Believing in accessibility for all

The importance of allies

Rachel Fanthom, ASB Team Leader


I have always been close with my siblings. There are four of us, with just four years between eldest and youngest – our poor mother, dealing with four squabbling kids!

I am the oldest and Laura is my youngest sister. I wasn’t a particularly ‘girly’ child, but Laura was the epitome of a traditional ‘Tomboy’. Everyone used to say she would grow out of it, but I knew she was a bit ‘different’ – I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly, and it didn’t make me love her any less

We were young kids in the 80s, at a time when being gay was becoming more and more prevalent in the media, but I had only ever heard of men being gay – nothing about women. I was 12 when Freddie Mercury died, and I began to question what being gay actually meant, other than ‘men who have sex with men’ which is all I had been told. The sorry tale is that the version of events I was fed was that it was dirty to be in anything other than a ‘normal’ boy/girl relationship, and the threat of disownment hung over us for bringing shame on the family by nonconformity.

So, I spent my teenage years growing up (or not) and making mistakes like everybody else, but my sister seemed to play her cards so very close to her chest. She went on dates with boys which were usually set up by a family member with a friend who had a son etc, but I could see that she wasn’t comfortable with it at all. I began to wonder to myself, ‘Could she be gay?’. I felt sick and ashamed for her, not that I should have been, but because I knew the backlash she would likely face. I am embarrassed to say this now, but I prayed she wasn’t – not for me, as I loved her regardless – but because it would be easier for her if she wasn’t. I didn’t want her to suffer at the hands of family members and people who knew us.

She was so brave, braver than you can imagine… and yet, she hadn’t changed

One day, some years later, after I had my own daughter, she tentatively told me that she was gay. My heart sank because I was so scared of what might happen to her. She was so brave, braver than you can imagine… and yet, she hadn’t changed; she just fancied girls. I was petrified, proud and relieved all at the same time – she had finally come out! But then it began: the abuse. It wasn’t just verbal, but physical as well. All this pain she had to endure. I felt powerless, other than to stand up for her, but I was no match for them in a physical fight. Furthermore, most of the time this went on behind closed doors when she had no-one else to step in or at very least witness.

This was supposed to be a happy time for her when she could finally be herself, but it was torture – inflicted by the very people who were supposed to love and care for her no matter what. She removed herself from the equation to try and find some respite by distancing herself from those who were effectively terrorising her because of her sexuality. She would never report it to anyone because she still loved them regardless of the harm it was doing to her.

One day, when she had endured another tirade of verbal abuse and was particularly upset, my daughter went to her and said, “Don’t worry Auntie Laura, you can’t help who you fall in love with” – how true is that? Even a five-year-old could understand! So, with time she dusted herself off and decided to tackle it head on and no longer associate herself with those who had made her life hell – and she won! Yes, it was a slow process with small setbacks and victories along the way, but she was finally free to be herself and be with who she wants to be with. No, she didn’t change the attitudes of all those who had caused her so much pain and upset; she just didn’t allow them to control her life anymore. Off the back of her courage, I also found the strength to stand up to their bigoted ways.

Laura is my sister; I love her no matter what. She is my hero for just being herself, even if she has questionable taste in music! She is much happier now and has built a life for herself with the love from someone who is important to her. Remember, you can’t help who you fall in love with… and should never have to apologise for that.