Today is Wear It Purple day at Telstra. We’re wearing purple with pride, to help raise awareness and stop bullying of young people based on sexuality and gender identity.
I was born and raised in rural New Zealand. My high school had a few hundred students and being anything that wasn’t a straight teen was foreign. In school I was bullied and struggled coming to terms with being gay. Over a decade later I am grateful I can look back see it does get better. I really cherish what Wear It Purple stands for. As a teen, the people and environments that enabled me to be myself and made me feel safe were invaluable. My only hope that as the world becomes more accepting and supportive towards our rainbow kids, the next generation won’t have to be afraid to express who they are.
I reached out to other Telstra staffers to share their experiences of ‘growing up rainbow’ and why Wear it Purple Day is important to them. Here are four stories, from four different walks of life.
“I didn’t want to be the centre of attention.”
I grew up in a small rural village in England – population 100 people. I knew I was different from as young as 10 and felt more at odds with my peers when puberty hit. There was nowhere to go and no one to talk to about how I was feeling and what it meant. There was one teacher at my small country high school who kissed his male partner in the car park one day. This was talked about for months, and I suspect for many of us represented the only time we’d ever seen any evidence of the ‘gay lifestyle’. That was my first understanding of same-sex feelings, but the way people gossiped made me determined to keep my news to myself. I didn’t want to be the centre of attention but I also couldn’t bring myself to be something I wasn’t.
And then the rumours started – why didn’t I have a boyfriend, why did I turn down those who asked me out, was I scared or frigid? At no point did anyone assume I was gay – I guess because I had long blond hair and wore a skirt so didn’t fit into their view of what a lesbian looked like. I was in a situation where I was popular at high school, with lots of friends and boys who were interested in me, and that turned out to be my biggest challenge. I felt very confused and isolated and my only outlet was to act out at school. I became the disruptor, the challenger and the bully. And that continued until I moved out of home at a young age and was able to find a world where who I was made sense.
“I was 17 and I had nowhere to go.”
By the time Year 12 arrived I was bursting to admit who I was, but as far as I knew I was the only gay person in the town I lived in. I had wrongly assumed all gay people lived in Sydney (there was no educational programs at that time, or accessible internet). I came out to my mother, just shy of my 17th birthday. I was then promptly asked to leave the family home.
I was only a semester away from graduating at school. I was advised that due to not living at home I was no longer welcome at the school. A teacher advised me to simply withdraw what I had said and to say that I was not gay and the school would happily take me back and assist with repairing the family living arrangements. Needless to say I declined and it was my last day of Year 12.
I was 17 and I had nowhere to go. I move from my home in Northern QLD to Brisbane, where my Aunt took me in. Sadly when my aunt’s partner of 9 years discovered I was gay, he told my aunt that she had to choose one of us as he could not live in the same house as me. I couldn’t bear the thought of being the reason her relationship ended, so I left. I started couch surfing and sleeping in parks. There were other younger adults that looked out for each other.
Eventually I found my voice and my confidence. I created my own “family” of supportive friends. I finally wasn’t ashamed of being gay, that this was the fabulous person that I was and was just meant to be. While my family took many years to “come to terms” with me being gay. They are now supportive of not just me, but also my husband to be.
There may be an LGBTQIA+ person who believes that they are truly alone. Seeing strangers ‘wearing it purple’ goes a long way in saying that you are not alone and you are accepted for who you are.
“The most normal experiences, didn’t feel normal to me.”
Growing up asexual was the strange experience of wondering why puberty never happened – because puberty was supposed to involve a sudden “awakening” where boys would look different to me, and that moment never came.
The most mundane of conversations, and the most normal experiences, didn’t feel normal to me. I didn’t understand what made a particular celebrity “cute” or “hot”, and I found myself mystified by the words and actions of my own friends as they found their first boyfriends and went on their first dates. I smiled and nodded, and kept waiting for that moment when I would suddenly realise what all the fuss was about. A part of me was terrified that the moment would never come.
When I was in my early twenties, I finally stopped waiting. This was when I first learned of the words “asexual” and “aromantic”. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone in my secret – suddenly, there were others like me, both within Australia and across the world.
It is estimated that around 1% of the population is asexual, however many of those people still do not have the words to describe their own experience. Due to that lack of awareness, many health professionals still treat asexuality as a disorder. In the early days when I was still struggling to come to terms with my identity, I sought out a therapist who understood asexuality – and ended up in an argument with the doctor about whether or not it needed to be fixed. I don’t think I convinced the doctor that day, but I managed to convince myself: this is who I am, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Weeks later, I marched with the ‘Australian Asexuals’ at Midsumma, Australia’s Premier queer arts and cultural Festival. This was the first time I truly celebrated my difference, instead of denying its existence.
“My parents and family are supportive of who I am”
It took me a few years before I realised I was gay and came out to myself. To be honest, coming out to my parents wasn’t as hard as it’s made out to be on TV. Instead, there was lots of hugs, lots of “We always knew”, and after that moment nothing really changed. It paved the way for my younger sister to come out a couple of months later, which, was a little strange for me at first – one rainbow child was big enough, but two? Like for me, this news didn’t change anything in my household other than everyone knowing the truth and it was so liberating.
I thought it was a sign of the times, that things were getting better for LGBTQIA+ people, but I’ve learned that other people aren’t so lucky. I’m very grateful that my parents and family are supportive of who I am and it isn’t something I take for granted. I never had to fight for acceptance, I never got picked on in school (I was the first openly gay school captain). I’m aware my story isn’t a common one. In my own way, I’ve tried to help others who are still in closet. I’ve tried to lead by example and confidently express my identity in the normal way I feel it is.
In my career, I’ve never had to hide who I am, or my partner, and my sexuality and relationship has never been something I’d had to apologise for. I’m proud to work for a company that embraces who I am, for management that supports who I am, of my wonderful partner Brandyn for constantly inspiring me, and of myself for trying to be someone else’s rainbow on their stormiest day.
At Telstra, we’re passionate about creating an environment that’s inclusive and supportive; a place where everyone can truly be themselves. We are proactive about making sure our workplaces give our people the chance to shine. We do this with specific practices about diversity, fairness and flexibility. We encourage all our people to be active champions of equality and inclusion.
Click here to find out more about diversity and inclusion at Telstra.