‘The fight is far from over’

Two members of staff and an alumnus share their personal reflections on Pride and LGBTQ+ progress


Peter Johnson, Senior Recruitment and Admissions Manager, Masters in Finance and Co-founder and Co-chair of PROUD@LBS

July 1975 was my first Pride march. I’d recently started my undergraduate studies at SOAS, and taken my first tentative steps out of the closet.  Even if there were only about 200 of us marching on a wet Saturday to Shepherd’s Bush, the experience was truly exhilarating. It felt great to be out and proud – to be joining in in the chant of “Two, four, six, eight! Gay is just as good as straight!”

It’s hard to describe how different the world was back in the 1970s. I grew up in a small northern town with a very strong sense that I was the “only gay in the village”, so coming to London to study – and joining my college GaySoc – was a revelation.  There were so few positive role models to relate to in my life (and so many very negative ones) in TV, film, music and politics. By 1975, the Gay Liberation Front, which had been founded at a meeting at LSE in 1970, was gone but it had given rise to a whole swathe of organisations like the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard helpline and Gay News (which I joined briefly after graduating).

I embraced this new movement wholeheartedly; we had so much to campaign for (gay sex was illegal under the age of 21, which I was at the time, and still illegal in Scotland and North Ireland).  We could still be sacked just for being gay, and subsequent rights like banning workplace discrimination, equal marriage and equal rights to adopt were a very distant aspiration.

"This year, our Pride month highlight will be the LBS Pride celebration on Sunday 27 June"

Now, Pride month is a time of commemoration, especially for the friends and lovers we have lost in the other pandemic – HIV/AIDS, which continues to be a massive scourge, especially in developing economies. And let us not forget that there is still no vaccine for HIV.

Each year, I join the Pride march with huge satisfaction. It’s one of the biggest street parties in Europe, and part of the London Summer for the LGBTQ+ community and a huge army of allies. Pride now involves a whole month of activity simply because we have so much to celebrate. But the fight is far from over – homophobic and transphobic violence is again on the rise, we must ban “conversion therapies”, and we should never forget that in so many countries LGBTQ+ people face extreme prejudice and legal discrimination up to and including the death penalty.

In 2019, I had the pleasure of watching the Pride parade as a guest of McKinsey’s LGBTQ+ group (GLAM) from the rooftop terrace of McKinsey’s offices on Piccadilly Circus. That was a great party; and what a perfect location. This year, my Pride month highlight will be our LBS Pride celebration on Sunday 27 June!

Matthew Foster, Business Analyst and Co-founder and Co-chair of PROUD@LBS

Given where we have come from as a community, it can be easy to assume our challenges are “solved” and Pride month is just a chance for organisations to change their logos and sell rainbow-branded merchandise.

My identity as a gay man is no longer illegal. State-sponsored homophobia – through heinous legislation such as Section 28, prohibiting the “promotion” of homosexuality – is a memory. I cannot (openly) be discriminated against in the provision of goods and services.

At LBS, we have had a student-led LGBTQ+ network for 25 years, currently known as Out in Business. We have significant senior support: François speaks each year at EUROUT – Europe’s largest LGBTQ+ business school conference organised by our students; Susie Balch is our senior sponsor for PROUD@LBS, the LGBTQ+ and allies staff network; and Jane Gibbon has supported us in rejoining Stonewall and reviewing People team policies to ensure they are explicitly inclusive.

But research shows that one in five LGBTQ+ people in the UK has been the target of negative comments in the workplace in the past year, and one in three hides their identity for fear of discrimination. LGBTQ+ people are paid on average 16% less than their straight counterparts, and there are no openly LGBTQ+ CEOs in the FTSE 100. The ‘pink ceiling’ remains in place and discrimination is alive and kicking in the UK today.

This is why Pride is important to me. It’s about highlighting these issues that remain, issues that are amplified for the trans members of our community who are currently under attack on a daily basis. It is about fighting to not only break down the barriers that remain but to defend the rights hard won. And it is about celebrating the myriad of identities in our rainbow family.

"Suddenly, there was a whole community celebrating, protesting and being themselves; it made me feel less alone in the world."

Coming from a small city in the west of England, my first Pride event as a teenager was my first experience of meeting other people like me. Suddenly, there was a whole community celebrating, protesting and being themselves; it made me feel less alone in the world.

This year, we’re bringing together the whole LBS community of LGBTQ+ identities and our allies in our own June Pride event. Co-hosted by PROUD@LBS and Out in Business, we’ll invite staff, students, admits, faculty, and alumni to celebrate who we are. We’ll connect as a group and show that this is a School where everyone can belong and thrive, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

This sense of togetherness was a key driver to creating PROUD@LBS with Peter. Networks like this are important – they amplify the voices of those who are often marginalised or silenced, allowing us to tell our stories and explain why Pride isn’t just a parade, or a few weeks in June, or an opportunity for brands to show they ‘care’. Pride is our daily lives.

I look forward to continuing to celebrate, stand tall, and be proud – this year, next year, and beyond.

José Martín Quesada GMiM2017, CEO

I’ve spent a good chunk of my life chasing validation. I wanted to show my parents, the classmates who bullied me, and the wider Catholic community which reeled upon hearing of my sexuality – in hushed voices, like dirty gossip about the lost, flamboyant sheep I was – that I can be everything they are, and more.

So started my frantic quest for LinkedIn collectibles: seven degrees, LBS, McKinsey, Google, etc. Exhausting. I don’t know what compelled me to stop and look at the flowers at one point, but the fact is I was happy with who I was.

While at LBS I genuinely enjoyed raising sponsorships and finding speakers for EurOUT, hosting Tattoo and so on. While at Google I organised Google's presence at Madrid World Pride, and at McKinsey I worked on LGBTQ+ alumni engagement. The common thread? I was preaching to the choir (to stick to the church theme).

Why do I owe my bullies an explanation? Wasn’t I done with seeking validation? Furthermore, with suicide rates at least three times higher amongst western LGBTQ+ youth than straight peers, a lot of people simply can’t spare the mental health and risk the abuse if they engage negatively predisposed folks.

So began my new challenge: can I use the position of privilege I’ve carved for myself to actively bring more people into the, er, gay tent? Sometimes I fail, but I try. I remember the first time I read the sentence, “It’s not my job to educate you on why I deserve human rights” (via Tumblr, circa 2014). It occurred to me that I can choose to disengage. I’ve since gone from complete rebellion against homophobes, to a willingness to engage which often results in deep pain and frustration.

Do you know who wrote that Tumblr quote? A Russia-based operative from a troll farm. Seriously. Someone actively polarising for geopolitical gain. Tumblr exposed their accounts years later.

"We need to stop LGBTQ+ rights becoming yet another casualty of the culture wars"

We need to stop LGBTQ+ rights becoming yet another casualty of the culture wars by engaging with everyone across the spectrum. While conservativism can be associated with homophobia, there are a number of countries around the world where LGBTQ+ folks have managed to find acceptance and representation across the political spectrum.

Being visibly out isn’t enough, we must engage. If we become content with just letting the TikTok or Instagram algorithm expose us to likeminded folks for ever, we will find it harder and harder to explain to our uncles that our rights don’t come at their expense next time the family sits together to celebrate a holiday. We owe it to those most at risk from violence in the LGBTQ+ community (our transgender and POC friends, and many in emerging markets) to learn the language of reconciliation and de-escalation. And do remind me of my own words next time I’m about to shout at a homophobe.