Makinder Chahal, Keele alumnus, health promotion worker for an LGBT health charity
My name is Makinder Chahal. I studied Psychology and Sociology with a Foundation Year at Keele between 2007-2012. I currently work as a health promotion worker for an LGBT health, sexual health and HIV charity in Leicester.
Q. Why do you think it’s important to have out and visible LGBT+ people in the University?
Quite simply, people thrive best when they are true to themselves and feel comfortable to be themselves. Visibility of diversity on all levels is important to ensure that can happen, but, it has to be more than just visual visibility. It has to be meaningful visibility. It is all well and good to display a rainbow flag to say to LGBT+ communities that they are welcome and accepted, but actions to ensure a more inclusive, safe and accessible environment are key in order for visibility to be truly successful. Also, by making LGBT+ communities more comfortable being out and proud, it also gives those who are yet to truly discover who they are hope and courage to one day be comfortable in their own skin and embrace one of many individual characteristics that make them unique.
Q. What is it like ‘coming out’ as an LGBT+ person?
There is no 'one-size-fits-all' answer to this question, and different people have been through many different experiences of coming out, both positive and negative. For me, my coming out at the age of 17 came at a troublesome time during my teenage years, where I was starting to act out and rebel against everything. From the outside, it would have been seen exactly like it was, but from the inside, it was a cry for help in order to help me understand my feelings and holding onto these feelings with the fear of what may happen as a result of speaking out about them. This climaxed with my parents sitting me down and asking me what was going on, as all of this behaviour was completely out of my nature. It was at that moment I told them that I was gay. My parents struggled to understand what that meant to start with and blamed themselves for how I was feeling, but I assured them that it was nothing to do with my upbringing, but was just the person I truly am. Going to Keele a year later really allowed me to be myself, without fear of judgement or oppression, and allowed me to grow and develop into the confident gay man that I am today.
Q. How important is the Keele student LGBT+ Society?
There is no doubt for me by saying that joining the Keele LGBT+ student society was one of the best things I could have done during my time at Keele. Although at first, it was very daunting, as I could not see anybody there looked like me, a person of colour, from an Indian background, but I knew that I had to start somewhere with this journey of self-discovery that I was going to embark on, and the Society provided me with that social support. During my time on the committee for the Society, we saw the number of people of colour increase significantly and focus on LGBT activism increase. This allowed both myself and other members of the Society to feel like a community; working together, campaigning together, supporting together, being together, ensuring that we were as inclusive and representative of the diversity of the LGBT+ communities everywhere. I would advise all LGBT+ students and allies to get involved with the Society in some way. It may not have to be as direct as attending weekly social meetings, but by getting involved in campaigning, sharing media on online platforms, attending events and fundraising. The smallest of actions could have the biggest impacts on those yet to start their own journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance.