Justine Greening: It shouldn't matter what you look like, where you're from, or who you love.
As featured in Stylist Magazine, July 5th 2018
It was two years ago, on the day of London Pride, that I decided to tell the world I was in a same sex relationship. And I did. I told the world that the person I loved was another woman and, in that moment, became the first openly gay female MP to serve in the Cabinet.
I chose the day of London Pride because I think being in a same sex relationship is something to celebrate. It’s positive, just like Pride – a time of celebration for the LGBT+ community, not just in London, but right across the UK. LGBT+ equality matters hugely, especially as someone who campaigns on improving social mobility. It’s hard to be at your best when you can’t be yourself.
That’s why Pride matters so much. It’s a time for people to celebrate who they really are. It’s a time to remind ourselves that being different is a good thing – it’s those differences that make any team succeed. Pride also matters because it’s about taking time to reflect on those very personal moments that have made us who we are.
Dealing with your sexuality can sometimes feel really tough. I know because at times it was tough for me too. This Pride month, as part of my work on the Social Mobility Pledge, I’ve been talking to young people about the challenges still faced by LGBT+ people in Britain.
One of the people who shared their story with me is Lewis. Now 20, he told me about his experience growing up gay in Leicestershire. When he was little, he said, there were moments when he wanted to be invisible. In the playground, on the bus, especially at school.
He always felt different, like he didn’t fit in. Growing up, sometimes he didn’t want to face tomorrow. Despite having loving and supportive parents, he didn’t want to have to pretend to be happy when he wasn’t. He wanted to be invisible.
Those words, wanting to be invisible, were an important reminder of the difficult times too many young LGBTQ+ people still go through growing up, too often still in silence, too often invisible. Lewis went on to tell me a story about when he was 13, and would stand in his bathroom, staring at the mirror for hours on end. He would stand in front of that mirror styling his hair over and over again. He told me he didn’t even care about his hair, that it never looked any different. So why do it then? I asked. His answer broke my heart: spending all that time obsessively worrying about how his hair looked, meant that at least he wasn’t worrying about growing up gay.
I don’t want any young person to ever feel that way. Today, Lewis is a talented young photographer, using his creativity to help me spread the message about the Social Mobility Pledge. But he wasn’t alone in feeling how he did. Many of us worry about what the future holds. And often it’s those worries that hold us back more than anything else. Growing up in Rotherham I know I worried about my future – whether I’d have the opportunities I wanted, and whether I’d have to leave the home where I’d grown up with friends and family, just to have those opportunities.
That’s why I set up the Social Mobility Pledge – to help make sure there is opportunity available for everyone. Now we have companies like BT, Adidas, ITV and Tesco signed up, businesses who have committed to go above and beyond to spread opportunity across the UK for everyone; regardless of gender, sexuality, race or class.
The truth is the challenges we face growing up around our country may be different - but the opportunity is the same. To make Britain a fairer place, a place where it doesn’t matter what you look like, where you’re from or who you love, and instead make it a place where only your creativity and hard work decide your future. That’s what the Social Mobility Pledge is all about. It’s about building a Britain we can all have pride in.