Tuning in to everyone’s unique perspective

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Everyone has a story to tell and a unique perspective to bring.  But how good are we at really tuning in to others’ stories?  If we really want to be inclusive and create equity, we need to appreciate each person for who they are, their values and beliefs and the unique perspective that they bring.  

The way you see the world and your place in it, the way that you think and feel and the way you react to people and events is shaped by the story of your life.  When and where you grew up, the parenting and education that you experienced and the cultures and communities that you identify with. They all generate a context in which you become ‘you’.  It’s true for you and it’s true for everyone else.

February is LGBT+ history month here in the UK. It’s an event that raises awareness of, and combats prejudice against, the LGBT+ community while celebrating its achievements and diversity, and making it more visible.  This prompted me to think about how my connection to this shared history has shaped me and my unique perspective. 

As a gay teenager in the UK in the 1980s, I definitely felt that my emerging sexual orientation was something I should hide.  On TV and in films there were no gay role models. There were plenty of camp characters and pop stars who were usually ridiculed or subject to hostile news headlines.  To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with being camp, I just didn’t identify with it.  In the school playground any hint of not being ‘masculine’ was quickly punished with bullying, so I learned to focus on studying to avoid the ‘boy’s games’ that I didn’t feel a part of.

The 80s was also the decade that saw the emergence of HIV – first diagnosed in gay and bisexual men in 1981. Of course, initially I was too young to really be aware of HIV.  By the time I was 18, and without any kind of sex education that spoke to my sexuality – only jokes made at my expense, the main message I faced was about safer sex delivered by an infamously fear-mongering public information campaign.  All this added to my feeling of being ashamed of who I was.

Despite all that I came out to my family and friends just before setting off to university in September 1989 At university I started to make friends and venture on to the gay scene.  I became part of the community, went to bars, clubs and Gay Pride events.  And now 30 years later, I have a rich full life, with a wonderful partner, a supportive family and work environment. Now, being gay is just a small part of everything that I am.  Happy ever after, right?

Not quite.  Imagine walking down the street with your life partner, enjoying their company and without thinking about it you casually reach for their hand.  Except at the last moment, you remember to look around and check where you are. You evaluate the risk of this simple act of affection and you pull your hand away.  This is expressed so eloquently (and amusingly!) in this TEDx talk by the Irish drag queen Panti Bliss.  I resonate so deeply with what she says.

Even writing this article made me pause: Do I want to bring this private matter into my professional life?  Is it even relevant?  What will people think of me?  And eventually, the really honest question: Why am I ashamed of being me?  And when that question came up, I knew I had to write this article.

I’m not asking for your sympathy – although your empathy would be welcome!  I’m not asking you to treat me differently – just to see more of me!  I’m not asking for me at all really – this is about more than just my story, more than even the LGBT+ community.  I think we can all (me included) be more aware of where people come from and tune in to what is unique about them.  If we practice this, I believe we can move towards a more inclusive equitable world for everyone.  We’ve made progress in my lifetime, but we still have a long way to go.

So, tell me, I really want to know!  How has your life story shaped who you are and the perspective that you bring?  Who in your life could you understand better if you heard their story?

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