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.
Toby Whitehouse is the co-founder and programme director of Gaydio, the first FM gay radio service in the UK.
In 2013, Gaydio re-launched as a national station and now has more than 800,000 monthly listeners.
As well as being the on-air strategic mind behind the success of the service’s programming content, Toby is also a broadcaster and radio producer in his own right.
Manchester is home for Toby who lives, works and goes out in the city.
How old were you when you first realise you were gay?
I always feel like I wasn’t paying attention when I was younger. By that I mean to myself, rather than in the classroom!
I often hear people talking about a defining moment of realisation but I can’t place one similar. Maybe that means I always really knew, it just wasn’t until I met somebody that was the same until I could do anything about it.
Before you came out, how did being gay make you feel?
It didn’t really feel possible to be honest – certainly I had no positive feelings towards what was going on in my head.
At the time I remember thinking that one of the reasons I couldn’t really be gay was because I saw nobody else around me who was similar to me.
There were no role models that I felt able to look up to – the only gay person I knew of was Julian Clary, and he wasn’t me.
When did you come out as gay?
The first person I came out to was to be my first boyfriend, when I was 17.
Despite the fact that he’d told me he was gay (because he fancied H from Steps!) I still found telling him the same thing about me one of the most difficult things I have ever done.
From there it was a gradual process of letting people know about my boyfriend rather than telling them that I was gay, which felt easier at the time and more than just a notion.
Since coming out, what lessons have you learnt about yourself with regards to you and your sexuality?
Despite being what I consider to be completely comfortable with my sexuality, and very much out, there are still times when I become sensitive about it – starting a new job, getting to know a new hairdresser, telling the hotel that you ordered a double room.
I don’t know why these moments of disclosure can still bother me sometimes – I’ve never had any negative reaction towards my sexuality and it’s probably more to do with me wrongly judging other people’s possible reactions than them judging me.
Is there still work to be done for equality in the UK?
Whilst we’ve seen some great advances in equality over recent years there is still some way to go. Of course, much of this is cultural and that kind of change can take a lot longer than legislation.
We’ve come a long way though and I’m confident that things will only get better for LGBT people living in the UK.
What would you say to your young self or a young LGBT person with the knowledge you have now about coming out?
I’d tell myself that none of those things I was worried about are worth wasting any time over, but it’s a very personal experience and my message for any young LGBT person would be to wait until the time feels right for you.
What is your favourite thing to do in Manchester?
Manchester is a great city for socialising – of my favourite things to do is to find new places with friends. There’s a new bar or restaurant opening every day, so it’s really easy to do!
One of my favourite spaces in Manchester though is the Royal Exchange Theatre, where they stage some fantastic productions in a magical environment.
What makes Manchester so special?
There’s an attitude that makes Manchester special – and It’s contagious. I think there’s a sense of ‘anything’s possible’ here. It’s the thing that made me move to the city and it’s the reason I still call it home.
Image courtesy of Visit Manchester, via YouTube, with thanks.