my home, and having arrived here to live and work just over twenty years ago. I am really pleased that I made the decision to relocate to take up a job offer in South Wales. It is where I have made a home, found great friends, and where I am thankful for a good and enjoyable career. Importantly, it is where I met my wife: Vicky. We met in 2004, had our civil partnership in 2012 and converted this to a marriage (with the change in UK law) in 2015.
I do believe that to be your best in life and work, to be productive and to be able to achieve your personal and professional goals, it is important to feel like you can be ‘yourself.’ My experiences as a gay woman have been largely positive. My family have been supportive; we are close after their coming to terms with the initial shock (more than upset) of my being gay. Not everyone has this support.
My friends have always been great allies. Again, not everyone has this support or feels that they can be true and open about themselves with their friends.
The amount of energy it takes to keep something so important about yourself private can be isolating and exhausting.
For example, I have been ‘coming out’ since the age of fourteen. As I am now in my forties this is nearly three decades of ‘coming out.’ It never really ends: this article, every time you change job, change doctor, hairdresser, booking a holiday, meet someone new. I welcome it and feel proud and positive about my life.
However, for many people (and at an earlier stage in my life), it takes stamina, courage, patience and the right words to be able to tell people you care about, and some you have only just met, something so personal about yourself.
I value and support the work of the University and Stonewall, and recognise that if by being an ‘LGBTQ+ role model’ I can help support others to find the words, the courage and the stamina to be true and open about themselves, then that can only be positive.
Emma can be contacted on [email protected].
Being from a Puerto Rican background, and having lived in five countries, the experience of queerness has been bittersweet. As a dance movement therapist, I have led many workshops on movement and wellbeing for the LGBTQ+ community. Recently I was part of the LGBTQ+ Centre for Health and Wellbeing in Edinburgh for 7 years, and TransForm (Youth Cymru) last year. For the past 4 years, I have worked primarily with the transgender community, leading workshops on body confidence, self-awareness, and the relationships between gender and movement. I currently lead training for people in mental health and caring professions about working creatively with LGBTQ+ themes. I also co-wrote a book chapter on using and dance movement psychotherapy with an art therapist with LGBTQ+ clients. I work with local organisations (Glitter Cymru, Umbrella Cymru and Youth Cymru) to provide movement for wellbeing workshops.
As a performer/choreographer, I am also very excited to co-direct a new company called Fflamingo which creates and produces queer work in Wales. I am happy to support dissertations and research on LGBTQ+ and any artistic projects and ideas are always welcome!
In 2009, I decided to work as a dance movement psychotherapist in an LGBTQ+ centre in Argentina, and the amount of division amongst the LGBTQ+ community worried me. This challenge, however, set me off on a pathway to provide creative wellbeing support to LGBTQ+ people in an inclusive, welcoming way. The word role model has a significant amount of weight, and I am not sure I feel it describes me, but I can hopefully be a source of support, helpful ear and shoulder, and fellow brainstormer to make changes that make LGBTQ+ people feel safe.
Thania can be contacted on [email protected].
USW’s approach to equality was immediately apparent when I started and was such a great thing to experience.
I was outed in school when I was 15 but luckily at that time I was so mouthy and loud (what’s changed some may say!!) that I owned it and enjoyed the fame – it’s amazing how quickly taunts and abuse stop when they don’t see you squirm. For many other kids it doesn’t go this way and bullying against LGBTQ+ youth is a serious and sometimes fatal problem.
I spent a lot of my youth and early adult life not wanting to belong to any “gang” or group, seeing it as some sort of “label”, and I really hated labels. But what I failed to see was that that way of thinking easily became its own sort of prejudice. Now I feel it’s just not quite good enough to live my life quietly and let the world get on with it – I think it’s very important to be visible, contribute, draw attention to wrongdoing, and yes, be Proud with a capital P.
The LGBTQ+ community are not immune from prejudice, and I’m pleased that Stonewall and other LGBTQ+ organisations are really focused on that now – right from the beginning, being gay has given me an affinity and appreciation of the prejudice that other minorities endure. We’re not here in isolation after all.
In my non work life I run a lot, and I organise a lot of running. My running club, Moti Albany Road, is very focused on equality and being a welcoming place for ANYONE. Again, it’s not enough to just expect people to know this – it’s important to be visible. That’s why we have a Pride rainbow as part of our kit, and why I organised the first ever Pride Cymru Run on the weekend of Pride a few years ago. I’m hoping to bring that back this year!
It comes back to being visible. For many LGBTQ+ it’s a fine balancing act, and I feel this too – I don’t want to be defined by my sexuality, but I’m proud of it, not ashamed of it, and if necessary won’t ask for equality but will demand it. Sorry not sorry!
It’s important to be visible – to show that all sorts of people are gay and yeah, you can be who you want to be here and really just not have to worry about it.
Also, that you don’t have to be traditional “Role Model” material to be a role model. I’m certainly no saintly figure in that traditional sense of role model – I’m just me, but I’m guessing you just want to be you as well!!
David can be contacted on [email protected].