My name is Belton Flournoy and I have worked with Pride in London for the past four years. I still recall the moment during my first year of volunteering, when I felt my self-perception go from simply accepting who I am, to being proud of who I am. While many people think acceptance is enough, I challenge them and say no. You need to be proud of who you are and never wish to change. Now, in my fourth year, I could not be more excited to be sharing my authentic self with the world, both with Pride and at work.
When I first moved to the UK 9 years ago, I actually went back into the closet. Moving to a new country, into a new job, surrounded by new people is a very daunting experience. I wanted to get off on, what I thought was the best footing. “Do not give anyone reason to dislike me,” I said to myself. Immediately I was surrounded by a group of friendly and warm people, yet I was unfamiliar with the British culture and wanted to play it safe. Flash forward to six months later, and I found myself in the all too familiar place of feeling like a liar and a fraud. To simple questions, such as ‘what did you do this weekend’ or ‘are you dating anyone’, I found myself skirting the topic and mentioning the imaginary dates with women. It then became a vicious cycle where it had gone on for so long, it became much harder to be me or even to come clean. The assumptions had been going on for too long.
Then something happened. I had successfully delivered a large project at a global bank and my client invited me to meet with their Head of Change. An exciting prospect to be sure, which I adequately prepared for. My client and I were headed to the meeting, and right before we went in, he turned to me and said, ‘oh, by the way, don’t let him know you are gay.’ My immediate response was, ‘no worries, I don’t typically lead with that anyway’. Now, for more context, my client knew I was gay and was extremely supportive. So, the comment came more from a place of family, as opposed to malice, but it still had the same, cold effect.
After a very successful meeting, I started to wonder what would have happened if it had come from a place of malice. I started to wonder what would happen if I went to HR within my company. Would they respond in a supportive way? Would they care more about avoiding conflict with one of our largest clients? A friend asked me, what would you do if you were on a conference call and someone asked you not say you were black. I thought for a split second. I replied, “Well, I would open the call and say ‘Hi, this is Black Belton’.” It surprised me at how open and comfortable I was with my race, something I could never have hidden and love about myself, versus something that can be hidden and slowly fill you full of shame. Since then, so many things have changed, which have helped me to become my authentic self. From starting the Pride network within my firm, to taking a role in Pride in London founding Pride in the City – an initiative focused on increasing the conversation of diversity and inclusivity within businesses.
You see, it was not the second I came out of the closet that I found authentic myself. It was not when I had a large circle of friends who I would go out with, while few colleagues knew. The real change in me happened when I no longer feared of being my authentic self. I did not care if that one purple shirt made me look gay, I only cared if it made look fabulous! Being able to be your authentic self changes you completely. I deepened relationships with all my colleagues, became more confident in work and in meetings, and was able to start mentoring others about the importance of being who you are. I have read many statistics preaching that people give more output when they feel comfortable enough to be who they are at work. I don’t need statistics to tell me my output has more than doubled. I have become a confident, gay person of colour who is not ashamed of any aspect of himself.