Alan Harper, Lecturer in Bioscience, School of Medicine
Q. Why do you think it’s important to have out and visible LGBT people in the University?
I grew up at a time where LGBT people weren’t discussed or talked about, and the only time you heard “gay” used in my rural village was as an insult. There was no visible LGBT individuals in the community, and anybody suspected of being gay in my school was bullied (even if they weren’t). So as I began to realise I was gay, I thought there was something wrong with me, and that I would just end up living my life alone. Coming to university and meeting other out LGBT individuals was a huge turning point for me – it made me realised that what I had been feeling was perfectly normal, and that a happy family life was still possible for me. It was an experience I will be forever grateful for. I hope that by being a visible LGBT individual, I can do the same for someone else. Studying at university is a time where people find their place in the world, both professionally and personally – and having visible LGBT people provides support. I think it is important that people are able to see the diversity of different ways that people live fantastic and happy lives together – so they can do too!
Q. What is it like ‘coming out’ as an LGBT person?
When I first started to come out it felt like a scary experience – you worry about being rejected and upsetting others. For me, there was minimal drama, and whilst there was some concerns raised about my future health and happiness, all I found was varying degrees of acceptance. It didn’t suddenly make everything better, but it allowed me to be more open and honest to people about who I was and allowed me to be who I knew I needed to be.
However, Coming out isn’t a one-off experience – by living my life openly, I still come out to people regularly just by doing things that other people would find trivial. Whenever I meet someone new and discuss my home life, or hug or hold hands with my partner, there is a chance that I out myself to the people around me. I don’t really worry about it much anymore, but when you are treated with surprise or curiosity, it can be disappointing. My hope is that we will get to a point where everyone will view being LGBT as being truly unremarkable.
Q. What can we all do to make Keele a better place for LGBT staff and students?
The single easiest thing is to make no assumptions about people you meet. If you don’t know someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation – don’t assume that they are straight or cis-gendered. It’s incredibly awkward when I have to correct an assumption about myself, and it does make you think about whether you might get a negative reaction from that person. It’s generally a bit embarrassing for the person who has had to be corrected too. By avoiding assumptions and being inclusive with language, it helps people feel free to be themselves.