LGBT+ History Month is an annual celebration that provides education and insight into the issues faced by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community and works to combat prejudice against them.
It’s taken place each February since 2005 in the UK and observes LGBT+ history, and the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements.
At Livewell Southwest, we’re supporting this month, sharing stories from our colleagues and lots of interesting information and hidden history on our social media platforms.
Today, we’re sharing Elizabeth Cheeseright’s story. Elizabeth is a Social Worker and Advanced Practitioner within Adult Social Care at Livewell Southwest, identifying as a gay woman. Elizabeth has worked in Adult Social Care since 2015, and her role covers both Safeguarding Adults and The Advice and Information Service. Elizabeth is also a Trade Union Representative.
Elizabeth, who has been with her wife Jaime since 2010, said: “We got married in 2018, on the hottest day of the year! This was fortunate as it was an outside wedding with no back up plan if it rained. We have a cat who is basically our son.
“I’ve known that I was gay since I was five-years-old; I knew I wasn’t like the other children when I started school. Adults would ask ‘Have you got a boyfriend?’, and I remember thinking, even then, that boys weren’t interesting to me, except as part of my friendship group.
“I came out, largely by accident, when I was 14. I confided in a friend who turned out not to be such a great friend, as she shared our conversation with others. The ‘news’ went around school like wildfire, and my brother even told my mum after hearing the ‘news’. Fortunately, my mum was very supportive.
“Section 28 was still in place when I was at secondary school and teachers were unable to intervene with bullies, of which I had a few. Overall, my peers were supportive, but because of Section 28 – largely ignorant.
“This resulted in a lot of misconceptions, expectations of how a person ‘should be’ if they were gay, and a lot of stereotypes! This had an impact on my identity for a long time. As someone who doesn’t like to conform to expectations of others, I ensured that I was never ‘visibly’ gay, which impacted on how others perceived me.
“Coming out is a daily process – for every individual I meet, I have to weigh up the value in coming out to them. I’m very open with my sexuality, however it’s not the central tenet to my identity and often people aren’t aware of my sexuality. This is made more confusing, as my wife’s name is always assumed to be male!
“Being able to ‘pass as straight’ (it’s a real thing!) has enabled me to ‘fly under the radar’ in previous roles and organisations if required, and within my role as a Social Worker.
“In adult social work, I’m mindful that my identity is important in informing my practice, however, it could also jeopardise the working relationship I build with service users. Frequently I’m asked if I’m married, and these conversations can be tricky to navigate.”
When talking about her life at Livewell, Elizabeth added: “Before my redeployment, my team were really supportive – one colleague even styled my hair for my wedding! Both the Safeguarding Adults Team and Advice and Information Service have also been very understanding and kind.
“It‘s been really heartening to see Livewell take LGBTQIA history month so seriously, and I’ve never experienced discrimination within the organisation.
“Everyone’s experience is different and can vary enormously according to their family background, socio-economic status, age, race, religion and their journey. No individual can speak for the entire community as experiences vary so wildly.
“It’s important as an organisation to recognise that not all of our colleagues will be part of a traditional family, and that many people who are LGBTQIA may have ‘chosen families’ who may not be related to them biologically, yet these relationships are just as important.”