Some thoughts from across the pond

I have a privileged job in that it takes me all over the world. I have visited places and experienced things I never would have otherwise. I’ve worked in places such as Nigeria where I was advised to wear a fake wedding ring (when I wasn’t married) to prevent me from being hassled and asked why I wasn’t married; and Mexico where I left my (genuine) wedding ring at home to ensure I wasn’t mugged for it. My job is to help students from other countries come and study at Cardiff University, and as such I have travelled to many countries for over 10 years now. It’s a job I enjoy and believe in, even though it means I often miss one of my main passions – singing in Songbirds choir, Wales’ only LBT choir. We sing an eclectic mix of music, reflecting our equally eclectic members and we’ve performed at weddings, charity gigs, on stage at Pride, auditioned (and been shortlisted) for Gareth Malone, been featured on Made In Cardiff TV, and of course hold our own concerts a couple of times a year.

So yes, my job means I miss more choir rehearsals than I’d like but I still practice as I travel around – listening to a recording of my part (Alto) that our wonderfully talented Choir Director meticulously records for us to practice to, and learning the words as I fly or drive around – but it’s not the same as rehearsing each week with my choir family. For it is a family. We are all come together once a week, from our often very different lives, be it as workers, students, parents, working parents, retirees etc., to stand together to sing. We are of mixed backgrounds, ages, nationalities, political beliefs and musical abilities – but when we all sing together we make music. Often very beautiful music. It’s so uplifting and is the best tonic to a stressful day/week/year/life!

For the first 7 years of my life as an international officer for Cardiff University my markets included most of the Far East as well as Africa and non-EU Europe, including Russia. From the beginning I did so as an out lesbian. Out in my personal life, that is, and out with my colleagues – but never out when working overseas. And to some extent that’s only right, professional – why should I share my personal life in mostly fleeting encounters anyway, regardless of my sexual orientation? But it was awkward at times. I worked with agents in, for example, China, for over half a decade – I knew about their personal & family lives, but I remained evasive about mine for the sake of our (otherwise) close working relationship. In other counties, such as Russia & Nigeria, it was literally more to do with personal survival. Yet I still felt compromised. It flew in the face of what Stonewall terms “being authentic”. And how can we be our best if we’re not being authentic? It’s a question I grappled with on each and every trip.

Three or so years ago I had the fortune to change my markets and became responsible for recruiting students from North & Latin America. Just as my fortune changed even more for the better and I met my soulmate, my finally-&-forever woman and, now, my wife. Whilst I still obviously wasn’t going around outing myself left, right & centre, suddenly it was ok to occasionally drop “my wife” into sentences when asked questions about my personal life. I could wear my wedding ring without worrying about answering questions about what does my husband do & how many children do I have (does 2 cats & 1 dog count?). I could refer to myself as Mrs Watts-Peters and explain how
double-barrelled names work (something a surprising number of people still don’t understand!) without embarrassment.

But now the incomprehensible has happened. Donald Trump is in the White House. One week in and White House pages on civil rights have been taken down, women’s rights to choose what happens to their own bodies are under threat, and war has pretty much been declared on anything or anyone defined, by them, as “other”. One week on and I was on my way to the US, starting in DC.

Now, I wasn’t expecting to land in a country so fundamentally changed that I no longer recognised it. I knew I was unlikely to personally encounter homophobia. And I didn’t. But how long before the vitriol and fear, borne from closed minds, seeps down? Before those who previously kept their prejudices against anything other than white & US-born to themselves, or at least their own, now  feel empowered to say and do exactly as want, to whomever they want? Maybe not in DC or New York, or California, where I often visit, but what about Texas, where I also often visit? Where even  pre-Trump I was very cautious. And well we might fear the worse if the noises coming out of DC so far are anything to go by, especially regarding the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) which, if  passed, would effectively legalise anti-LGBTQ discrimination – including among employers,  businesses, landlords and healthcare providers, as long as they claim to be motivated by firmly held  religious beliefs.

But as the world has already shown, and will I’m sure continue to show, we will stand in solidarity against racism, homophobia & sexism. The world will march, protest, stand up for and rage against  any atrocities which threaten our civil liberties. More than anything, LGBT+ communities across the world will carry on carrying on, proud of who we are. We’ve come too far and suffered too much to go back now.

And one more thing is for certain. I will still sing out loud in my hotel room, or sit on airplanes with my choir words open on my iPad & the Alto part on my headphones. And if questioned I will tell  them I’m rehearsing for Songbirds, an LBT choir. On 7th April we’re marking our 5th birthday with a celebratory concert. So come & see us in action – all are welcome. Better yet, if you like what you  hear and fall under the LBT umbrella, why not join us?!

By Sarah Watts-Peters

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