Gemma Murray from Lloyds Banking Group talks about finding her voice and how we are all more similar than we think with Louise Sinnerton from myGwork


Gemma Murray grew up in Ireland in the nineties and noughties and always felt supported in her sexuality by those around her. “I grew up in a small town in County Galway and think I was the first student that was out in my particular school. At the time I had a few male gay friends that had come out a few years at a different school and I saw that was okay. I feel extremely privileged to not have experienced bullying or any kind of negative experience.” Gemma was open about her sexuality and felt supported, she was head girl of her leaving year, which she feels reflects the acceptance of her school and the wider community.

After school, Gemma moved to Belfast, which was a huge moment in her life and taught her more about herself. “A lot of gay kids at that age want to move to the biggest city near them and have their eyes opened to the community. So when I went to Queen’s University I became involved in the community and that’s where it all kicked off”. Gemma joined the University’s LGBTQI student group and initially felt she had little to share or that her story was unremarkable. “Day by day I realised that I should be putting my head above the parapet. People needed to hear those “run of the mill” stories to counterbalance some of the other ones we hear. The majority of stories actually aren’t that terrifying and that’s powerful to see how many of them there are.”

At University Gemma learnt a lot about her own self-awareness and resilience. “First I realised I had my own internalised homophobia, and then I started opening myself up to different sorts of people and it really made me understand how we all are guilty of stereotyping or labelling people as ‘others’ at times.” Gemma merits this mixing of cultures and being open to more and more people as helping her to process her own insecurities about being gay. “Even growing up in a Catholic household, then going to University and making friends with people that happened to be Protestant – it made me realise that we are all human beings. Unlocking my own stereotypes based on religion or just the area you were born in was huge and I quickly realised that what peoples’ judgements are based on is so often just quicksand. Ever since then I’ve been more open minded towards others and where they come from.”

This helps Gemma to make sure that she isn’t being closed minded towards others. “I’ve never articulated it that way, but I really think that is part of the impact and the learnings of the Troubles.” In fact Gemma’s Mother had one Catholic parent and one Protestant parent and experienced huge repercussions from the fact that they loved each other. “The bullying my Mum endured, along with the intimidation from the army, was quite emotive growing up. I guess she taught me how to compartmentalise the emotions and practically that really helped me with my own journey.”

With a lot of Gemma’s experiences it comes back to stereotypes. “My Mum didn’t know anyone well who was gay, so she did struggle when I first came out at the age of 18. Then jump forward and she was out on the streets campaigning for the yes vote for same sex marriage in Ireland. It always shows me that talking with one another is really the key. Then you see that we’re all human and we all have as blinkered views as each other – and that can be something we can all have a laugh about. You know in Derry girls you see that played out brilliantly in this scene where each group of students hears ridiculous things about one another.” That is something that Gemma holds onto in her role as the Rainbow ‘L’ co-lead at Lloyds Banking Group.

When she first joined the bank, in the Belfast call centre, Gemma saw that Rainbow had a relatively small presence. “I joined as a member straight away and then found there wasn’t a big footprint there, no real events or mentors. I know that Belfast was always behind when it came to gay rights, so politically there was a difference between being there and the rest of the UK, but it did feel very much like a boys club so I helped with getting Rainbow’s profile raised in Belfast.”

Moving forward I helped organise Rainbow’s annual conference 2018 and actually ended up hosting it. Then when the lead for “L” stepped down, the steering committee asked her and a colleague of hers Tracey to share the role. (Gemma does this alongside her day job as Scrum Master in the Chief Data Office). “I definitely find networking can be something that can be a boys club in finance so my focus is there. With Rainbow my absolute dream would be to develop a network of kick ass women, a network of female identifying people. I’ve observed that in the past we’ve struggled to have females actively involved. So I want to create a space for those conversations we don’t hear. I’m interested in hearing what sisters have to say. Tracey and I are totally aligned on that.”

Gemma worries about the debate and us losing the room for nuance and shade of grey. “Nobody is 100% anything really and it’s scary that we can lose sight of that.” Other than creating a space to share female experience, more broadly Gemma is working on championing the BLM movement. “More broadly it is the most important cause there is, until our friends of colour have the same privileges and liberties as others, nobody will have equality. If I could change something it would be to see some substantial systemic changes come to place, the penny needs to drop for our political leaders and the powers that be. As a caucasian woman sitting speaking to you, I’m aware I need to keep educating myself.” 

From her experiences celebrating Pride in Belfast with protestors there every time she has attended, Gemma is aware we are far from a perfect world and everything being a level playing field. “With the changes that need to happen across the board, they all seem such common sense things to do to me, so it really makes me angry to know how much work still needs to be done.  Until systemic racism is taken out of the core of the systems that we all benefit from, then nobody will really be liberated and that includes in the LGBT community.”

Lloyds Banking Group is a corporate partner of the myGwork business community.

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