May 16, 2012
Who are the real role models? (Is it time to role up the red carpet?)
Does the LGBT community have a role model? The likes of Heather Peace, Jill Jackson and Jessie J seem to have recently become emblems to the LB community but do we actually need someone we can relate to, someone that embodies the values we hold dear?
Close your eyes for one minute and picture someone that you aspire to…
Does this person meet the following criteria?
- conventionally good looking
- single (or married to Portia De Rossi)
- famous for being LGBT
Now close your eyes again and picture a role model within your own profession.
Not quite as easy is it.
Opening your eyes again you begin to see that the LB community is just as driven by the media as the heterosexual world. In fact it seems to me we are more exposed to the few that are ‘out’ that we tend to put them on a pedestal without necessarily knowing anything about them or their values.
So what is a role model? I suppose it depends very much on your personal views. I prefer to think about it as someone we aspire to, someone who personifies the characteristics we hold of most value.
Recently I attended a Stonewall seminar where the topic of role models was discussed in order to identify the characteristics of a role model and whether there are enough openly LGBT business people in our relevant professions.
The first speaker at the session was Jeane Freeman, chair of the NHS National Waiting Times Board at the Golden Jubilee, who is what I can only describe as an inspiration. She acknowledged that she is a role model and the implications which that has on her own behaviour; the need to mention her wife even when it was not always comfortable and to consider the needs of LB families in her hospital. It was all spoken in such a cool and down-to-earth way. One could listen to her and be genuinely inspired. She is a successful woman who just happens to also be a lesbian. Something that instead of hiding she has used to the benefit of others and incorporated into her work.
What I found interesting and a common theme with all the speakers present was that they all admitted to experiencing work situations in which they still hesitated to be open about their sexuality. The same hesitation that I have felt on occasion despite being out for more than 10 years, where the gremlin in your head is saying ‘is coming out here going to jeopardize my career progression?’ or worst still ‘will they judge me?’.
The real ‘Lip Service’
When we look to society normalising a situation we tend to look to the media. The difficultly is the ‘authenticity’ in which the media portrays the lesbian world. Let us take the example of Lip Service, which provides a glamorised view on lesbian life in Glasgow. Should this artificial portrayal simply be accepted and admired? As a lesbian in Glasgow I have a slightly different take on it. Come walk with me through the real Lip Service.
Cat and Frankie walk into ‘Ruby’s’ only to discover that it is actually a high priced straight bar some twenty minutes from the gay scene. As they walk down Bath Street they are confronted Buckfast swilling teenagers who shout either an indistinguishable compliment or insult. Before reaching the stylish Merchant City they abruptly take a sharp right into a dark, urine drenched alleyway, the end of which is home to a popular gay bar. But alas, here there is none of the classy decor depicted in Lip Service; in fact, it is more like a scene from Hitchcock’s film ‘The Birds’. Feeling a little hot under the collar they move to the club next door. After been scrutinized by the butch bouncer who is reluctant to let them in for ‘not being regulars’, they are eventually let past to pay the overinflated entry charge only to discover a bar queue that reaches half way across the floor as the barman chats up the pretty boy next to him. After purchasing two egg cup sized Gin and Tonics they feel a little romance is in order. Unfortunately instead of picking a darkened booth downstairs in the ‘lesbian corner’ (where many a Glasgow relationship has begun) they head to the bathrooms where they find a two hour queue to use the only cubicle that is not either flooded or had the door kicked in by a jealous thwarted lover. With the romance officially dead, Cat decides that Heather Peace really is the better option.
The point I make here is not that Glasgow is a bad place to be. In fact programmes like Lip Service, where strong lesbian characters are at the focus, can only be a good thing. This issue is that the world they depict is glamorised and sexualised against a straight backdrop in order to placate the mass media. Perhaps that is the point of television – to escape to a sensationalised world. But what sort of distorted message are we selling and being sold in return? Should we still look to these characters as role models?
So who are the real role models?
Are they the singers and comedians that we see on television? Or could it be that person at work that you think really looks out for the development of their staff? Or the brutally honest colleague that always sticks up for the rest of the team? Or the cleaner that always makes an effort to talk to everyone? Role models do not need to be lesbian or bisexual, the characteristics that we can aspire are not limited by sexuality or gender, just as the message of diversity and equality is just as strong when spoke by a straight leader. Are you able to look around your life and see examples of unsung role models?
So here’s the thing, whether you are out or not, someone may be looking to you as their role model. Without getting sentimental we all have a responsibility to look outwards, to see how people perceive us and to check whether our behaviours match up to those characteristics that we aspire to in others. We need to look around ourselves and realise that others could be looking up to us; it’s time to not only look to the stars but consider the stars among us.
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Time is running out: Kasha’s urgent message from Uganda
In less than a week, more than 200,000 people signed an All Out petition urging Uganda’s President Museveni to veto the notorious “Kill the Gays” bill if it crosses his desk! Watch & share. SIGN THE PETITION: www.allout.org/uganda
December 5, 2012