Chris Leigh, resource business partner at Vets Now, shares his story, in his own words.

I wanted to share my experience of coming out, to raise awareness of what LGBTQIA+ people go through, and to hopefully let others who are affected by this, either directly, or indirectly, know that you are not alone, it gets better, and there is always light on the horizon.

I knew I was gay from being a little boy, I always felt different to everybody else, and I knew that I didn’t fancy girls, and that I never would. I was incredibly sensitive, and very aware of peoples feelings from a very young age. As well as being far more feminine than other boys my age were, I much preferred baking cakes with my Granny, than playing football in the park.

I was raised in a family, with a lot of strong women, my amazing Mum, 3 sisters, and my Granny, who was my biggest advocate and best friend. However, my Dad, was a stereotypical ‘northern bloke’, spent most of days in the pub, at the football, and most certainly did not want a gay son.

He made every effort he could over the years to ‘straighten’ me out, and it was the cause of many family arguments. It was very traumatic to me, as kid, it was like someone was trying to get me to grow a 3rd arm, or a 2nd head, I couldn’t change who I was, I was who I was, and I knew I couldn’t change.

As the years went by, sadly, the relationship with my Dad deteriorated and eventually broke down completely, he saw me as a lost cause. However, my Mum, Granny and sisters were my allies, and carried me through those difficult years, although, at this point, we never spoke about my sexuality, it didn’t need to be said, we just knew. Time passed, and in my mid to late teens, following a series of fleeting relationships, desperately trying to find myself and somebody to love me for who I was, I met and fell in love with my Jack, who 15 years later, is now my husband.

Chris and his partner, Jack

Pride for me became a beacon of hope, a golden light on the horizon, a safe place to celebrate all that is wonderful about our community, and a place where so many people can come together in shared experiences

Chris Leigh

During this time, I knew I had to do the whole ‘coming out’ thing, I sat down with my Granny & Mum first, my Granny was close to 80 at the time, and they both just held my hands and let me know I didn’t need to say anything, and they would always love me, and as long as I was happy & healthy, they were happy. My sisters were less sentimental, and went on to explain how they knew who I was when I was 4 and dressed up as Madonna for my birthday, or when I stood up in my high chair in the middle of our local carvery and sang ‘I’ve had the time of my life’ from Dirty Dancing, at the top of my voice! Coming out to my Dad was a different kettle of fish, I planned a visit, and in the days preceding, the anxiety I experienced was overwhelming, I felt sick to my stomach, I struggled to function, and I just wanted to run away from it. But, with the support of my family, I did it, it obviously wasn’t a surprise to him ultimately, however, I couldn’t escape the disappointment and resentment oozing from him. Unfortunately, that was the foundations for our relationship thereafter, but, I came to realise that if he couldn’t love and support me in the way the rest of my family and friends did, then, he didn’t actually deserve to be part of my life.

There has been many ups and downs throughout my life, finding my way, and navigating life as a gay man, coming to terms with how it can be difficult, when it shouldn’t be, always feeling ‘on the back foot’ with different life milestones, that other people take for granted. I am forever grateful that I didn’t experience much in the way of bullying or aggression, so I supported others that did. Pride for me became a beacon of hope, a golden light on the horizon, a safe place to celebrate all that is wonderful about our community, and a place where so many people can come together in shared experiences, whether LGBTQIA+ or not, a place where those of us that weren’t always fully accepted, could find that acceptance.

Through all of this, I concentrated on my career, and building a successful life, with my Jack, who I knew was my soul mate, and the love of my life. Sadly, over the last year, I lost my two biggest allies, Mum & Granny passed within 5 months of each other, and with them left the two people who made my childhood bearable, and made me proud to be who I was born to be. This was a threshold moment for me, a time where I had shift gears and step up, otherwise I would have floundered. I made some commitments following this period, key objectives I wanted to work towards, to give back to the people that helped me, and to channel all my experiences into something positive. I joined the Vets Now EDI group, in an effort to bring my experience to an amazing group, making a profound and true difference to people right across our business within this space, a group that I now chair.

I am genuinely honoured to play a small part in helping this unbelievable charity achieve its goals, and reach as many young people as possible.

Chris Leigh

I was also asked to join the board of an LGBTQIA+ charity, as a trustee to help develop their commercial strategy, and income generation streams.

Pride North, are a charity that provide a wide range of support services to LGBTQIA+ young people, living in rural areas in the North of England, providing support to those most vulnerable in this space, I have so much love and compassion for our service users, and I am genuinely honoured to play a small part in helping this unbelievable charity achieve its goals, and reach as many young people as possible.

Another positive to come from the challenges of the past year, is my Dad and I have reconnected, although we will never have the relationship I longed for as a child, I have had the closure I needed, and we are building on this incrementally over time. I find I have many things to be grateful for, a successful life, a wonderful husband, a lovely family and network of friends, I have our community, pride, and to work for a genuine, values led business such as Vets Now, who has supported me, far beyond expectations, and allowed me to be my true self.

If I could rewind the tape, and go back to my childhood self, I would let tell him to focus on that light on the horizon, things will come good, and to lean into the community and the values of pride, to steer you through the hard times.

Even when times are hard, you are not alone, I would encourage anyone experiencing challenges in this space, if you don’t feel like you have the support locally, reach out to communities or charities around you, or connect with other people with shared experiences, and always be kind, it is so easy to get caught up in the grind of every day life, where the small things feel like mountains to climb. It is important to take stock, and focus on that light on the horizon, and support each other