22 August 2014
Michael Contaldo, a Senior Policy Advisor at HM Treasury and one of CSRA’s committee, shares a some of his experience of being LGB* in the Civil Service, and why he decided to march at Pride.
I joined the Civil Service in 1999 when I was straight out of university. But at that time on a personal level I had a feeling I wasn’t “straight”, and I certainly wasn’t “out”. I had been on a journey of self discovery for a number of years, but wasn’t yet in a comfortable position to really know who I was in terms of sexual identity. My career since then has been generally based in the Treasury and my first posting was dealing with the EU Budget in a team called EU Finances run by the gentle and thoughtful Simon Brookes and over-seen by the firm but reassuring Ivan Rogers.
I learnt a lot about the department, Whitehall and international issues. I didn’t have a private life to speak of, and so subsequently spoke very little about it. But then neither did other Treasury colleagues I worked alongside say very much about what they did back home when they left the office. Rather it was an atmosphere where commitment, hard graft and good humour were more valued than personal circumstances. This was the pattern for subsequent office moves. People were, without fault, always friendly and professional.
I only once directly experienced homophobia in the office and it was early on when a team secretary brought in to show me a news article about the first gay marriages that had been performed in the Netherlands under ground-breaking legislation. She assumed I shared her prejudices, and scoffed at the absurdity of such unions. I kept my silence and never filed any formal complaint. I was at a stage in my life when I was still unsure about my feelings, and it would have been odd for me to have had to present them in detail at any investigative hearing.
But change was unmistakably in the air. Gus O’Donnell, as a senior director in HMT, was genuinely committed to developing a culture where diversity was valued; and I helped him set up a group to articulate the vision and set some goals. Elsewhere, the parameters of political and media debate were altering as a result of Tony Blair’s personal leadership on the agenda of LGBT rights.
Against this back-drop my life changed when I met Sebastian. My handsome and intelligent partner from the snowy bounds of Swedish Lapland. This led me subsequently to “outing” myself – first to my close family, then my friends and wider relatives. The response was unanimously welcoming and comforting. I have never looked back. My colleague, Andrew Olive, who very sadly passed away recently, said to me: “You don’t come out once. You come out again and again”. And I find this to be true. Each time I join a new team I take care to talk about my partner, what we do outside work and what “he” is like. The message is received and colleagues never fail but to warmly respond to that. I think people value that you are being honest and open with them – and it strengthens the bonds of team working.
I had attended the annual LGBT London Pride parade as a spectator for several years; but decided this was the year to finally take part. Partly because I feel it is important to be visible to others that are not able to be open or feel they are not valued and accepted – to give them hope that a sense of “normality” can be achieve; in the same way that others inspired me. But also to show my pride in working for an employer that I know supports me for who I am. By chance, Sebastian led the float for Macmillan Cancer Support as volunteer co-ordinator, and CSRA were directly behind in our distinctive indigo T-shirts. In the CSRA group I met someone I had worked with back in my first post, and who I had greatly admired. “Were you out back then?” he asked. No. “Neither was I,” he replied, “So much has changed”. And marching across Trafalgar Square and down into the wide avenue of Whitehall it was quite clear that things had changed. And for the better.