My LGBT experience at the University of Sheffield
Matt Mears: ‘I’m more comfortable and more productive not hiding away’ Photograph: Jill Jennings for the Guardian
Matt Mears, 32, got together with his partner 13 years ago, at the end of his first year as an undergraduate at the University of Sheffield, at a time when no legal recognition for same-sex couples yet existed in the UK.
He later went on to study for a Phd there; through that, he secured a job as a physics lecturer.
The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have changed significantly over that time, with civil partnerships and then, since 2014, same-sex marriage, and he says things at the institution have changed too.
“It has always been supportive, but very quietly,” he says. “But in the past few years, the institution has started to openly say: ‘We will not tolerate this [discrimination].’”
As chair of the university’s LGBT staff network, part of his remit is to encourage all staff to speak openly about LGBT issues and to make the support the university provides more visible – and not just for LGBT people. “A lot of our straight colleagues are concerned not to upset anyone, so it is about creating a safe space for them to have a conversation too,” he says.
Having open support from pro-vice-chancellors and the vice-chancellor has helped, and he has never been worried about taking his partner along with him to events or talking about him. “That makes me feel more comfortable and I’m more productive at work because I’m not having to hide away,” he says. “I don’t think my sexuality has had an impact at work at all.”