I’m lucky most aren’t…

Over the last few weeks or so I have been reading a few articles on LGBT people in the tech industry (some from last year), and this post was predominantly provoked by those. Another reason for writing the post was the recent homophobia experienced by @nickhurley and his partner at the Thistle hotel in London which hit the UK national press overnight.

I originally had the name of the post as “It Gets Better” taken from the It Gets Better project (http://www.itgetsbetter.org).

“The It Gets Better Project was created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach – if they can just get through their teen years. The It Gets Better Project wants to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone — and it WILL get better.”
http://www.itgetsbetter.org/

The project is a great one in that if gives hope to young people to come out and make it through their teen years on the promise that life gets better. If you’re a young LGBT person reading this please bear with me as you read through and read the entire post :)
Unfortunately it isn’t quite as easy as that. It doesn’t always get better on its own. Change is required. STILL. That’s why I changed the post title to “I’m lucky most aren’t” – allow me to explain.

I don’t hide who I am but my views float a lot on coming out publicly, I don’t see why I should have to. I’m me and why does it matter to anyone else who I am attracted to?

I’ve come out to people like parents and long time friends – come out in the traditional sense as in I’ve specifically sat down and told them. For new people though I prefer to just hint in conversation that I don’t have a female partner when people are talking about partners of their own. I’m lucky though, I can be myself without coming out directly as the people around me don’t come across as LGBT haters and I think this is why I have the attitude “why do I need to come out”.

Why am I writing this massive post if this is my view I hear you ask?
The answer: Because I’m wrong. People do need to come out more, people need to be themselves openly, its not just about who I am attracted to. My sexuality is part of who I am, and feeling like I need to hide that means I can’t be as productive as i’d like. To be an effective leader I need to be myself as leaders should be transparent, if i’m hiding part of who I am then I can’t do that. In coming out publicly I want to prove that Manchester has no issue with this, and to encourage others to come out and feel safe in doing so. Not wanting to downgrade what I’ve been through in my teens as its not been great but not everyone gets lucky like me, for some it is much more of a struggle.  Check out this article by Scott Allison for more points about why it’s important to come out, I did get permission from Scott to post some of his thoughts but I feel hearing it from someone else other than me just echo’s the sentiment.

Before coming out I used to get bullied at school, probably for being a geek amongst other things. Whilst in school I didn’t really feel confident and adding the fact I was gay in to the mix wasn’t a good plan, especially since I had no-one around me who could even explain the feelings that I had, let alone help me define them as gay. I didn’t actually gain the confidence to come out until I got to Manchester when I was around 21.

Unfortunately my ideal (naive) world that I seem to live in where LGBT people are accepted isn’t the true case everywhere. This is what I mean by I am lucky – sometimes I don’t stop to think how lucky.

I am lucky I am around people where I can be openly gay.

  • I came out to parents and the response I got was: “Your no different today than you were yesterday. You’re still our son and we still love you”
  • I came out to my brother and his response was similar to my parents. It didn’t matter.
  • I came out to my grandparents and again the same response
  • I think all of my family know now and none of them seem to differentiate between me or my brother.
  • My close friends all know – my closest friends aren’t all LGBT!

This openness around me as great as it is means that I don’t think anything of coming out anymore. It’s been done and people can just take me as I am or not that’s up to them.
After just making the idea of It Gets Better crash and burn I feel I need to explain in a little more detail especially to the younger LGBT people reading and to the creators of It Gets Better. Whilst the It Gets Better message is an important one, the people portrayed in the videos are usually working in safe environment where it is better. This isn’t the case in all environments.

I believe the whole point of the campaign is:

No matter where you are, how alone you feel or how bad things become there are other people who have been through what you are going through to some degree. These people can offer you help in some way, even if it’s just someone to listen or talk to if that’s what you want.

I know my teen years would have been better if I had had someone to talk to as I thought I was different and on my own. If you want know about me I’m now on practically everything you can think of as rowleyaj. Also check out these LGBT people in the tech community: 9 Gay Leaders Making a Difference in Technology

Back on to the subject of LGBT people in tech.

The article by Jolie O’Dell titled “Queer & nerdy: Why your startup should hire a gay developer” had a few comments asking why is it relevant? Jolie covers the points well in her article, however I have to say that if I was hired by a company specifically because I was gay I would feel quite insulted. Yes companies should promote their LGBT cultures but not to the extent that they hire someone just because they are gay to make up numbers or to be a token gesture within the organisation.

Mum says “Not so they can tick a box – yes we have one of those!”

However I think if I was hired because my background brings a new outlook on the project that would be acceptable. This is a very fine line that companies walk and hard for me to explain in text, I think Sam Bail explains it best in her post about tech panels, the same applies to sexuality and teams in general.

“…maybe having a more diverse panel – different age groups, gender, ethnicity or socialisation – will be just as interesting for your audience, or even more interesting because the panelists have have different backgrounds and different perspectives (“different” being “different from what is perceived to be the norm” in a certain field)”

Business Week have recently run an article which discusses LGBT workers being out, which included some interesting statistics. The most powerful part of the article for me is that companies are developing their own rules and regulations around equality in the workplace before being legally required to do so.

This is how society should be, and I think the CNET article regarding the tech companies involvement in gay marriage law shows how tech companies are getting involved in LGBT issues. I don’t really agree with the wording that its because its bad for business, but the principal of why it is bad for business rings true – it raises inequalities.

For those who don’t know me directly I’m a 25 year old gay guy based in Manchester. I come from a varied background ranging from answering 999 emergency calls for the ambulance service to running my own video production company.

I’m interested in everything tech and startup related.

To sum up this post which is in danger of getting unruly if it isn’t already:

Life doesn’t get better on its own.

It can get better if you want it to.

One way is to shape your own future.

Become a founder. Create a startup.

It’s all well and good me saying this, but how do you do this? Where do you get the support?

Introducing StartupOut:

StartupOut was created as an environment to connect and educate entrepreneurs on how to utilise technology and innovative business methods. The primary aim is to facilitate growth & encourage entrepreneurship.
We are specifically aiming to focus on  innovation and the use of technology. We aim to encourage organisations and entrepreneurs to incorporate equality at the heart of their business by building relationships with members of the LGBT+ community. Through these relationships StartupOut will work to encourage both LGBT+ entrepreneurs and intrapreneurship within business.

Please go to the website – startupout.org and sign up to the mailing list.

Articles that prompted the post:
Mashable Article on Gay Leaders in Tech
This article by Scott Allison is the post I referred to in the answer section above. I haven’t plagiarised his points but echo them entirely (despite sometimes probably sounding like i dont above!)
This article by Jolie O’Dell promotes reasons why a startup should hire an LGBT developer.
Blog post by Sam Bail discussing women in tech panels
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-02-12/out-is-in-gay-workers-find-workplaces-more-welcoming
http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57571476-38/tech-companies-gay-marriage-ban-is-bad-for-business/

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