You’re not alone.
Heterosexuals don’t have to explain why they love someone, so why should gays?
I realised I was gay when I was about 14 or 15 years old. I had my first boyfriend at 16 or 17. I think every gay person would tell you it’s a gradual process. It’s not like you wake up one morning and say, “I’m gay”. Just like any heterosexual person has their awakening and those moments when they’re attracted to someone of the opposite sex, I found boys more interesting. But I lacked role models. There were no networks at the time. I felt alone during my discovery process.
I was lucky that my family supported me. My boyfriend was always accepted just as much as my sister’s boyfriends. That gave me a lot of comfort. My family accepted me for who I loved. That was so important.
Personally, I don’t like the term ‘coming out’. It’s something every gay, lesbian or trans person has to do all the time. As soon as you meet new people, you think, “Do I tell them or not?” Heterosexuals can’t imagine what that’s like, always having to explain things to justify yourself to society. Who you love should be irrelevant. Heterosexuals don’t have to ‘come out’ and explain why they love someone, so why should gays?
No need to hide it here
I’ve been with ING since 2007, so basically my entire working life. Before I joined, a friend who had worked here through a temp agency told me it was a very open place, and that gays didn’t experience any problems. I didn’t want to hide my identity at work, so I applied for a job.
After I started working here, it was a such a feeling of liberation to know I could just be myself. And with the Rainbow Lions, where I’m a member of the organisational committee, we want to show others that they can be themselves here too.
The Rainbow Lions was established three years ago as an employee network for LGBT+ colleagues in Germany. At the time, we asked our country manager if he would sponsor us, and he immediately said yes. The fact that we got commitment from the top sends such a strong signal, and is something we’re proud of. Today, we have 200 members.
We’ll march for you
I think there’s still a lot more to do for the gay community in Germany, and elsewhere. I find while gays are tolerated in many places, they are not always accepted, and that must change. I think acceptance should reflect itself in legal protections. Like ‘marriage for all’, for example.
In many countries today, you can still be jailed for being gay, or even fear for your life. My message to people in those countries? First, you are not alone. Second, since you can’t walk on the streets and be yourself where you live, we’ll do it for you. That’s why we march each year on Christopher Street Day (an annual European LGBT+ demonstration held in various cities across Europe – Ed.) to show the world that we support you. I think that visibility is important – to say, ‘we’re here’.
Free to be yourself
This article is part of a series in which ING colleagues tell their personal stories. At ING we celebrate inclusion and value a diverse workforce, as we know people are most motivated when they are free to be their whole selves.