#PrideMonth: our colleague Chris Yates shares his thoughts and experiences

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Chris Yates is PA to our Chief Information Officer and a member of our Pride at Work group. Originally from Nottingham, he lived in Manchester for 20 years, and now resides in Solihull. He married Damian in 2018 in the House of Commons. We're sharing his blog, his words, in #PrideMonth.

For me, Pride Month is all about visibility and a time to celebrate the progress that we’ve made towards equality, whilst remembering all the incredible people who came before us and got us where we are today.

Pride stands for confidence, being able to fully accept who you are and able to fall in love without fear or prejudice.

From an early age, I knew that I was different to my other friends in school. I didn’t have much in common with many of the other boys in my class, I didn’t enjoy sports or want to play football at lunchtimes and would often wonder if I would ever fit in?

During my teens, people at school would constantly call me gay even before I fully understood what that meant.

It was such a confusing, lonely and challenging time and unfortunately there weren’t many positive gay role models that I could relate to when I finally realised that maybe I was gay.

I was only exposed to the negative connotations that people would associate with being gay.

At the age of 19 whilst studying Performing Arts in Nottingham, there was a moment that changed my life.

My drama school worked closely with The Nottingham Playhouse and many of my lessons were held within the theatre working on actual productions.

There was a touring production of Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlowe that arrived at the theatre for a five-week run.

One of the leads in the show was Lord Michael Cashman who had recently left EastEnders after playing ‘Colin Russell’, the soap's first gay character. Michael was also the co-founder of Stonewall, the LGBTQIA charity which he had set up with Sir Ian McKellen.

After watching the production one day, I decided that I would write to Michael asking him for his advice on coming out and whether I should be an openly gay actor?

Most of my friends in class tried to talk me out of writing to him and brushed it off by saying ‘he won’t reply' or 'why would he write back to you', but I knew that I needed to talk to someone.

I left my letter at the stage door, hoping that Michael would see it when he arrived at the theatre.

The next morning, when I arrived for class there was a note waiting for me. Michael had written back to thank me for my letter, but he told me that he couldn’t really answer all my questions on the back of a postcard.

He asked whether I would still be in the theatre later that day and if so, he would like to meet me to offer some advice and maybe answer some of my questions.

I spent the rest of the day nervously preparing for this meeting, I wrote down so many questions but, in the end, I decided to turn up and improvise.

As I approached the foyer, I could see Michael was sat waiting for me and so I took a deep breath and walked over to him.

I’ve always believed that you can tell what qualities a person has by the way that they greet you and any reservations that I had about the meeting were soon blown away.

Michael was a joy to meet, he spoke openly and honestly about being gay, life on EastEnders, and offered me invaluable advice on coming out.

He explained that there would always be people who I met socially or professionally who would not understand or accept my sexuality but at the end of the day, this isn’t anything that I could control and wasn’t my problem.

After this inspirational meeting, Michael went from mentor to a good friend.

I came out to my parents a few weeks later and whilst this raised a new set of issues and concerns, over time my parents began to learn more about my new life and fully accept me for who I am.

The following two years I became a political young man and joined campaigns against Section 28, supported Stonewall’s legal challenge to lower the age of consent for gay men from 21 and became a member of Outrage, the radical and direct-action right’s group.

When I left drama school, I moved away to Manchester and went on to become a professional actor in 1997 and worked in TV and Theatre including Coronation Street, A&E, Hollyoaks, as well as commercials for Grolsch and Toyota.

Finally, in September 2018 after 23 years together I married my partner in The House of Commons, London. The place where all our battles for equality were fought and won.

I used to joke that coming out was the best thing that I ever did for my personal and professional life but to be honest, it’s true!

There’s an amazing support network of LGBTQIA people who will be waiting for you with open arms when you are ready to come out.

Not only does life get better with time, it becomes amazing. 

Since joining Cadent twelve months ago, I have been involved with the employee-led Pride at Work community and am extremely proud of the work that we have achieved so far.

Our ambition is for current and future generations of LGBTQIA employees to feel comfortable, safe and included at work.

Accept no-one’s definition of your life, define and be your true self.


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