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I went to university to escape homophobic bullying at work

I remember feeling relieved when the company I was working for offered me a full-time permanent contract, but I didn't know what I'd signed up for.

I had never felt happy working there, but a permanent contract gave me the stability of a regular income. At twenty-one years of age, stability eradicated my anxiety about affording the rent, bills and food. A regular income enabled me to move out of a room in a shared house into my own flat, which I later shared with my first girlfriend. The relationship gave me the confidence to come out to my family and friends about my sexuality, who accepted it. At work it was a different story, no one knew about my sexuality and I planned to keep it that way.

It was one of those workplaces where everyone knew each other; one woman had every member of her family working there.

Your face had to fit their picture. If they didn’t like the way you walked, talked or even ate; they’d make a point about excluding you, not talking to you, spreading rumours about you; they’d insult you and make your life hell. They started by spreading rumours around about me: ‘She doesn’t know what she is,’ 'she’s a Lesbo so watch it.’ To begin with, the rumours were small because they were too busy victimising a middle-aged man, who they started victimising before I was working there and continued to pick on. They flicked elastic bands at him; one man intentionally flicked an elastic band directly at his face while sitting opposite him. They covered his work desk in graffiti, vandalised his chair by smashing it to pieces; consistently made fun of the way he talked, walked and dressed. Most of it was name-calling such as; 'faggot' ‘wimp,’ ‘prick,’ ‘Mr. Camp,’ ‘loser,’ ‘peado,’ and ‘perv.’

While spreading rumours around the workplace that he was a homosexual; they claimed he was also a serial-stalker stalking and harassing women that worked there.

After the Global Recession of 2008, the company made its first redundancies in 2010. The middle-aged man they’d been victimising was made redundant. He’d been complaining about the way the workforce was treating him. The management put it down to there being a problem with him. In the twenty years he’d worked there he’d never been late for work, never rang up sick and sat at his desk getting on with his work with his head down. You tell me what is wrong with that? The management were like the governors of a prison, they would side with the ring-leaders and troublemakers because they didn’t want the hassle of dealing with them. I wanted to volunteer for redundancy in 2010 but I didn’t have another job to walk into. I didn’t get made redundant.

In 2010 they made a small number of people redundant, but in 2012 more redundancies came and it was a mass execution.

The redundancies of 2012 wiped out 80% of the workforce. I kept my job at a price. Small rumours turned into vicious accusations: ‘she pooed on the floor in the bathroom,’ 'she leaves dirty sanitary towels lying around the workplace,’ 'she fancies the Supervisor and keeps staring at her breasts,’ 'she’s stealing books,’ ‘she’s violent and beats people up,’ and ‘she intentionally damages the books.’ At first it was one woman who kept doing it. She’d randomly go up to that person, then another person, making vicious statements about me. Eventually, other people joined in. One man kept complaining that I was too serious. The same man started pushing into me when I walked past him in the aisle; he would intentionally block my way if I needed to get past. Another man kept waiting for me to take the next trolley in line if it was a difficult account. The trolleys were full of books which we had to service. Each trolley was a different account. One account might require ten different operations to each book: another account only one. We had to service so many books an hour. A piece of A4 sized paper was attached to each trolley; telling you what account was on that trolley. If the next trolley in line was an account which required lots of operations to each book, after finishing his trolley, instead of taking the next one, he’d sit and wait for me to finish and take it. Everyone started doing the same. They’d all tell each other what the next trolley in line was and keep watching me to see when I’d finish. I ended up doing all the difficult accounts. The management moved me to another department for a month, then moved me back to where I was before. I asked to move to another department; the management said no. We all sat together at a rectangle shaped table, with six to eight people on each table; three people either side facing each other.

They would sit talking across the table to each other about lesbians: ‘lesbians aren’t normal,’ ‘they are backwards,’ ‘they go against God,’ and ‘everything about the way they have sex is unnatural.’

If I took the next trolley in line and it was an easier account, they’d say ‘bitch’ out loud as they walked past me or come in close to me and call me a ‘slag.’ Once, I’d finished my trolley and I was standing up giving it a quality check when a woman came up to me from behind; she kicked me in the back of the leg while calling me a ‘bitch.’ She then ran up to the back aisle which was hidden away and shouted at me ‘come on then.’ I immediately complained to the manager who told me I was a troublemaker.

The management moved me to a desk where I was sitting on my own. The supervisor and her assistant were sitting opposite me. Every day, all day, the supervisor kept complaining to her assistant or anyone that would listen, that I was constantly staring at her breasts. She was accusing me of sexual harassment. She’d go up to every member of staff and say that I’d been staring at her breasts all day, that I wouldn’t leave her alone. They were painting me out to be a pervert. If I finished my trolley on time; she and others would infer I’d finished it on time to impress her. They made out that everything I did, I was only doing to impress the supervisor. I decided to confront the supervisor about the accusations she was making about me. I asked her whether she had a problem with me and she didn’t answer. Instead, she went to the office and accused me of attacking her. My co-workers all claimed I shouted at her and the management gave me a written warning.

I would fantasise about hanging myself in the toilets. I thought about taking an overdose of paracetamol.

They would stand directly behind me shouting at me, ‘you lesbian bitch fuck off,’ they’d stand directly next to me shouting at me, ‘I hate you, I hate you, fuck off,’ and they’d stand in front of me shouting out loud, ‘gays shouldn’t be allowed to work here; the company shouldn’t employ gays.’ They threatened to run me over if they saw me outside of work. They’d steal my lunch if I put it in the fridge and then boast about stealing it. They threatened to beat me up. While I was taking Ibuprofen tablets a woman on my table saw and shouted out, ‘I hope she chokes to death on them tablets.’ They flicked elastic bands at me. The management forced me to attend a meeting without a representative in which they ambushed me. My co-workers sat in the meeting and admitted to the management they were victimising me, and they said they were doing it because they stood by the church and what they believed in. It ended up getting so bad that I had to have time off work because of Shingles, which was brought on by stress. Sometimes I’d stay in the toilet to get away from them. I put in countless complaints and each time the management refused to take me seriously. I was forced to come out about my sexuality to complain. The conversations I had in the office with the manager were soon after thrown around the workplace and turned into common knowledge.

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Hostile environments cause people to disengage and withdrawal or worse- leave. We want to help the employees and the business to create healthy work environments for everyone. Report bad work behavior directly to an offender’s boss at www.warble.work. Companies can’t fix what they don’t know is broken. Always anonymous and free. #businessispersonnel #exposingpeopleproblems #warbleworks #badmanager #discrimination #timesup #badboss #equalpay #genderequality #healthyworkplace #accountability #workplacebullying #workplacediversity #Employmentdiscrimination #Equalopportunity #Harassment #lgbtqrights #ihatemyjob #ihatemyboss #needanewjob #needtoquit #myjobiskillingme #workissues #womensupportingwomen #womensrights #attrition #workplacewellness #employeesupport #humanresources #safeworkplace

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I was applying for jobs but not getting anywhere. The only real work experience I had was from that company. I’d get very nervous during interviews and had zero self-confidence. I couldn’t see a way out of the situation apart from walking out of my job or committing suicide. My rent was increasing all the time. I knew if I walked out and didn’t get another job straight away there was a risk of falling behind with the rent. A risk of being made homeless. I decided to apply to attend university full-time. I knew if I was accepted I’d be able to get Student Finance to pay the rent. I’d always wanted to study English at university, so I applied to study BA (Hons) English Language and Literature. I got an unconditional offer from Birmingham City University and accepted it. I didn’t tell anyone at work that I’d applied to go to university; I kept it close to my chest.

In August the company announced they were making redundancies so I volunteered for it. I got accepted on the 18th September 2017, which was the first day of BCU Welcome Week. I had a job lined up working part-time for BCU Students’ Union, as a Student Property Lettings Assistant. Everything just fell into place. I got my voluntary redundancy payout, went to university and didn’t look back. It’s been a year since I escaped from that dreadful company. My confidence has increased, I’m happy and comfortable in my own skin. I don’t feel ashamed about being attracted to women and don’t feel a need to hide who I am. I can be myself.