'I had to leave home when I was 19...I want to talk about the unspoken costs of being gay.'

Phillippa Koushk-Jalali

Tell me a little bit about yourself

I’m 27, about to turn 28. I grew up in a small town. My parents divorced when I was about 6 years old and not long after, my mum met my stepdad and we moved in with him. I saw my dad every other weekend until I was about 16 and then all connection was broken. Around the age of 19, I realised I was probably gay, and felt my mum wouldn’t be supportive, so I worked to move out and I found a studio flat that I lived in for a bit on my own. When I did come out, it went about as well as I expected and we didn’t talk about it for years. Eventually, she said some awful homophobic things to me (she was very toxic and a narcissist; therapy helped me get over all the other damage she had done!) and I cut contact completely. There were times I had to reinstate contact (my sister’s wedding, my cat being ill etc.), but I would never be able to ask for anything from her or trust her.

How did you manage that at the age of 19?

When I initially moved out I was on a decent-ish salary plus commission and rented a studio apartment (with a bed that pulled out of the wall like in “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” lol) that was about £500/pm in rent. Honestly, I was 19 and had no idea how to manage finances. There were so many bills and I had to get my electricity on a key and top it up which was confusing as hell. My electrics cut out more than once and I relied on my credit card if I didn’t have the cash available.

Where did you meet your girlfriend?

Eventually, I decided to leave my well-paying job to move to London where there’s a bigger LGBT+ scene. Obviously, this comes with additional costs (this is very common for LGBT+ people). I went to study Law at university and had no parental support whatsoever. I met my girlfriend the first week of uni. I graduated in 2020 with no job offers. I had rent to pay, a demanding landlord and no one I could rely on for financial support (my girlfriend is amazing but didn’t earn anywhere near enough to cover us both). It was tough but somehow I got lucky and made it work by going self-employed for a bit and relying on my student overdraft. The landlord wanted the property back so we had to leave, but we faced homophobia trying to find new places (they came up with ridiculous excuses).

Where did you go next?

Luckily we did manage to get a roof over our heads in the form of my partner’s nana’s house but fast forward a few months and I lost my job. 2 weeks later we were in a car crash. My chronic illness flared and I couldn’t work as I was so ill. I felt like I had no one to ask for help because the person or people you’re supposed to be able to turn to in these moments are your parents, right? I am very fortunate that my sister swept in and supported me financially for a few months, and then Universal Credit decided to give me some money. I recently (last month) started a new job after 7 months of unemployment.

How has all of this impacted your finances?

I’m in significant debt with my sister, student overdraft and partner. I don’t come from a super wealthy family, but I know that had I not been gay I probably could still have a relationship with my mum and stepdad and they would have helped me financially through these tough periods.

What’s been your experience being an LGBT+ person at work?

Finding work is harder as an LGBT+ person because culture is so important. I can’t put myself back in the closet to make others comfortable, it’s not who I am. I’ve faced discrimination in interviews. I’ve left jobs because I’ve felt uncomfortable in the culture of the organisation. It’s taken a long time to find a company which embraces me completely and where people don’t flinch when I say “my girlfriend” or stop asking about my weekends etc.. Today I even managed to have a laugh with colleagues about different experiences across dating apps which was so nice and hilarious. Sometimes you have to sacrifice salary for safety. It can also mean you have to job hop more because you can’t always tell before joining an organisation. Plus, for me, it meant taking a 3 year career gap to go study so I could move to the city where I hoped to find more LGBT+ people and safety. Who knows what opportunities I could have had in those 3 years?

Tell me a bit about your current job. How did you find an employer with a culture that fits?

My current job is as an Account Manager with an HR SaaS psychometric testing provider. There were so many green flags in the interview process. I’m very “stereotypical” in my look as a lesbian and my CV has that I was a finalist for LGBT Undergraduate of the Year, so I don’t hide it. I’m very open and make references to my girlfriend in interviews where appropriate to gauge reactions.  My current manager was so kind during the process. Then as soon as I got in I looked up internal networks on the intranet to see if they had an employee LGBT+ network and what level of engagement it has etc… we do and it’s great!!

What’s your advice to other LGBT+ folk?

My advice is to remember that there is nothing wrong with you. If people around you are unsupportive or worse, know that there is a place for you in this world where you don’t have to live like that. Keep knuckling down and don’t accept anything less than the support you deserve. I’m not going to say go where you’re celebrated or any of that naff stuff because it makes being LGBT+ out to be some kind of superpower, and we’re just normal people living our lives. You deserve the same love and respect as anyone else. Never settle for less. Always be willing and open to moving or changing your situation. Money is important for security and safety, but your mental health is just as important, and being in an unsupportive environment will not be sustainable or allow you to flourish. You’ll never reach your full potential in terms of happiness or money if you aren’t given the same support as those around you. Whilst you’re stuck… Find your community. People love to help each other. Network network network. Someone you help one day may be able to help you another. And just know that you’re completely normal and the people around you and their reaction to your sexuality or gender is not reflective of who you are. And my final piece of advice if you’re LGBT+ and struggling with family… focus on platonic love. Find your family. The saying “blood is thicker than water” is longer than people think. It’s actually “the blood of the coven is thicker than the water of the womb”, which flips the meaning entirely. You’re allowed to find your family, you don’t have to just accept the one you were born into. Loving other people is a sure-fire way to start to learn to love yourself as you see yourself reflected in them. And get therapy, if you can afford it. It can change your life.

Anything else you would like people to know?

I guess just that every LGBT+ person has their own struggles whether that’s financial, emotional or otherwise so allies need to consider that. Also just that obviously lesbians get hit with a double whammy of the gender pay gap.

It’s been rough, BUT today I graduated from therapy, I’m in a good place.

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