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Danny McGowan, chair of the Pride in Maritime Network (Maritime UK), and international organiser at Nautilus International writes about the Network's second online event being held on 30 September and finding your community.
There are very few maritime professionals who say they do not show pride in their work – wherever their employment takes them and in whatever areas of maritime they work in.
Ask those maritime professionals who identify as LGBT+ about whether they have been able to take Pride in their sexuality at work and you are likely to hear some very different stories.
It would be fair to assume that most people reading this blog are not LGBT+ and looking at LGBT+ issues from a heterosexual perspective, it can be easy to dismiss issues of sexuality as unimportant. Some will have heard or even used phrases like: 'Sexuality is not important, as long as they can do their job' or: 'What you get up to at home is none of my business.'
Those phrases are often well intentioned, and the person using the phrase will normally be saying it to try and make an LGBT+ person feel comfortable in the present situation.
Despite those comments often being well-meant, they can in fact have the opposite effect and cause LGBT+ people to shut down, making it more difficult to express their genuine self and their sexuality.
Being able to talk about sexuality is far more than what occurs in the privacy of people's own homes. In other words, sexuality is not just about sex but it's about people's lives.
Many people will go into work and talk about their weekend without sparing a thought to the reactions they may receive. That might not be so simple for a female seafarer talking about her wife and their weekend; or a male shipbroker talking about a night out he and his boyfriend had.
Many LGBT+ people will feel nervous about the reactions they will face in the revelation of their sexuality. They may find it easier to just remain quiet or to deflect questions, and nobody should feel that they must do that (though of course everyone is free to do so). They risk colleagues seeing them as aloof or not part of the team in an industry where teamwork is vital, and they can risk further isolation in situations which may already feel remote from support networks at home.
In the United Kingdom, while LGBT+ people can still face discrimination in some settings, that nervousness may be diminished by protections in law and by general societal views, but what about LGBT+ cross-border workers – such as seafarers – or those whose jobs require them to travel across the world visiting different offices with different legal and cultural backgrounds? How does sexuality feature in their professional lives?
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) produces a yearly update and map of sexual orientation laws around the globe. The most recent data indicates that same-sex sexual acts remain illegal in some 68 United Nations member states. The reality is that in over one third of United Nations member states, LGBT+ people can face punishment up to and including the death penalty because of their existence as human beings.
People working in the maritime and shipping industries are likely to visit a number of these countries during their work and will understandably feel nervous about how their sexuality could be reacted to if any authorities were to be made aware.
In addition to this, LGBT+ maritime professionals working in multicultural crews would be likely to face discrimination, ill-treatment or be ostracised as a result of discussing their home lives onboard. Nautilus is always available to assist its seafaring and shoreside members should they face such issues, and members are encouraged to report such incidents to the Union at the earliest opportunity so that the appropriate support can be provided.
Whether you are reading this blog as someone who has in the past innocently brushed away the topic of sexuality, thinking that was helpful, or you are an LGBT+ person working in maritime that has experienced one or more of these examples, the work of Nautilus International, Maritime UK and the Pride in Maritime Network will go some way to improving life for people working at sea and ashore in the industry.
As chairperson of the Pride in Maritime Network, I hope to see more and more people taking part in the initiative to enable and create change for the benefit of LGBT+ people in maritime. In our next event on 30 September we will be talking about coming out, the 'Q' word and how we can develop a community of LGBT+ people and their allies within maritime to make the industry more welcoming to people of all sexualities.
You can sign up to join the Pride in Maritime Network and to attend our next event on the Maritime UK website. If you would like further information on the work of the Network, or would like to discuss any additional matters, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.