Women holding hands

Sometimes I feel like Norma Desmond suddenly realising I’m in a world full of sound. My words mean something; as a leader, as a colleague, as a woman, as a gay woman, as a wife and a mam (not in that order!). I never really thought about the power and influence of being visible until I recently attended a training course. The course leader was also a gay woman and autistic. She spoke about visibility, and how important it is for those in leadership roles to normalise protected characteristics by being visible. Hearing that truth, feeling it settle on me as I was sitting in the course, had such a profound impact on me.

Cheryl Metcalf
Cheryl Metcalf

Following the course, I realised that I don’t like having to come out all the time. It’s difficult, awkward and I’m always mindful that it could ‘go wrong’. It has in the past. I’ve been lectured by well-meaning friends about putting myself in danger by posting pictures of Steph (my wife) and I on my Facebook page. I’ve had the moments during work events where the conversation goes ‘… and what does your husband do?’ – you’d be surprised how many times that’s happened and is particularly awkward overseas where culture and laws make honesty and PRIDE impossible. I’ve also experienced the ‘face off’ – who blinks first, ‘oh!’ or ‘gosh, you wouldn’t know you’re a lesbian!’. I have never been physically attacked but I have been verbally by random strangers and family – I consider myself fortunate (and really, how messed up is that?!).

I am gay (I realised recently I prefer ‘gay’ to ‘lesbian’). I struggled for 20+ years with my sexuality. I grew up – as I think most people in the UK did in the 80s – surrounded by detrimental terms to describe people in my community. I knew I was gay when I was 7 years old and knew almost as quickly that it was ‘wrong’. It was far from an easy journey. I don’t wear my sexuality on my sleeve (although I do now wear a badge on my lanyard!). I don’t hide it either – I’m a Mam of two gorgeous, ginger ninja boys (age 8 and 5) and I’m married to Steph, who has put up with me for 12 years (I think – she’ll correct me as she always does if I’m wrong!).

So, I am gay. I am a gay Head of School (that will be good for some data return somewhere, I’m sure!) and I’m being openly gay as a Head of School. Not because I must but because I’ve learnt that it’s important to normalise difference and celebrate diversity. That this is my difference (I have other differences too, but this blog would become a novel!) and I’m very happy for everyone to openly share their differences so that we can learn from each other, open our ears, and hear all the sounds this fascinating, rather quirky and sometimes uncomfortable journey has to offer.

Visible leadership by Professor Cheryl Metcalf

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