“When I started my career, I was firmly padlocked inside my closet,” says Beth Dowling-Jones, who’s worked in banking for over two decades.
“It was difficult enough to fit in as a woman, let alone to muddy the waters by coming out as lesbian too. I wasn’t good enough at golf or cricket to feel like I could fit in around my cis, het, predominantly white male colleagues. I’ve seen so many barriers removed in that time.”
Dowling-Jones is one of the many people photographed for CorporateQueer, a new exhibition aiming to open a window into the everyday working worlds of LGBTQ people, particu;ar in corporate roles.
One in five LGBTQ people still aren’t out at work, according to a government survey. Separate research suggests 70% of LGBTQ people have been sexually harassed at work, while 50% of transgender employees hide their identity at work for fear of discrimination.
Photographer Fiona Freund believes there has never been a better time to highlight the challenges still facing the LGBTQ community at work – but her work also celebrates how far we’ve come.
“I hope to share a world that shows that being gay is ordinary, gay people do all the same things as everyone else and just want to be treated equally and respectfully,” Freund tells HuffPost UK.
Freund photographed 60 people working in and around the City of London for the exhibition, which launched to coincide with what would have been London Pride – had it not been cancelled due to Covid. The series ranges from CEOs to security guards and from people just starting out on their careers to LGBT+ campaigners like Peter Tatchell and Daniel Lismore.
She hopes the photos will make people want to change policy in their workplaces, support LGBT+ groups, “but most of all appreciate that a little effort in recognising and inviting people to bring their whole selves to work – whether they are gay, a mum, differently abled, from another culture or working past retirement age – then their workplace will be a much better place, and successful place in every way.”
Each subject has written a caption to go with their picture, detailing what they want others to know about their lived experience. “Most LGBT+ people have to come out at work often, sometimes every day! By sharing their stories I hope people will stop assuming every man they meet has a wife or girlfriend and every woman a load of kids and a husband/man supporting her,” she says.
You can see some of the photos – and extracts from their stories below.
CorporateQueer is at The Space, 3FA, Broadgate, EC2M 2PA, from September 10-24, open every day 10am - 6pm, free entry.
‘We need to keep on challenging what’s “normal”’
“Gradually we have crept towards a more thoughtful, more inclusive and empathetic agenda, allowing a far broader and diverse workforce to join us here in our wonderful square mile. The balance of people is still visibly unequal – men to women, white to people of colour, able bodied to those with disabilities, and invisibly too, for those of us in the LGBTQ+ community – but the willingness for change is there, and that’s significant.
“It’s hugely important for both my wife and I that, in our industries (TV and banking), and in our London, we really see diversity and we keep on challenging what is ‘normal’. Our kids may or may end up working in London (or France, or America, or Space) – and we need to ensure that our daughter and our youngest child have every single opportunity available to them to celebrate exactly who they were born to be, without constraint or hesitation around sexual preference or gender conformity. We have come a long way. May our City continue to thrive and may the rivers of people who flow through it, grow increasingly rich in their diversity.” – Beth Dowling-Jones, who works at BNY Mellon.
‘It is important to be seen’
“I’m happy to be part of the project because I think it is important to be seen. Particularly in a context outside of the usual characters and caricatures in the entertainment industry.” – Carla Matthews, who works At BTG.
‘I just happen to be pansexual and transgender’
“As a hard-working investment banking technologist, I wholly appreciate the opportunity to step outside the door and get closer to nature. The docks and nearby waterways are home to a variety of birds, fish and other animals. You know animals can be almost as interesting and diverse as people. There’s ‘nowt as queer as fish’ as they say. Many species are able to change their physical sex and a number of animal species are known to exhibit same sex attraction.
“How much does it matter in the everyday life of the colony that a dolphin is bisexual or a fish changes sex? Not a great deal I suspect. I just happen to be pansexual and transgender. In the everyday life of the investment bank that shouldn’t make any difference. And mostly, it doesn’t.” – Amanda Walker, who works at JP Morgan.
‘I did not have many gay peers to look up to’
“I left Devon in 2016 to move to university all the way up in Manchester – and I am sure everyone can imagine how scary leaving a one Starbucks town to a big city felt. Very early on I met a great group of friends and we started to frequently go out on Canal Street. Despite never having any issues relating to my sexuality, this was still the first time I had ever been in my community and around other queer people. I have met some fabulous friends through the gay village and the area is so special to me.
“I think for a lot of queer people they feel that they have to hide their sexuality in work. My team however are nothing but supportive and make me feel that I can be myself at work.” – Louis Thomas, who works at Mazars.
‘I love that I challenge perceptions and biases every day’
“I’ve always felt like an outsider in business and it’s probably why I started my own companies. Why do you need to wear a tie and suit in business to be successful? You don’t. I haven’t worn a tie in over 10 years. I see it as my own little protest against those in positions of power and influence.
“I work with clients across all industries at a very senior level largely chairman and CEOs which means they are majority (supposedly) straight, white and male. When I walk in the room, they don’t expect someone like me to be supporting them with diversity and inclusion and I love that I challenge their perceptions and biases every day. I’m unapologetically gay. I want to inspire others to do the same. Be out and proud and be you.” – Suki Sandhu, founder and CEO of Audeliss And Involve.
‘The rainbow isn’t only about itself’
“When I made the speech in Rugby back in 1984 that marked the first public coming-out of a British MP, the thing I wanted to emphasise was the fact that anyone, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identification happened to be, could do an equally good job as anyone else working for Rugby Council. And the same was true, I felt, for MPs. I hope I’ve been able to go on to prove that it’s also true for cabinet ministers and heads of Cambridge colleges.
“One of the important things to remember, though, is that when you’re openly out and in public positions of this kind – whilst you must fight like a tiger to take up issues of LGBT+ equality – you mustn’t let that become the only thing that defines you. You have to throw yourself into many other causes and campaigns for change. The confidence and freedom that come from being proud of your own identity enable you to make a real difference and bring freedom for others too. The rainbow isn’t only about itself; it can help to illuminate and to transform the world too.” – Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury
‘My orientation is not a part of my life that I veil’
“I identified myself as bisexual and came out to my friends after I met my partner back in 2019 which was also when I moved to London. I met her in my previous job and albeit the firm’s D&I agenda, we did not come out to our team members and colleagues until much later.
“Since then, I have ensured my relationship and my orientation is not a part of my life that I veil – intentionally or unintentionally... With this openness, I have experienced a comfort in my own skin as well as a certain level of ‘pride’ (pun intended!) – by being and sharing my true self and with that hopefully creating a safe space for other members of the LGBTQIA+ community in my day-to-day life.
“I come from India – which is a land of diversity personified. With its diverse cultures comes a spectrum of colours and what better representation of colours than the pride rainbow! I have tried to integrate colours into my office wear (which in the UK corporate culture lie on a spectrum of black, blue, white and/ or grey!) as much as possible and with this photo – I hope to present a side of #CorporateQueer that everyone can identify with: formal with a bit of fun!” – Bhasha Laad, who works at Mazars.
Help and support:
- London Lesbian & Gay switchboard (LLGS) is a free confidential support & information helpline for LGBT communities throughout the UK | 0300 330 0630
- Manchester Lesbian and Gay Switchboard is a free support, information and referral service for the Manchester and North-West area | 0161 235 8000
- Stonewall for more information on other LGBT services and helplines | 08000 502020