Dr Alan Harper (He /They), Senior Lecturer in Physiology, School of Medicine
Q. Why do you think it’s important to have out and visible LGBTQ+ people in the University?
I grew up at a time where LGBTQ+ people weren’t discussed or talked about, and the only time you heard “gay” used in my rural village was as an insult. There were no visible LGBQ+ 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 and non-binary, 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 LGBTQ+ individuals was a huge turning point for me – it made me realise that what I had been feeling was perfectly normal, and that a happy family life was still possible for me. It is an experience I will be forever grateful for. I hope that, by being a visible LGBTQ+ 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 LGBTQ+ 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 LGBTQ+ 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, choose to use “they” as my pronoun, 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 LGBTQ+ as being truly unremarkable.
Q. What can we all do to make Keele a better place for LGBTQ+ staff and students?
The single easiest thing is to make no assumptions about people you meet – how people present themselves does not always reflect on how they might identify themselves inside. 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 my sexuality or gender identity, and it does make you think about whether you might get a negative reaction from that person if you come out to them. 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. As someone who identifies as a non-binary individual, it is always great to see people using pronouns in their email footers, name badges or online chat portals (mine are “he/they”). Seeing this gives me more confidence in being myself around them.