Two women hugging and smiling at each other

What Pride month means to me

By Simone Shephard, Trainee Plumber
22 June 2020
First published in Inside Housing 

This month is National Pride Month and I was asked if I’d write something about what it means to me. My affinity with this month has evolved over the years – from my time of feeling ashamed of being gay to becoming comfortable and confident in who I am today. In the past, I’ve enjoyed going on marches and attending events for Pride with friends. Pride provided me a space to feel ‘normal’. 

These days, I don’t attend too many Pride events, especially now I live in quite a rural place, but I support my community in other ways. I am now proud of being gay and I no longer hide who I am inside and outside of work. In my last job, I worked in a primary school, so I hope I gave the children I supported a positive representation of the LGBTQ+ community. I am also pleased to be given this opportunity to talk about Pride as a representative of Sovereign. It is great to feel comfortable in myself, but also safe in the workplace to be who I am.

I know that just because I am safe in expressing my sexuality, sadly it doesn’t mean that others are, which is why Pride Month is so important. Until everyone who identifies as LGBTQ+ feels safe and secure, then Pride Month needs to continue to strive for parity for my community.  

When I started work at Sovereign last year, I had been through an incredibly difficult time; my wife and I had just lost our son and things were pretty tough. I decided I wanted to make some changes in my life, giving up my job as a teaching assistant in pursuit of trying something new. I wanted to do something practical and hands-on, but aside from DIY at home, I didn’t really have the experience. 

I started looking at apprenticeships and Sovereign’s website immediately stood out. It wasn’t that other places said ‘don’t come here if you’re a woman, don’t come here if you’re black, don’t come here if you’re LGBTQ+’ but they didn’t expressly say ‘please DO come here’, either. 

Sovereign’s website was very clear. It said: ‘your values are what matter’. It said: ‘If you’re willing to work hard, be adaptable and accountable and pitch in as part of a team, then that’s what we’re looking for’. But it also said, quite clearly: ‘we want to increase women in trades’. There were women on their website talking about what it meant to be part of the trades team, they had won awards for their apprenticeship. I was given a practical introduction to what being at Sovereign might be like, by a female carpenter, completing the tasks in a relaxed, welcoming environment.

When it came to recruitment of women, they led by showing me who Sovereign was. And that’s how I realise that I can help too. If I show myself - my skin colour, my gender, my sexuality – but also my work ethic, my willingness, my abilities, I present a complete picture that others can see and follow and understand.  

I want the housing sector to know that giving people the confidence and the reassurance that they can be open – if they want to – and the ability to be who they are at work is important. It’s about colleagues being aware that if someone does talk to you freely about their sexuality or their race then it might have taken quite a lot of courage for them to take that step. In fact, we can all make one easy change – putting pronouns on our signatures. It gets things out in the open, without it being a big deal. 

On the flipside, it’s also about, at times, people who are Black or minority ethnic backgrounds or LQBTQ+ accepting that, in learning, people may not ask the right questions in the exact right way. It’s important that we all work together to create greater understanding and break down barriers. 

If an organisation treats all workers and residents with respect, and if others stand up and say something if or when they do spot issues with racism or homophobia or transphobia or sexism, then we’re on the right track. It’s about creating an environment where that honesty and openness is possible, and everyone can feel proud just to be themselves.

So – Pride Month. What does it mean to me? It means that until everyone has a nurturing environment and can be seen and respected as an equal, then our job is not done and Pride Month will continue to provide an important platform and voice for the LGBTQ+ community. Meanwhile, I am proud of the person that I am and I am proud to play my part in Pride Month.