Celebrating LGBTQ+ people at work this LGBTQ+ History month

David Mann and Saleem Fazal reflect on being their authentic selves in the property sector

This February marks 19 years since the first LGBTQ+ History Month. Founded in 1994 by Missouri high-school history teacher Rodney Wilson and observed in the UK since 2005, the month celebrates LGBTQ+ history. It represents a civil rights statement about the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community worldwide, past and present. But it’s also a chance to reflect on the gains made for LGBTQ+ people in the workplace and the work still to be done.

After all, everyone deserves to feel safe at their place of work, no matter who they are. Remember, few of us spend as much time elsewhere during the day as we do at work. And if you don’t feel safe at work, it will start to impact your overall physical, mental, and social wellbeing.

But as the title of this article suggests, we are not here to focus on the negatives; instead, LGBTQ+ History Month is a celebration and should be treated as such. As gay men in the property industry, we have faced our fair share of struggles but want to show others out there why they should be full of hope. With all the negativity in the news and elsewhere, it’s easy to forget the positives. With that, we would like to take you on our journeys in light of LGBTQ+ History Month as we delve into what fantastic steps have already been taken in our industry and why we want to continue this journey with as many by our side as possible.

Building support to help people be out and open

When we decided to form Freehold, it was because we’d both been in that position of feeling like we needed to hide our sexuality. In fact, it was only after bumping into each other in a gay bar that we realised the other was gay! This is not to say that we were unhappy; we were both successful in our careers and other aspects of our lives. The issue we found was that we had to keep our successes separate and our identities too. This led to living a double life and never feeling completely confident in either. We were accepting a self-imposed compromise and internal conflict that made building ultimately whole relationships with colleagues and business contacts impossible. And while this may seem like the product of a bygone era, it was only 2011.  

Being too private about our lives for fear of an adverse reaction began to feel more and more uncomfortable. Between us, we decided that enough was enough; floating in the status quo was no longer an option, so we decided to take the plunge and declare our mission to create change openly. This, of course, was a terrifying prospect. We did not know what reaction we were going to receive. But, to our surprise (although looking back, it should not have been), we discovered many others in our industry were feeling the same: struggling with a double life and unsure where to turn. This is how Freehold began, with the first sproutings of a network and community for LGBTQ+ real estate professionals eventually blossoming into what it is today.

These networks can be such a power for good, whether by creating a safe and supportive place for like-minded people to meet or by being a friendly shoulder to lean on, educating and helping to transform the immediate world around us. We all fight our corner and often support others in theirs, but harnessing all that energy into one common goal is an unstoppable force for success, not to be underestimated.

We have come a long way, together

We are incredibly proud of what we have achieved with Freehold and how utterly transformed the real estate industry is compared to when we first started. Since it is LGBTQ+ History Month, we thought we could reflect on our favourite memories and proudest achievements.

Our initial challenge was finding the first firm of surveyors that would host a Freehold event. Cluttons stepped up and set a clear precedent; after that, we were inundated with offers to host from other firms of surveyors! Another was the first Freehold event hosted by RICS. Louise Brooke-Smith, the first female RICS President, stood up and said, “You are all very welcome”; five very simple words but with huge meaning for us. In the same vein, the first time we saw the Rainbow Flag flown from the RICS and RIBA HQs. Again, this a gesture that may seem small but one we never thought we would witness in our lifetime and by 2021, we were holding our 10th-anniversary celebration; who would have thought?

These events and achievements are only the tip of the iceberg of the change we have seen, thanks to our industry and our incredible members and supporters, past and present. In our ever divided world, small and consistent changes are those that have managed to take us from a country where it was once illegal to be gay to one where whoever you love, you can do so with pride. This really hit home during our recent nomination to King Charles III’s Honours List.

Our inclusion on the list validates all the hard work done by the Freehold Board, our members, corporate sponsors and supporters, professional institutions, and the property press. Many people have put in a lot of long hours to ensure that LGBTQ+ professionals feel more welcome and represented in the property sector, and we are touched to have been given recognition on behalf of them all.

Holding onto gains while still fighting

Of course, there is still a long way to go in fighting for equality, inclusivity and diversity across all sectors and wider society. But, what is clear is that, even in the face of adversity, community builds us all up to be stronger and able to take on any challenge. At Freehold and across other LGBTQ+ organisations, we have created change and seen shifts we never thought possible, all while facing backlash and commentary from those against our cause.

We still see it today; a petition urging the UK to remove LGBTQ+ content from schools alarmingly has nearly 200,000 signatures. Thankfully that has now been rejected by the government, which I think we can all agree is a relief to discover. However, the UK government’s blocking of Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform bill reflects further the fragility of widespread LGBTQ+ acceptance.

However, while these are concerning to all within the LGBTQ+ community and our supporters, we have never let such negativity from the minority stop us in the past, so why would we start now? This is something we feel strongly about at Freehold. Our ever growing community allows us to stand together as one and push forward towards greatness. And to the real estate industry, we are grateful to have been given the space to do so.

Going forward, we hope that with the growing importance placed on ESG, businesses within our sector and beyond will continue to join us in active and consistent work to meet ESG objectives, of which inclusivity, diversity and equality are fundamental pillars.

Remembering the past to ensure a positive future

Our departing words are this. Remembering our history and the sacrifice of some many people who fought for us, often with their freedom or even their life, is vital. Without these incredible figures, we would not enjoy the privileges we have today. Storytelling remains s powerful learning tool. Events like LGBTQ+ History Month allow us to bring our stories to the fore and remind future generations never to take the liberties we have secured and need to defend for granted. At Freehold, we hope to represent the light and goodness created when like-minded individuals come together with a common goal. This LGBTQ+ History Month, we should do what we do best; support our communities to continue the good fight.

It’s a tough fight, but I think you’ll agree that it’s one worth having.

By the Co-founders of Freehold; David Mann MBE, Partner at Tuffin Ferraby Taylor and Saleem Fazal MBE, Real Estate Partner at Taylor Wessing

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