National Inclusion Week: 23-29th September 2019
Imagine this. I was 22 years old. 4ft 11 inches tall. I walked confidently (perhaps a little too confidently) into Dewsbury Probation Office.
I was there to teach adult ex-offenders English and maths.
Rotating around five probation offices across the region over the week, my workspace was a little consultation room, where every hour one ex-offender would leave and another would take their chair – a student for the next 60 minutes.
The room contained four things. There were two chairs with a large, heavy desk separating them and a filing cabinet that locked if you kicked it. Hard. The floor was cold and bare and the windows barely opened. The radiator broken; permanently fixed to ON at full blast. It was hot, oppressive and smelt funny. And not in a good way.
There was a big red panic button under the desk (a secret one) and one visible on the wall by the 'probation blue' door. The panic buttons were there just in case I needed urgent assistance (usually in the form of large, muscly, shaved headed Probation Officers busting through the doors). Which I did. Once. But that is another story.
Before I met any student for the first time, I had to read a report telling me everything I needed to know about the person. Their childhood, their education, work history, information about their key relationships and family members. And most importantly, their offences. In minute detail. Oh, and what I needed to be aware of when I was with this person on my own for the next 60 minutes, including potential risks of harm they may cause me.
Day one. I had a stack of these reports on my desk and a full diary of students to work with one-to-one.
I started to read the reports. Within minutes I was overwhelmed by the intensity of what I was digesting. I can honestly say, my mind could not comprehend some of the offences. Drugs, alcohol, violence, theft, criminal damage, road traffic offences, sexual offences. These crimes, stories and people committing them were now part of my reality.
A hostile, aggressive and nerve-wracking work environment.
Yet, here I was - out and proud.
In The Closet Working In A College Environment
Only a year earlier was I in my first 'proper job'. Teaching 16-19 year olds acting skills and voice. At 21 years old (and still 4ft 11) I was close in age to the young adults I was teaching. And it was difficult. I was dealing with kids that were much taller than me and didn't want to listen to someone only a few years older than them telling them what to do. It felt more like babysitting and crowd control than teaching.
In a drama environment you are mostly on your feet. Moving around, exploring the space, your relationships with others – and your relationship with yourself. Lots of opportunity for the kids to be distracted and talk about their social life. The language I heard them using (and had to challenge them on) on a minute by minute basis was homophobic, sexist and derogatory.
The teachers and senior leaders weren't much better to be honest. They were mostly 'old school'. You know the type. Fixed in their ways, teaching the same lesson year in, year out. Not adapting the content to respond to the changes in society and the world around them. Using the same resources they have used for years and years. Very opinionated. Gossip was rife. The staffroom at lunchtimes were unbearable. Talk about specific kids and what they had done that day that had caused issues in the classroom. Gossiping about the kids, their home life and what they think of them.
Despite their education over the years, my colleagues' language was also homophobic and biphobic. There was a distinct lack of awareness around LGBT issues and challenges and how to support LGBT individuals (staff and students) in the college.
It is safe to say, in my first job I was firmly in the closet. Despite me being out in my home and social life.
Being Out Of The Closet When Working With Ex-Offenders
First job. In the closet.
Based on my first experience in the workplace and the struggles I faced being in the closet, I decided to come out right from the start.
I told them in my interview and when I met my colleagues for the first time, I steered the conversation to family life. It was easy to tell them I had a girlfriend; my new colleagues were brilliant with me. I had created the opportunity to talk about my sexuality right from the start. It felt liberating!
The company I worked for were hugely supportive. My leadership team were always on hand to help out - with any work related or personal issues.
One year in to my second job, I was alerted to the fact I had a male stalker. He was a very tall man in his 40s that had become obsessed with me, despite him knowing my sexuality. He was a student of mine, so that was awkward.
It was around 6pm on a winter's night. The sun had set long ago. And I was walking back to my car. With a laptop over my shoulder. Vulnerable. It was a 15 minute walk to my car from the probation office. Around 6 minutes into the walk, I felt a presence behind me. A tall man walking pace by pace with me. I felt uncomfortable. I knew there was something not quite right. I instantly picked up my phone and called the office. I asked them to speak with me until I got back to my car. They did. I got into my car, locked it instantly and drove away. But not before I saw him. I knew who it was.
The next day, my senior leaders called a meeting with all the probation offices I worked in. They stepped up security for me. My teaching contract with him ended instantly. His probation officers were alerted to his behaviour and dealt with it from their end.
My stalker continued for 3 weeks. Every time I was in Dewsbury Office, there he was. Following me. Watching me.
I was given bodyguards. I wasn't able to leave the office without a probation officer escorting me. When I pulled up in the car park to begin my working day. At lunch, tea breaks, and leaving at the end of the day. There was always a male probation officer next to me to protect me.
My protection, safety and wellbeing were taken very seriously with my second employer.
A progressive employer that valued me and ALL of who I am.
Why I Went Back In The Closet At Work
The time came for me to move on from this volatile and hostile environment. I decided to go back into a college environment.
From my very first day in my new job, I felt uncomfortable with my manager. She was a dictator. Controlling. Manipulative. She made fun of my colleagues in the office, in front of them. She lied. She abused her power. She made people feel unworthy. I watched her bully members of the team out of their roles.
Nothing had changed from my first job in a college. Homophobia and biphobia were prevalent. Underlying and subtle. It was particularly noticeable amongst the older members of staff. They didn't have a clue about LGBT issues. They had not received any LGBT awareness training through their annual CPD and as a result, they were ignorant.
I felt like an outsider. I felt excluded. I felt unsafe. I felt vulnerable. I didn't want to talk to anyone about my sexuality because I knew: I ran away from any personal conversations in the staff room. As soon as they started talking about being a parent, their relationship/partner or their home life, I would leave the room. And I wouldn't come back until they had finished talking about their plans with their families or other gossip they had fallen into.
- I would be talked about behind my back
- My colleagues would direct their abuse towards me
- I would not get the promotion I was aiming for
I still can't believe this actually happened. But it did. In one of my early lesson observations, a senior manager gave me the feedback that I have very gay mannerisms and I need to tone it down.
From day 1, I knew I had to keep my sexuality to myself. I didn't feel safe to be out in that environment.
Around 6 months in, my manager found out that I am a lesbian and began a torrent of abuse and bullying.
I'd love to hear your experiences.
What were your experiences of coming out at work?
About Gina Battye
Gina Battye is a world renowned LGBT+ & Authenticity Consultant and Advisor for TV, Film, Theatre, Radio, Global Press, Fortune 500s + Leading Global Organisations.
For more information on the LGBT services Gina offers for organisations,