As we continue our LGBT History Month celebrations I caught up with Co-op Digital’s Chief Operating Officer, Stephen Foreshew-Cain, on coming out, being openly LGBT+ at work, and equal marriage.
Tell us your coming out story
I came out when I was 17, about the time I was about to start university in Melbourne. I was very fortunate. I’d been studying acting and performing in theatre for many years and had been exposed from quite a young age to a community of people for whom difference was interesting, not threatening. There’s nowt so queer as (theatre) folk. I met my first boyfriend around then, and it felt like the most natural thing in the world to want to introduce him to my friends and family.
I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t awkward or difficult to have that discussion, but they were great.
That being said, when I left university, stopped acting and started working in technology, it took me a long time to come out at work. Every boss I had until I was in my late twenties was white, male, middle-aged and married with kids; it was very much a mono-culture. The message I was getting to be successful was to fit in, not stand out. It was odd having one life on the weekend and another during the week – two very separate lives, one living life to the full, the other cautious and careful of slipping up and giving the game away. I discovered fairly quickly that most of that was in my head, and that times were changing. I had found myself working with people for whom me being gay wasn’t a problem but the weird non-gender specific pronouns I used were. Once I came out at work, I never looked back.
Has being gay helped or hindered your career, and do you feel that being gay means you can offer anything different?
That’s a tough one to answer – not having been straight at any point I’ve nothing to compare to! I’d like to think that my sexuality has neither helped nor hindered my career, but obviously our experiences shape us. I certainly don’t think I lost out on opportunities because I was gay. I do think I had to push myself forward because at times it felt my “face didn’t fit”, that the predominate culture didn’t reflect me and that people who got promotions or opportunities weren’t gay. I would say I didn’t have many role models in my early professional life and, as a result, I have felt I have a responsibility to be visible and vocal as an out gay professional, to make it a bit easier for others who may feel the same way I felt when I first started my professional career.
Is equal marriage important to you?
When I was younger I saw efforts campaigning for equal marriage as unnecessary; that gay relationships didn’t need to model themselves on a historic, ‘straight’ institution.
As I got older, and as I fell in love, I campaigned for equal marriage (I wrote to MPs and sang alongside the London Gay Men’s Choir outside the House of Lords during the reading of the bill that ultimately conferred the right of marriage to LGBT+ couples) and I continue to campaign and argue for the right to marry in church and for Church of England clergy to marry (both are currently not permitted by the Church of England).
The reason I changed was that when I met my future husband, who is a Church of England priest and parish vicar, and we began to talk about building a life together, the rituals of marriage, and later the protection in law that it provided became important to us. For my husband it became important to solemnise our relationship in front of God, and for me (not being religious) it became important for me to do the same in front of my friends and family – and for us to have the same recognition and protection under law as straight couples. We did get married – and my husband was subsequently disciplined by his superiors. So, yes, equal marriage is very important to me.
Vice Chair, Respect LGBT+ Network