Joseph Brooks, Senior Lecturer, Psychology
Q. Where did you grow up and what was it like to be LGBT there?
I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania (USA) about 50 miles outside of Pittsburgh. It was a pleasant place to grow up. In terms of being LGBT there, I’m not sure that I can really say. I wasn’t out while I was in high school. I probably knew that I was gay since I was about 14 or 15 years old but I didn’t really do anything about it. I generally felt that it wasn’t something that I should really bring up. I’m not exactly sure why. I was never really teased about being gay and I had plenty of friends. I was involved in school activities and did very well in school. However, I never felt like I could be completely honest about my feelings. I didn’t talk to my friends about who I really had a crush on. Also, I never had a satisfying relationship in high school. I dated a few girls for brief periods but I never really showed much interest and, inevitably, they dumped me or it just fizzled out. I felt that I had to actively conceal my true feelings. That can have an emotional and cognitive toll. Although I think that I handled it well, it does mean that I missed out on those early, innocent, and socially-integrated relationship experiences. You can’t get that back later. Having reconnected with some of my high school peers on Facebook and in “real life”, I realize that most of them are very accepting of LGBT people, event actively supportive. A few are even LGBT themselves, even my female senior prom date. I think it is too bad that we missed out on just being ourselves with each other.
Q. What is your coming out story?
I really only came out when I moved to Pittsburgh at the age of 18 to start university. During orientation week, I distinctly remember going to an LGBT group meeting. It was all very welcoming and open, but I felt uncomfortable and left half way through. Looking back, I can hardly understand why I did and a year or two later, I was one of the leaders of that very group. It demonstrates to me how feeling alone and shameful in something, can make us very different people. Luckily, everyone at university was very supportive and within my first year I was out to everyone in my dorm and they all reacted very well. I was able to focus on my studies and other interests. Being gay was just a normal part of life that I could enjoy alongside that just as my heterosexual friends enjoyed dating, relationships, and their friendships. However, I waited until the age of 27 to come out to my family. I had no fear that they would reject me because they were always clear that they loved me no matter what. But I knew that it may bring worry to my mother or just be another thing for them to deal with. When I did come out, I remember my mom saying that “moms know these things” and that it was completely fine. It hasn’t really change our relationship at all.
Q. Have you suffered prejudice in your job or personal life and, if so, can you describe what effects it has had on you?
Luckily I’ve never suffered any problems in my life or work from being gay. Working as an academic has tended to mean that I work in very supportive environments. I’ve also lived in large cities with large gay communities such as Pittsburgh, the San Francisco Bay Area, and London for much of the last 20 years of my life which has meant that I could surround myself with plenty of supportive people. However, I do recognize that even in these places, others have faced problems. I think that many of the issues facing gay people at work are disappearing due to better societal attitudes and equalities legislation. However, there is still progress to be made. For instance, my home state of Pennsylvania currently has no legislation to protect workers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Closer to home, living next door to us here in the UK, LGBT muslims often face severe problems coming to terms with their sexuality and have little to no support from their family and community. Even within a generally accepting corporate environment, some departments may have a macho and sexist attitudes that affect LGBT people. For instance, I know gay male bankers working in London who have said that coming out can undermine the way that colleagues view them in a competitive environment.
Q. What would you like to tell other staff at Keele who may be facing difficulties regarding their LGBT status at work or who are finding it difficult to come out at work?
There is no need to come out with a big splash. Take your time. Also remember that you don’t need to do it alone. If you want to meet other LGBT people, even if you aren’t ready to call yourself LGBT, you can come along to a social lunch or one of our events throughout the year. Join the mailing list to keep track of what is going on. If you are facing discrimination at work, you should speak to HR or a member of the network for informal advice about the situation. Sometimes, just having someone that will listen is helpful.
Q. How do you think your work is affected by being LGBT?
I think that being LGBT has made me realize how you cannot completely divorce who you are from what you do at work. If you are busy concealing your true feelings or monitoring your language to hide your life, how can you spend all of your mental energy working effectively? This is true for all people, not just LGBT people. Because, I’m able to just be “normal” about my relationship at work and I don’t feel that people judge me badly for being gay, I don’t think that it affects my work at all. That is the way that it should be! I can just get on with the academic work that I love.
Q. What can we all do to make Keele a better place for being an LGBTI Staff member?
Most of the time it is simple, just treat others as equally as possible regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, etc. Try not to make assumptions about people based on being LGBT. Everyone that I have met at Keele already does these things. However, some people may perceive a conflict between their religion or other beliefs and LGBT co-workers. In most cases, there need not be a conflict. Being respectful of others doesn’t mean that you have to adopt their values. We just need to engage with the common value that we should all share: All people should be able to feel safe at work, not be excluded or ridiculed, and be made to feel welcome regardless of their LGBT status. The same applies to religion, race, sex, and other differences between us.
Q. Why do you want to be an LGBT role model? Why is it important?
I believe that it is important for people to see that LGBT people are productive members of society. When I was younger, the only images that I saw of LGBT people were stereotypes or negative stories about HIV/AIDS. These images, when not placed in context or challenged by anything else, can easily lead people to believe that these features DEFINE the LGBT community. But, most of the time LGBT people just live normal lives and have a huge variety of interests and lifestyles. LGBT people also do extraordinary things like writing books, making movies, becoming surgeons, and more. Much of the anti-LGBT propaganda in other parts of the world works on the basis that people don’t get to see LGBT people for who they are…just people who happen to love people of the same sex or feel differently about their gender identity.