Name: Gemma Bell
Sector: Government bodies
How does your identity relate to your work?
From a young age I knew I was a lesbian, but I wasn’t confident or comfortable with coming out until I was 20. I realised I was never going to be happy in myself and in my life if I kept it a secret.
Six years ago, I started losing my eyesight to a genetic condition and shortly after that I was registered as severely sight impaired. I’ve since become the proud owner of a guide dog, which has changed my life for the better and has given me my confidence and independence back. So much so that when people tell me I can’t do something, I show them otherwise. For example, my friend told me I couldn’t do Tough Mudder because I was blind – so I completed it the following year and she ended up being one of my guides!
Having multi-layers of minority issues does make life more challenging but it also makes me stronger as a person. I’ve worked for Acas since September 2017 – being a disabled lesbian has also given me a greater understanding of the difficulties that people can face when at work.
Do you feel comfortable being out at work?
I’m extremely comfortable being open about my sexuality at work. My colleagues are the people I spend most of my day with, so being able to be myself with them makes all the difference because I’m more relaxed.
It’s great being able to talk about things you do out of work and who you do them with. I recently went on holiday with my partner – it’s great being open about that and not having to worry about censoring my conversations or slipping up. It also makes my relationship with my partner healthier as she doesn’t feel hidden.
Are you involved in the LGBT network at your organisation?
When I joined, I was really impressed to find that Acas had an LGBT+ Allies Network, because I’ve never encountered one at a job before. As well as keeping us up-to-date with LGBT news, it’s a private source of support if needed. I feel that’s important because I haven’t always been as confident as I am now, and I know the impact that had on me. I’ll always be there to listen and support people if they need it or to raise issues with the organisation. I think it also helps that Acas are a Stonewall Diversity Champion.
Allies are also massively important – they give a small group a bigger voice. They can make LGBT people feel more comfortable and reassured that someone will be supportive and have their back.