12 October 2020

Hannah Clarke

Growing Up

I grew up in Leicestershire, and I’m lucky in that my family is fairly liberal and accepting. In hindsight, I never had anything to worry about in terms of their reaction to my coming out, and wish I’d known it at the time!

However, there wasn’t any real education about LGBT+ rights for kids in my secondary school. I now know that the horrendous Section 28 only ended in 2003, so that might explain it to an extent. Even in the early 2000s when I was a teenager, ‘gay’ was still thrown around as an insult regardless of someone’s sexuality, and I was unfortunate enough to be targeted in this way, despite hiding my sexuality at all costs. I felt ashamed and stayed closeted for five years, and it had a hugely negative effect on my experience whilst growing up. I recommend the book ‘Straight Jacket’ by Matthew Todd for anyone interested in how being ‘closeted’ or experiencing homophobic bullying can impact a person.

I was so happy when I finally came out at 17 and met nothing but (mostly) acceptance. Now, I couldn’t be prouder of being a lesbian and part of the LGBT+ community. I only wish there was less pressure on kids to hide who they are, and I’ve since devoted my time on a voluntary and professional basis to try to get that message across and make a difference, however big or small.

Working at UEA

UEA is the most supportive workplace I’ve encountered as an LGBT+ person. I couldn’t believe that there was an LGBT+ Staff Network when I arrived in my first role here, and now I’m privileged enough to help to keep it running, both as a member and as part of my role in the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion office. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming, and I love seeing all the LGBT+ Allies rainbow lanyards on campus. I experienced both subtle and blatant homophobia in previous retail-related roles when I was younger, but UEA makes it clear that this won’t be tolerated. It feels like a very safe and supportive space in that sense. I was an undergraduate student here from 2009-2012 and acted as a Welfare Officer for UEA Pride, so I’ve seen both sides of the support in place.

Now

I’ve gone from hiding my sexuality, to being very out and proud in both my professional and personal life. If anything, being part of the LGBT+ community is a great asset in my role, as it gives me an invaluable understanding of what it’s like to be a ‘minority’ and having those shared experiences. In addition to my day job here, I’ve been a volunteer Youth Support Worker at the Norfolk LGBT+ Project since 2016. It’s truly humbling to support teenagers who are going through similar experiences to mine, and to be one of the people they trust enough to talk to about it. One of my most satisfying volunteering sessions was delivering an anti-bullying training course in a local school. It felt like I’d come full circle, especially when we introduced ourselves to the kids, including how we personally identify. There was something cathartic about that, given my own experience of school, and receiving no negative reaction!

Other than work/volunteering, I spend most of my time running long-distance, reading, befriending every cat I meet, and seeing friends. Both UEA and Norwich has a great feeling of community and friendliness, and I’m very happy to live and work here. It’s partly why I never really left!