Those in the LGBTQ+ community know that coming out and having a voice in society is, in many ways, as hard as it has always been. The stigma around being gay, queer or trans cuts as deep now as it did decades ago. Bias is still there. So is prejudice. But what has changed is the collective voice.
Now more than ever, we are seeing a push for acceptance and equality by LGBTQ+ people and their allies. We are privileged enough to live in a time where people feel safer and more comfortable coming out and speaking up for who they are. And this is something we must continue to support.
Last week, we commemorated Pride Month by looking at how deeply LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion issues resonate in the tech world, and why this lack of diversity within our industry is still casting a shadow over the progress that has been made.
For the latter half of Pride Month, we're elevating the voices of some of our own. For the first of two follow-up pieces, I had the pleasure of sitting down with my colleague Tamaryn Kraleva-Greener, executive assistant to one of our co-Founders and co-CEOs, to hear all about her personal and professional journey, what companies can do to raise awareness and words for all those who are finding the courage to come out.
We want to know more about you. Tell us your story.
I came out to my family and friends when I was 11 years old. It was not something that I advertised, having grown up in South Africa. It was not as acceptable as the UK and other countries were back then. (It has changed since 1996, but not as open as London is now). I still took a guy to my matric dance [dance before leaving school] when I was 17.
I was not a traditional girl growing up; however, I knew I always wanted to marry and have a family of my own. I knew that whomever I married, it will be a life-long commitment. 20+ years later and I am married to an amazing woman, who I adore, and view as my equal. We met in London, both of us from different countries, and I have never been happier.
How has it been for you coming out in a professional sense?
I started my first job when I was 17-years old, and all throughout my career, I kept my private life separate from my work life. I allowed my co-workers and bosses to think what they wanted about my relationship/s and home-life situation.
Throughout my 20s and early 30s, I lived by the same principle: if I was asked, I would not deny it. If I was not asked, my private life was my own and not for anyone else to judge. In South Africa, I had a close-knit group of friends and family, and for five years of my longest relationship, I was known to my partner’s family as her housemate and close friend. My family knew who she was to me, and so did our friends, and a few very close work friends.
At my first job in the UK, I kept things the same. New country, new beginning, however, I was unsure of how the world would judge me and did not want to add more anxiety to my life.
I found an amazing community here in London of warm-hearted people who I could relate to, open-up to and be myself with. (I felt like a kid at Disney world, full of opportunities and acceptance.)
Solidatus is the first company I have been open in. It was two months before my wedding, when I started with the business. I took a leap of faith that I would not be judged, and they did not disappoint. I can honestly say that Solidatus is the first company that feels like my (work) family, and has accepted me as I am, no judgement.
What does Pride Month mean to you?
Pride means a lot to a lot of different people. From celebrating how far we have come over the years, feeling loved no matter who you are and how you identify. Having a safe space to step into the light, tell your story and be accepted and welcomed. I completely agree with that. For me, it is also about knowledge sharing, and helping those in fear to see what can be possible, and how all you need is to love yourself and allow others to see that incredible light of yours shine bright and be true to who you are.
What is an issue in the LGBTQ+ community that you are particularly passionate about?
Awareness and having the correct knowledge and compassion are major things for me. Being open and understanding that, yes, we as individuals have differences, and everyone is unique in their outlook on life and on how we view society now, in the present. Always remembering, that we as humans have the ability to communicate and express how we feel in a multitude of ways and having these gifts can be scary for those who do not understand them.
Do you have any special plans for celebrating Pride this year?
The last L Fest weekend is happening at the end of July this year (very sad). This will be my third time going. The first time I went on my own back in 2018, then I took my best friend/sister-in-law with me in 2019, and this year, I get to take my wife with me, (this will be her first time going). We will also be attending the Pride in London parade, on the 2nd July together.
Tamaryn and her wife, Mira
Do you have a memory or an event that you recall was an achievement for you, since coming out?
It was Saturday, 6th July 2019, Pride in London event. Back then, I was riding with the DOB (Dykes on Bikes), an amazing motorcycle group and they were asked to ride up front in the parade that year. It was an honour for them to lead the parade, and I had the privilege to join them, out and proud on my motorbike. The riding was extremely slow, and we stopped a few times to allow the rest of the parade to catch up behind us. Not having our helmets on allowed us to see the crowds on both sides, seeing the support, the love, it was an incredible feeling. I felt proud to be there and I am glad I had the courage to take part.
What do you think companies in tech can do this Pride Month and beyond to raise awareness about the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace?
I understand the logistics of having awareness months, on different topics and promoting them more. However, I personally think companies, where you spend the majority of your days, can do more. Create safe spaces for staff to speak openly. Have events or check-ins monthly or bi-monthly, on important topics across the board, on health, well-being and mental health matters. Promote all these as often as possible, but most importantly, listen to your staff. As Richard Branson says, “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
What can tech organisations do to promote a positive and healthy environment for colleagues who are LGBTQ+?
Regardless of your background, your beliefs, and your preferences, creating a safe space that promotes health, well-being and acceptance is key. Creating a culture that is inclusive to all, with an emphasis on positive reinforcement and open communication.
What would you say to someone who wants to come out but is too scared to?
When you start to understand the differences of things in life, be it a preference to food, or clothes or individual likes, some are easier choices to make, and some not so much. Fortunately, and unfortunately, this is due to the society we live in, and some are deeply rooted in our history. The most important thing you can ever do for yourself is to be true to who you are, regardless of what others may or may not think. Positive attracts positive, negative attracts negative and yes, negative likes to bring positive down too. Create more of what you want not only within yourself but in the world and this will in time alter history and help those who come after us. Be strong and be uniquely you.
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Stonewall to the workplace: why equality in tech still has further to go
Coming together in support of each other - Pride Month interview with Samuel Trew
Women take tech: Code for girls with Nadia Mahgerefteh
Women take tech: CDO Lorraine Waters talks data, female empowerment and career development
Breaking the mould to #BreakTheBias in tech