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How I realised I was a role model

By Annie NewmanGSK

It wasn’t until a year ago, when I was sitting listening to some amazing presenters at the Stonewall LGBT+ Leadership programme, that I realised - I am a role model.  It was one of those epiphany moments you hear about and wonder if it will ever happen to you. Well, it did, right in that moment, in front of 36 other LGBT people in a small meeting room in Paddington. Why was this such a pivotal moment in my life? – I’ll tell you.

I grew up in Essex, as part of a loving and hardworking family. I would class us as a ‘normal’ family at that time; Dad worked, Mum stayed at home, I had a twin sister and a younger brother – oh and we had a cat of course. All the foundations were in place for me to be a happy, fun-loving kid, excited about the world and the part I would play in it. That certainly was the case for my siblings. For me however, my childhood couldn’t be more different. I was fearful, excessively shy, didn’t understand anything remotely “stereotypically feminine” (I was a tomboy, who wanted to dress like my brother, play football and own an Optimus Prime transformer) and constantly felt like a square peg in a round hole. I couldn’t put my finger on it, I just knew I was different. This feeling got progressively worse as I reached my teens and it became blatantly obvious, I wasn’t hitting any of the usual milestones of my heterosexual peers. The world became such a confusing place, I mean the whole concept of fancying boys were completely alien to me, so why would I have posters of them on my bedroom wall, or talk constantly about a guy at school – and what was flirting with boys all about anyway?

It wasn’t until I started college that it all fell into place and I was horrified. I couldn’t get my head around how I could be gay, this was something that happened to other people – right! I was totally onboard with anyone else being LGBT, but me, no way, I just couldn’t be – it was way too much to handle. Faced with the enormity of the revelation, I decided the only course of action was to push this to the back of my mind and think myself straight. I couldn’t even say the word ‘Lesbian’ without feeling totally overwhelmed. It was then I made my second massive mistake. I realised I fancied a girl in one of my classes and unconsciously started acting differently around her. I’m not sure if it can be classed as flirting but before I knew it her mates were spreading rumours about me and shouting homophobic slurs in the corridors and canteen. Needless to say, college wasn’t a high point in my life. This experience scarred me. I went back into myself, spent way too much time in the library hiding from people and swore to myself there and then, I would NEVER allow myself to be me. I would conform to societal expectations and cultural norms, no matter the effect it would have on me emotionally.

It was never going to work

It wasn’t until 15 years later, that things came to ahead and I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. Not being my true self had taken its toll on my physical and mental health. It also impacted my relationships and I believe affected my confidence at work. There I was in my thirties with no LGBT+ friends, feeling completely isolated and overwhelmed by my feelings. Action had to be taken. I’d heard about there being an LGBT+ network (Spectrum) at work and decided to reach out and talk to someone. I don’t say this lightly, but Spectrum saved my life. For the first time I found understanding, I found support and I found my LGBT+ family. What Spectrum has done for me over the years cannot be underestimated – it helped me feel comfortable in myself, and therefore feel comfortable coming out to others and embracing what it means to be LGBT. But little did I realise at the time that being part of Spectrum would also give me opportunities to grow and develop in ways that I never thought possible.

From joining as a passive member, I moved to being more active by using my communications skills (I am a communications professional) to help raise awareness of the group. This led to me being nurtured, mentored and joining the Spectrum Leadership team as Communications Lead 3 years ago. I now have the privilege to be the first female leader of Spectrum, with the help of a passionate and talented Leadership Team. My journey within the network and the impact they had on me is something that drives me on a daily basis. If I can make a difference to someone, then I have been a success in this role. I am now also Engagement lead for the Proud Science Alliance, a collective of healthcare and life sciences sector LGBTQ+ networks who work together to promote LGBT equality in the scientific community, so I get to widen my impact even further.


We are all role models

So, why was that moment during the LGBT Leadership Programme so pivotal to me? I realised that role models aren’t just people like footballer Megan Rapinoe or DIVA Media groups Linda Riley. We are all role models to someone. We just need to be visible, brave enough to stand up and be counted, and available to listen and give our time to others. I admit, Linda Riley is one of my role models, but so is my brother, as well as a non-binary colleague who brought me into the Spectrum family, and an amazing woman who took me under her wing when I was lost. You don’t have to be a leader, but if you do ascend to a leadership position in your company, you need to make it count.

Being a role model for me means – Sharing stories (just like this one), speaking at events about my experiences, mentoring, being clearly discernible as LGBT in the workplace (Rainbow lanyard), being open and honest with my Leadership Team, and never being ashamed of who I am and my sexuality. I am a proud Lesbian.

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