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'No one should have to be ashamed to be open about who they are'

'No one should have to be ashamed to be open about who they are'

Jonathan Andrews is a trainee solicitor at Reed Smith and a co-founder of London Bisexual Network, a leading cross-industry network for bi professionals and allies. A strong believer in people being their true selves at work, he launched the network to tackle, among other issues, poor mental health rates among bi professionals – as Mind’s Equality Improvement Champion, he has drafted a best practice toolkit to be released soon.

Jonathan is also a strong advocate for disability equality and social mobility. He sits on the UK Parliament’s Autism Commission and the government’s Health and Work Expert Board, is a trustee and school governor and regularly speaks at schools across the country. He was awarded Campaigner of the Year at the 2016 European Diversity Awards, was named as a pan-Commonwealth Queen’s Young Leader 2017 and sits on the Law Society’s Equality Board.

We spoke to Jonathan after last year's Pride in the City event to ask for his views on the initiative and on the place of bi people in business and the community.

What theme did you cover at the recent Pride in the City event?
As a co-founder of the London Bisexual Network, I covered bi visibility in the City, tackling myths and stereotypes – something I think is long overdue, so I was thrilled to be asked by Pride in the City to speak on it.

What made you feel you wanted to support this event?
I started the London Bisexual Network because I saw that there were ways in which bi people faced specific difficulties in the workplace – principally, a lack of bi role models and a lack of support for mental health issues, which bi people are at greater risk of than lesbians and gay men – and wanted to address these in a pragmatic, practical way. So when I was asked to speak at this event, I jumped at the chance to increase bi awareness – it’s through supporting events like this that challenges can be made real to those with the power to change things.

Have you been involved with Pride in London before?
I’ve attended LGBT events in the City for the last few years and have been an enthusiastic supporter of Pride for a long time; but this event was probably the most full-on involvement I’ve had. I’d be delighted to do more in future!

What impact do you feel your theme has for you in the business world?
Bisexual acceptance is a key part of wider LGBT acceptance and needs to be viewed as just as important as any being gay, lesbian, or trans. That includes in the workplace. Stonewall stats show that just 12% of bi people feel there are enough bi role models at work, compared to over 50% of gay men and 40% of lesbians, and that bi people, especially men, are less likely to be out than lesbian and gay people, with all the added stress and inability to bring their whole selves to work that entails. I’m lucky enough to be confident enough to feel I can be open, but I think it’s vital that those who’re in positions like mine speak up, change systems, and show why no one should have to be ashamed to be open about who they are. It’s good for people, good for mental health, and good for businesses too – employees will be happier and more productive.

If you were to give one bit of advice to future business leaders, what would it be?
Authenticity sounds like a cliché, and in many ways it is, but showing you’re not afraid to be open about your sexuality, and showing others how it’s not a big deal, is something I’ve found really helps others build respect for you. Additionally, to be successful long term in business you need to build trust and respect and you’ll need to work with those younger than you as well as those your own age and those older. By advocating for those currently entering the profession – attending open days, assisting with applications, showing people why they’d fit in and why myths they might have heard shouldn’t hold them back and they should be proud of who they are – you’ll build not just a business network, but a network of genuine respect that will make others more keen to assist you in future.

In relation to last year’s Pride in London theme, Love Happens Here, are there any stories you would like to share about falling in love with anything or anyone in London?

I first fell in love with London back when I started as an undergrad at King’s College. I’ve loved it ever since for its fast-paced nature, its incredible variety and its ability to make everyone and anyone feel like they’re at home. It’s got a fantastically rich history, which I love learning about – a fair few of my ancestors lived, worked, met and married in London, including my parents, so in my own little way I’m testament to the fact that ‘Love Happens Here’. The London of today recognizes that love shouldn’t be the preserve of heterosexual people, but that love should be free for all.

Any other comments you would like to make?
It’s great to see steps being taken to include bi issues in Pride, such as the recent decision to ensure bi representatives would be guaranteed the right to march. I look forward to seeing this grow, so that all LGBT people feel comfortable being part of Pride – the place above all others where they should be able to be themselves.

Pride does a commendable job making wider spaces LGBT accessible, and has begun to recognize that LGBT spaces themselves have a long way to go before they are truly accessible, not only to those of all LGBT identities but also those with other identities – whether race, gender, disability, nationality or social background. Having met many committed employees determined to seeing this change happen, I look forward to seeing progress in this area.

Learn more about Pride in the City and how you can get involved here.