LGBT+ History month: Hear from our colleagues
23 February 2021
As part of LGBT+ History month, we spoke to Joe Hird, our Departmental Officer in Electronic and Electrical Engineering, to hear about his experiences of being part of the LGBTQ+ community at UCL.
Who are you?
I am a northerner originally from South Yorkshire. I’m also a twin and one of five siblings. Growing up, our household was noisy and, at times, chaotic but I would not have changed it for the world. I identify as a gay man and he/him are my preferred pronouns.
What’s your role at UCL?
Departmental Officer for the Department of Electronics & Electrical Engineering. The responsibilities for my role are varied but I am the first point of contact for the Department.
Could you share something about your coming-out process (whether to yourself or others)?
I was exceptionally anxious and, at times, scared about coming out to my family, especially coming from a northern family background with “traditional values”. I decided to come out gradually, firstly, to my older sister, who back then had recently come out as a lesbian. We are very close, and I felt I could really confide in her for support. Soon after, I started coming out to my closest friends. It wasn’t until I was in my final year at University that I came out to the rest of my family.
Looking back now, I regret how I decided to come out to my mum, which was by text. She called me pretty much immediately and I was surprised to find that she didn’t believe me and thought I was playing a prank. It took me 20 minutes to convince her that the text was genuine. At that point my mum said, “I love you and as long as you are happy, that’s all that matters.” I then asked if she wouldn’t mind telling my Dad and (just by coincidence) my other siblings who were all at home at the time. I was worried about how my Dad would handle the news and thought it would be best to come from my mum. It turned out they all, in a way, knew and wanted me to come out when I was ready. Looking back, I’m very lucky to have a supportive family but know that not everyone is as lucky.
What challenges have you faced in being LGBTQ+? How did you meet these challenges?
I’m fortunate to say that I haven’t really experienced any challenges. However, I am very aware that when I visit my family back home with my partner some locals continuously stare when we hold hands in public. I feel this is due to a lack of LGBTQ+ representation in my hometown community rather than a form of intimidation.
What are some good things that being LGBTQ+ has brought you?
The London LGBTQ+ community is welcoming, friendly, inclusive and simply awesome! I’ve met so many wonderful and inspiring people.
Does being LGBTQ+ affect your work life? If so, how?
No and yes. When I first started at UCL, a lot of fellow colleagues displayed the ‘Friends of Out@UCL’ sticker on their office doors. This made me feel welcomed and accepted. I’ve recently decided to join the Out@UCL support network and decided to submit this testimonial because I want all colleagues, staff, and students to feel welcomed and accepted at UCL.
What advice would you give someone in the UCL community thinking about coming out?
Coming out can be daunting and anxious for any individual considering taking those next steps. The UCL community host numerous support networks, including Out@UCL and Friends of Out@UCL. I found talking to close friends and colleagues really helpful throughout the process of coming out.
How can we make UCL even more welcoming for LGBTQ+ staff, students, and visitors?
It’s important to continue the conversation and better understand the challenges that face the LGBTQ+ community. I think in today’s environment, the importance of communication has never before been so vital.
Why are LGBTQ+ role models important to you?
Growing up, there were not many role models within my community and fewer representation on mainstream media. Fast forward to 2021 there are so many inspiring role models that represent the wider umbrella of the LGBTQ+ community. This impacts hugely and makes a difference to someone finding the courage to come out.
Who are your own LGBTQ+ role models (past or present)?
As a former Drama student, most of my past and present LGBTQ+ role models are actors such as Sir Ian McKellen, Sarah Paulson, Dominique Jackson, and Lilly Tomlin to name a few.
Tell us something about yourself that we might find surprising.
Just before Covid-19 hit and lockdown was the new norm, I started going to acting classes to improve my confidence when standing in front of a large crowd. I hope to pick it up again soon.