· Comment

Turning the tide on Pride

I was lucky to attend the European OD Network conference recently which was a great excuse to stay in a hotel. Since lockdown my work-related travel is minimal so I made the most of the buffet breakfast, air-con and swimming pool.

The pool turned out to be surprisingly small. I’m not a particularly proficient swimmer but I like the space it gives me to think.

I launched myself off in one direction and as I swam towards the opposite end I discovered a machine blowing a fierce jet of air under the water at me.

At first from a distance it felt like a ripple, then as I got closer it was a wave and finally a wall I couldn’t push past. No matter how hard I tried I could only get within 30cm of the edge, such was the force pushing me back.

Apparently these jets are used to train people for swimming in open water so I decided I’d give it a go. My initial reaction was to laugh, spluttering down some of the water that hit me in the face.

Then my stubbornness kicked in and I felt determined to beat the jet. I swam harder and faster but still couldn’t make it to the edge.

I must have tried for 15 minutes, getting more and more cross with my lack of movement. Thankfully I was the only person in the pool and none of this was witnessed. Raging at a wave machine is not a good look.

Also, swimming without moving is an odd experience.

Unlike a treadmill or rowing machine, there’s an actual risk of drowning, so I paused and talked some sense into myself while I swam back to the other end of the pool.

It didn’t make me any more calm. Why should I have to stay at this end? I wasn’t going to let the water jet beat me so I swam at it with the focus of a shark (and the grace of a jellyfish) but still I couldn’t get to the other side.

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My arms were hurting and I was losing hope. I realised that no matter what I threw at it, the jet had one advantage: it would not tire. I got out of the pool and treated myself to an ice cream instead.

As an (almost) 50-year-old gay man, I’ve become used to swimming in safer, relatively calm cultural waters.

Equality in the eyes of the law, after many decades of fighting, was hard won. I’m married. It’s illegal for organisations to discriminate against me.

Living should feel like plain sailing these days. Yet more and more I find myself hitting surprising jets of water in the pool of life that threaten to send me under.

For the first time ever, I’m glad that Pride Month is over.

I got so worried every time I saw reports of another organisation giving in to complaints and taking their pride posters down. I saw footage on social media of rainbow flags being burned.

Our own government added fuel to the fire when video emerged of Rishi Sunak making transphobic comments.

A year ago I was happily having a go at organisations who used Pride Month as just another way to make money. While I’m still not over the moon about that, it’s better than doing nothing or even worse, withdrawing support.

The conversation is changing when it comes to support for the LGBT+ community as bigots feel more emboldened to use their voices against us. Like the water jet in the pool, they seem to never tire.

So this year, I’m asking, pleading, demanding, that organisations step their game up. Allies, raise your voices. Companies, resist the path of least resistance and stand visibly alongside your LGBT+ colleagues.

HR has such a powerful role to play in the support and care of LGBT+ staff. We are tired. We are at risk of drowning. We don’t need you to rescue us, we just need your support, now more than ever.

Help us stay afloat in these turbulent waters. We need to reverse the turning tide and we can’t do it alone. Please, jump in.

Paul Taylor-Pitt is director and OD consultant at Metamorphosish