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Emily Downes (she/her)

LGBTQ+ Role Model

Alongside her role as Student Success Tutor at Teesside University, Emily Downes runs a social club for the LGBTQ+ community with her partner. She identifies as bisexual and discussed the importance of representation and diversity.

What was it like 'coming out' as an LGBTQ+ person?

Even though I've always had close friends in the LGBTQ+ community and considered myself a 'fierce ally', it wasn't really until during the pandemic (when I had lots of time to think) that I fully processed that I'm bisexual.

I didn't have the proper vocabulary to explain my feelings before then, or how they've shifted over the years. More and more people are coming out later in life and, while I feel vulnerable sharing that I'm among those people, I think we need representation that's as varied and nuanced as possible.

Although fully coming into this identity was huge and nerve-wracking for me, I'm lucky that almost all of the responses I've had have been supportive. Overall, it's the best thing I could have done for my own happiness and mental health, and it's led to me building a really beautiful life and community.

How easy is it to be open about your identity whilst working at Teesside University?

This is the first workplace I've been fully 'out', and I do feel supported. My sexuality wasn't immediately obvious to my colleagues as I was in a straight-presenting relationship when I first started, but nobody batted an eye once they realised.

I feel a certain level of responsibility to be visible to students, but that is definitely coming from within me. One of the greatest things I've done at Teesside is join the LGBTQ+ Focus Group. It's a wonderful crew of community members and allies who are supportive, proactive, and making real change happen. The Chair of the group, Vik Brown, is one of the most dynamic, caring, and proficient people I've met. She is actively pushing for a more inclusive educational and professional environment, and she champions LGBTQ+ staff, students, and local organisations and activists.

Why is it important to have LGBTQ+ role models?

'You can't be what you can't see', as they say. In my case, listening to a podcast about the different categories or types of attraction was a game changer.

Since then, seeing the journeys of other women who've come out as bisexual or gay later in life, such as comedians Jessica Fostekew and Deborah Frances-White or journalist Alys Fowler, has helped give me the strength to step into my true self and make changes in my life.

Huge shout-out as well to singer Self Esteem, who's been out a long time but is an iconic, powerful bisexual role model.

What advice would you give to other LGBTQ+ colleagues or students who may be facing difficulties as a result of their sexuality or gender identity?

There is a lot of support for you through the University - HR, the LGBTQ+ Focus Group or the LGBTQ+ Society for students. If you want to talk to someone outside of the University, you can reach out to excellent organisations like Hart Gables for support and advice.

In general, try to ensure you can spend time with others in our community. For example, I run Queer Base with my partner - it's a social club for LGBTQ+ people of all ages, with a book group and creative writing sessions. These have been so healing for us as a group - the books or prompts are really just there to stimulate discussion, and the connections we've built and support we've accessed from sharing our experiences with one another has been huge.

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