LGBT History Month Q&A: Councillor Kevin Peel on how being gay inspired his career

To celebrate LGBT History Month, MM talk to LGBT figures from across Greater Manchester about their experiences of coming out and what progress they think the city still has to make towards equality.

First up… Manchester councillor Kevin Peel.

Kevin Peel is the first Labour and Co-operative councillor for Manchester City Centre and was elected in 2011.

The eldest of five children, Kevin grew up in Whiston, Merseyside and after a brief time in London moved to Manchester in 2006 and joined the Labour Party. Kevin set up Manchester Young Labour and served on the Co-op Party’s National Youth Committee, the Young Labour National Committee and the LGBT Labour National Committee.

Kevin has lived in the city centre since 2007 and enjoys going to the theatre and the cinema, cycling, travelling and hiking in his spare time.

How old were you when you first realised you were gay?

I was really young, probably eight or nine, when it first occurred to me but I didn’t fully realise what it meant then or the implications. I think I was about 12 when I understood it properly.

Before you came out, how did being gay make you feel?

I didn’t feel any different than I imagine most people feel at that age about sexuality. I never had any confusion or denial about it though, I accepted it as part of me and never thought it should be any different.

When did you come out as gay?

I started telling people when I was 16. I had just left school and college opened up a whole new (and more accepting) world. I told my closest friend at the time Catherine one night when we were having a sleepover at her nan’s house. There were three of us there in total and we’d been sharing stories.

I guess it was pretty obvious because they asked me more than once if I was gay and I kept saying no. Later in the evening I told them and Catherine, who was half asleep, woke up and said “Do you think I’d be sharing a bed with you if you weren’t gay? Go to sleep!”And that was that!

A bit later I told people by showing them a picture of my ‘girlfriend’ Rebecca, who was actually my boyfriend Colin! My parents didn’t take it so well and I moved out at 16, but we’re ok now although we don’t talk very often.

My nan showed her acceptance a few years later when she tried to set me up with her hairdresser, Lawrence!

From coming out to now, what are lessons you have learnt about yourself with regards to you and your sexuality?

That people will try to mould you into their image and expectations of what you should be based on your sexuality, but that doesn’t mean you have to change who you are to fit that.

Is there still work to be done for equality in the UK?

Yes, very much so. For me it is all about education and I’m really pleased that the Labour Party is talking about homophobic and transphobic bullying in this LGBT History Month.

Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt rightly points out that despite monumental changes in laws over the last 15 years, for many LGBT young people and LGBT teachers school is somewhere to fear and not to cherish.

We simply must do all we can to wipe out bullying in our schools. All young people and their teachers should be able to achieve their full potential without fear or prejudice.

What would you say to your young self or a young LGBT person with the knowledge you have now about coming out?

Don’t stress, most people will love and accept you no matter who you love and those who don’t are not worth knowing.

Does being gay positively impact on your job/career?

For me personally it has actually. My first proper political involvement was through LGBT Labour – the Labour Party’s campaign for LGBT equality. That really woke in me the desire to get involved and make my voice heard and campaign against injustice and inequality in our society.

I don’t think I’d have stood as a councillor or been as involved as I am in politics without having done that.

What is your favourite thing to do in Manchester?

My favourite thing to do is probably to go to the theatre. With the Royal Exchange and HOME and Contact and the Lowry and so many other great venues on our doorstep there is always something new to see.

What makes Manchester so special?

I once had a 1 on 1 debate with Paul Nuttall, the Deputy Leader of UKIP, at Chester University in front of 150 staff and students. He said he walked into a restaurant in Manchester and heard people speaking several different languages and it made him feel uncomfortable. Sorry Paul, it’s called diversity and it makes me proud. Here in Manchester we embrace diversity and I’m so proud to represent this great city. 

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