Heather Swinsco, HR, Faculty of Engineering

Why do you think it’s important to have LGBT role models?
I believe it is crucial that other LGBT staff and students in the University see that there is a strong LGBT community around them, in order that they do not feel that they have to be embarrassed about or hide one part of their identity. Additionally, I hope that seeing people who identify openly as being within the LGBT community in a variety of roles, and at different levels in the University, will reassure others who identify as LGBT that their sexuality/gender identity will in no way influence their career advancement prospects.

What was it like ‘coming out’ as an LGBT person?
I have been very impressed with the way in which colleagues across the University have responded to me when I talk about my female partner, as, usually, they do not react in a way that implies that they view the fact that my partner is female as terribly significant. Nevertheless, I still find it difficult to ‘come out’ over and over again to different colleagues that I come into contact with, because I am never sure how they will react, and I do not want them to define me by this one aspect of my identity.

How easy is it to be ‘out’ while working at the University of Leeds?
It has been very easy to be ‘out’. I don’t feel that people treat me any differently because of my sexuality.

Does being LGBT influence your working life? If so, how?
I feel that being within the LGBT community makes me sensitive to the possibilities for discrimination in the workplace. This is what influenced me to get heavily involved in equality related work within the University, including work around Athena SWAN. I also ensure that I consider such issues in every aspect of my work and interactions with my colleagues.

What advice would you give to other LGBT staff or students who may be facing difficulties as a result of their sexuality?
I think it’s a good idea to talk to others about this. For example, the University has a very good staff counselling service and student counselling service, a dedicated Equality Policy Unit and local HR teams, who can offer support and advice, staff networks and student peer networks.

What can we all do to make the University of Leeds a better place for LGBT staff and students?
I think that we could shout out a bit more about how diverse and welcoming our culture is, so that everyone within our community feels comfortable about performing their identity in the way they wish, and so that no-one feels the need to hide their sexuality or gender identity.