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French twins Pierre and Adrien Gaubert founded myGwork in 2015 to help members of the gay community further their careers with LGBT-friendly employers.
The pair were named Attitude’s Young LGBT Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015, and here, Adrien reveals how living in London has shown them the meaning of true equality…
I will not go back to France when Britain leaves the EU. I am French and have been studying for my master’s degree at King’s College London. Along with my twin brother, I co-founded myGwork.com in 2015, a platform for promoting diversity and inclusion for LGBTI professionals.
With the exception of the highly socially advanced Scandinavian countries, we could not have done this anywhere else in Europe. Some would argue that France is very open-minded and that we could do the same work there. The sad reality is that this is not the case. None of my friends working in the service industry in France have come out to their managers. In fact, they actively hide their sexuality.
I was attending a conference in Marseille in June last year and the regional HR director of a major telecom company was giving a speech. He was explaining that there is a system where gay employees can take wedding leave without directly informing their manager of the reason for their leave. Only the HR manager will know this, while the line manager will be told the employee was absent due to illness. I was thinking, ‘What kind of hypocrisy is this?’ Instead of training managers to be inclusive of everyone, this company encourages LGBTI employees to hide their sexuality, which sends out a message that there is something wrong with them. UK companies, by contrast, embrace diversity.
Mark Gossington, partner at PwC says: “At PwC we had a campaign called “Be yourself. Be different” that focused on the benefits of bringing different points of view, particularly to business problems, and celebrating the diversity of individuals. I really think it has benefitted my career and I am proud to help others use their difference to their advantage.”
Not surprisingly, that telecom company has one of the highest rates of suicide among French companies. How could I possibly go back to France, a country that massively opposed marriage equality while the Brits were passing the same law with relatively little controversy? People tell me I am not affectionate because I don’t hold hands in the street with my partner or date. This is because I have been conditioned my whole life to fear being gay. Since childhood, when other kids at school used the F-word against me, I have always been scared of walking differently or speaking in a way that French bigots consider too feminine.
I remember one of my ex-boyfriends, from Mexico, getting very angry with me because I ordered a Cosmopolitan cocktail. He said he was embarrassed because it was ‘too gay’. Another time, one of my friends, a Spanish woman, told me I ‘looked gay’ because I was afraid of bees. I am not going back to this. I want to order whatever I fancy to drink, never hide again and scream at the sight of an insect if I want to. I will not allow anyone to bully me or anyone else just because we don’t behave in the way closed-minded people want us to behave.
When I came out at university I had been designated as ‘the gay twin’ for three years. Luckily for me, my best friend was gay too, otherwise it would have been unbearable. Then, when I worked for the French Foreign Office, I was the only gay person there, too. When I came out to some of my colleagues, some others were coming and asked me sneakily if I had a girlfriend. They wanted me to confirm the scandalous news. In London, being gay simply isn’t a big deal.
I refuse to return to a country where not one politician is out, and where at least 30 per cent of the population is racist and homophobic, with Marine Le Pen as their queen. Brexiters may be criticised for their xenophobia, but the ‘Lepeniste’ are far more racist and anti-LGBTI.
In France, I joined an organisation called L’Autre Cercle. They have branches in many French cities and organise events where LGBTIs can be themselves. They are considered quite avant-garde in their own country, but in the UK there are already many wonderful groups such as Stonewall and OUTstanding that not only gather LGBTI people together for social events but actively promote role models and companies with a policy of diversity and inclusion. I will not go back to a country where there are no LGBTI role models and where companies still struggle to hire women, LGBTI and BAME (Black and Ethnic Minorities). While France is only beginning to realise that everyone is different, the UK continues to celebrate diversity.
I find it very sad that the new generation of LGBTI Europeans will not be as lucky as I am to have the opportunity to live in this great country and enjoy as much freedom as I have had these past years. Most Brits are so polite, they go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. Are they more empathic than the French? I believe so. France could definitely use some training to teach kids tolerance and empathy, from a very young age, as ThinkEqual do in many developing countries. The gay activist Aritha Wickramasinghe has just launched this great programme in his native Sri Lanka and has won the support of celebrities including actress Meryl Streep. Let’s hope they launch in France soon.
British people, I am staying, and thank you very much for your hospitality.
Words by Adrien Gaubert
First published at Attitude Magazine