Marc Banting | Chief Operating Officer, Voyageur Group
I come from possibly the last generation before the LGBT+ community became more acceptable, and I suffered homophobic abuse growing up, even in Bristol, UK, which now is extremely diverse. There used to be a lot of hatred towards the community in the city. You were not gay in Bristol if you had not experienced a brick coming through the window of a gay pub at least once.
Pride for me, especially in Bristol where Pride is now one of the biggest festivals in the city, signifies a huge change in society, where the Millennial and Gen Z queer population are able to live their authentic lives how they wish, and how they absolutely should be able to. For me though, the emotional battle scars remain, and I do not feel comfortable walking around holding my husband’s hand. Even in 2023.
My proudest Pride moment was marching through the streets of Bristol with my husband and two of our children who were adorned in pride flags like superhero capes, proud to be walking with their Dads.
From an industry point of view, I am now in my 23rd year, and have seen shifts in attitude in the industry for the better. I freely talk about my husband, as opposed to my ‘partner’. It’s not like people did not know, or care. A turning point for me personally in the industry was in Lisbon 2011 and Vienna 2013 when the new generation of delegates started to come through. This included younger gay and queer delegates who saw no reason to shy away and not live their best lives at ITIC. They were there, they were queer, and if people had a problem they had to get over it! We were also blessed to have Martin Arias from Baptist Health, Florida, in our community, who made no apologies for who he was. Sadly he is no longer with us, but he was a gay force to be admired. If Martin was here today, he would be so proud to feature in this article – I am honoured to celebrate him now.
I saw this as a validation that, despite my earlier struggles, that if they could be completely open and out there, then so could I. Maybe I always was, I just was not as young anymore.
We work in an incredibly diverse and accepting industry and I am now proud to be my own true authentic self within it.
Thorkild Lykke | Horskjaer CPH
Whenever I see companies saying that they celebrate Pride, I am concerned they might ‘diversity-wash’ a business that does not really support diversity as much as it should. The question is whether it should be necessary to celebrate something that should be a human right. It should not just be one month of the year but rather a natural thing.
That being said, I am fortunate to have been born in a country where you can be openly LGBTQ+ and there are laws protecting you from discrimination. I am safe in that respect, and I am fully aware that in some countries being gay is a crime.
So for that reason, it is important to use any opportunity to draw the attention to what (many believe) is a human right. When I started my first job in this industry, the company knew from my interview that I was married to a man.
Zooming in on our industry, as it has to do with service, help, assistance, ntaking care of others etc, you see a higher percentage of LGBTQ+ people than in other industries. Without having any statistics to support it, I am confident there is a higher share of LGBTQ+ in the service centers and 24/7 emergency centers in our industry as it is a work environment that appeals to the LGBTQ+ community. It is a business environment where the more different we are from each other, the better for the business and development of the companies.
In my professional life in our industry, I have always been open about being married to another man, though I refer to him as 'my partner' when traveling to countries where homosexuality may be frowned upon, culturally not accepted, or even downright illegal.
I have to admit I have been more careful about what I say or do in countries such as Egypt, Oman, Tanzania, China and Vietnam. It is a part of the story that I have never had any issues coming as two men, sharing a room and sharing a double bed. The only time it became embarrassing with a hotel trying to explain that the double room I had booked meant one bed was on the west coast of Ireland 15 years ago and it ended with a surprised “Oh!” when I said that I wanted one bed for the two of us. There are countries I choose not to travel to as I would not be comfortable going there as a couple.
So what does Pride mean to me? I am glad to see the celebration – I think it is an important reminder to all in this world that there is still a way to go. As there is for equal pay for women to men, as there is for equal rights for women to men.
Claudia Schmiedhuber | Founder and CEO Alpine Health Consulting
“Oh really, you don’t look gay!” – if I had a dollar for every time I heard that sentence, I would most definitely have saved quite a bit of money. It is a rather interesting thing being gay these days as people – while definitely more open – still have certain stereotypes about who they perceive as gay and often act surprised that I do not fit their vision.
I came out when I was 20 years old, however, I had been in a relationship with a girl for five years by then before opening up about my orientation. I was lucky as my family is very tolerant and accepted me right away without any restrictions or backlash. It was normal in our family to be able to love whoever makes you happy, regardless of their religion, gender, or race. I know though that this is not the case for everyone and something that I feel very grateful for as it made a lot of things easier.
So coming out in my private life wasn’t a big deal, but how about my professional life? I had just started to build a career in the global assistance and aero-medical industry, was jetting around the world as a flight paramedic, and was doing night shifts at an assistance company in Vienna while studying for my Bachelor’s during the day. I certainly wasn’t sure how people would react to me being open and authentic, however, I knew that I was not someone to hide behind a mask – so from the very first moment I made it clear about who I fall in love with. I never felt the need to associate myself with a ‘scene’ or felt like I was a minority, and had a mostly straight circle of friends, yet, I always strongly supported and believed that no one should ever be discriminated or treated as less because they did not fit historically grown social rules and structures.
Whilst I was lucky to never actually receive negative comments (at least to my face) it was sometimes a balancing act of whether it changed people’s perception towards me or= not. Especially in business settings, where you want to stay professional at all times without giving away too much personal information, it put me in situations where I could either decide to come out or lie, something that I always refused to do. And coming out can be hard sometimes, as for a person who loves the same gender, coming out doesn’t happen just once or twice, it happens every day in various situations to various people.
Thankfully I met a great community of friends and business partners who have always embraced me for just being me – hard working, dedicated, authentic, honest, and passionate about our industry. I also like to think that it really doesn’t matter who you love as long as you are trying your best to be a good person and treat people with respect.
I would definitely say that being comfortable with who you are and who you love is a process and has its ups and downs, especially when you don’t fit the social norm. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Today I am engaged to the most amazing girl in the world. It took me quite some time to find her but for the first time in my life I can truly say that I have found ‘the one’ – and I couldn’t be happier. She is just as open and comfortable with herself. We never shy away from holding hands in public but embrace our love and normalising being gay. I think just being yourself and making it the norm also helps a lot of other people – either by showing them that it is okay to be who you are or by bringing more acceptance into this world. Love is the greatest feeling in the world, and you should never have to hide it. I hope our industry, my colleagues and business partners and everyone involved with the incredible things we do continues to make everyone feel at home and safe in our industry – regardless of who they love, what they look like and who they believe in.
Happy Pride Month everyone!
Darren Jennings | Head of Partnerships: Insurance, Holiday Extras
I grew up in a world where being gay, while legal, was regarded as negative. The national press hounded or belittled anyone with any prominence that was gay and loved outing people to gain headlines.
Not many people stepped forward to announce their sexuality, remaining in the closet to protect themselves from unwanted attention. Fast forward to today, and whilst things are far from perfect, we live in a country where being gay is more widely accepted. I can get married to my partner (which I did, so he got upgraded to husband!) and I can talk freely about my husband at work and no one bats an eyelid. My kids do not see sexuality in the same way as we did at school. It’s not really a ‘thing’. They have LGBTQ+ groups, one of my son’s close friends is gay and another of his friend’s siblings is a trans man. That’s progression. We are moving to a more inclusive society but more can be done and that is what Pride represents to me.
Pride is a coming together of the whole LGBTQ+ community to celebrate just how amazing we all are and have a party to celebrate that with our friends, whether they be gay or straight. It’s an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come but how much more needs to be done, as we are seeing currently with the trans members of our community, who still have some way to go to be accepted for who they are and to live their lives normally like everybody else.
I still have to think ‘Is it okay to hold hands here?’ and that shouldn’t be the case, so there's still the agenda of acceptance that needs to happen in society, and Pride events help push that. Importantly Pride is also a time to reflect on the worldwide members of our community who do not have the same rights as we do in the UK, and for many, it is still illegal to be gay and potentially punishable by death! This is not right and we must fight for the rights and recognition of our worldwide members too.
It is awful to hear of the law changes being introduced into Uganda right now, so we need to do as much from the UK as we can to highlight this to the world and influence the political agenda to express the abhorrence to these changes.
As for the travel insurance industry, since coming out in 2006, my personal experience has been nothing but positive with all of my colleagues. Those of you that knew the straight Darren (yeah right!) were all so amazing. My favourite comment was “We don’t care, you are just Darren” – I wasn’t being defined by my sexuality and to hear that was quite something for me. Would my journey have been different if, when I first joined the industry in 1994, I was openly gay? I think it probably would have been, but I can only look forward, and I find the industry today even more inclusive than it was in 2006 and that is a good thing!