Andy Hunt is a People Leadership Programme Coach at WhiteHat.
"Sir, are you gay?"
It felt like my heart stopped and my blood ran cold. I looked at the three twelve-year-old girls stood at my desk and wondered if they knew that I had feared this moment since I started my career as a music teacher only a year previously. In that moment, I wasn't proud to be gay - I was scared, and my mind went to all the horror stories of what might happen if I wasn't very careful with my words in the next few minutes.
The topic of Pride is one that I have reflected on a lot in recent years. I grew up in a really lovely but conservative household and Pride was certainly not a trait that was held up as something to aspire to. Pride traditionally has not been a very British concept. It has connotations of self-satisfaction, maybe even arrogance... and haven't we all been brought up to be modest and humble?! Yet, as I scroll to the second definition of Pride that shows up on my Google search, I see that Pride has also been re-defined by those who have been marginalised to also describe confidence, and self-respect.
You see, what was absolutely missing in my classroom that day was my confidence and self-respect. As a wise woman was to later tell me, 'You're not going to be burnt at the stake for who you are anymore', but nevertheless, in my corner of the teaching community in 2010, being openly gay was at best an unwelcome inconvenience, and at worst a source of questioning, whispering behind hands, and for some, the reason their career became untenable.
Iris Murdoch observed that 'perception is not inert', and in doing so went straight to the heart of why I believe Pride is important. The way that we are perceived by others shapes our sense of self, and whilst we are fortunate to live and work in a society where hard-fought-for laws shape workplace policies and public practices, until we do the work inside ourselves to honestly be able to look upon our colleagues and friends of all sexualities and none with love and acceptance, Pride will still be necessary.
“The truth believed becomes a lie; the truth experienced remains the truth", (look up Werner Erhard if you have time for some philosophy!) and so what Pride offers us all is the experience of seeing and being seen, and in so doing drawing into ourselves the confidence and self-respect that we are valuable and safe as we are. At this time of year, I bask in the truth that my employer, my church, my family and my friends see my sexuality as part of my unique contribution to the world and I remind myself that there are still so many for whom the fear is still real, and the truth of true acceptance is still only a silent belief.
To those girls in my classroom ten years ago, I am sorry that I changed the subject. I hope that in your adult lives you have met, or even grown to be, brave, vulnerable and diverse humans who perceive yourselves, and those around you, with love and acceptance.
And to you who are reading this, may you this year look past the rainbow flags and see, truly see, the person bearing it and may you celebrate the diversity that is all around us.