In her ‘day job’, Alison Camps FRSA is Deputy Chairman of Quadrangle, an award-winning insight consultancy, working with clients including M&S, Lloyds Bank and Jaguar Land Rover.
In her ‘gay’ job, Alison is the volunteer Co-chair of Pride in London. She joined as Marketing Director in 2013, leading the development of brand strategy and the delivery of early campaigns #FreedomTo, #PrideHeroes, #NoFilter and #LoveHappensHere. She was the first Marketing Director in the UK to feature trans couples in advertising.
As Co-chair her number one priority has been to improve levels of inclusion and diversity within the event and the team of people who deliver it. Pride in London was recognised in 2018 with the Queen’s Award for Volunteering.
Alison has previously been a school governor and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
When did you have that “a-ha” moment and realise you were different?
I knew from a very young age… 5 or 6… that I was different. But I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s in a town where everyone seemed very ‘normal’. And then I managed to go to what was probably the most heterosexual university in England! Looking back, it was a good lesson in the importance of two things – inclusive SRE and role models.
How would you describe your experience of coming out?
I didn’t come out until I was 37 and it was hard. It caused pain to a lot of people who were in my life at that time. My parents didn’t react well – we didn’t really see each other for a year afterwards. I lost friends. But then I gained a whole lot. It was a joyous, liberating time and also a relief to finally rid myself of the burden I had been carrying around for decades.
How did your childhood and family background impact both the timing and the way you came out?
Massively. I grew up in a very secure, loving nuclear family environment. My parents were both from working class, London backgrounds and moved out to Surrey in the ‘60s to have kids. My brother and I grew up with the same group of friends we’d known since we were in playschool and when I was in my teens I got involved in a local church. Later in life I discovered that my best friend at secondary school is also a lesbian. Had I known that at the time perhaps things would have been different. I got married to a man in my 20s and did my best to conform.
What would your advice to anyone trying to come out?
I don’t think there is a right or a wrong way to come out. It is what it is and whenever, however it happens is valid (as long as that’s what you want to happen). If you can confide in someone, then that’s good. If you can’t, then there are lots of support networks online. In our digital age, no one needs to feel alone in coming to terms with coming out. I guess the important thing is that it happens on your terms, in your time. It may be plain sailing, it may not, but living your life authentically is far, far better than living a lie. Trust me, I tried it for a *long* time.
What was the most difficult experience you faced in your life because of your sexual orientation / gender identity? How did you handle it?
Hmmm. I think dealing with the knowledge that my coming out hurt and damaged other people, specifically the guy I was married to. It wasn’t his fault, but he suffered the consequences. It took me a long time to get to grips with the fact that it wasn’t my fault either… I hadn’t acted with malice, I had tried my hardest to do what I thought was expected, but in the end I had to be able to look at myself in the mirror. I got through it on a day by day basis. I withdrew from people in my ‘old life’. I wrote a lot of anguished letters. I got some counselling. I made some new friends. In other words, I did some stuff that was ‘bad’ and some stuff that was ‘good’. You do what you can, and that’s OK.
Who is the most important role model in your life and why?
I have many role models. Volunteering for Pride in London has projected me into the orbit of many fantastic human beings, and I have been privileged to learn so much from so many of them. Without being specific, I value people who bring a certain wisdom to their activism, who build connections and community and who are sufficiently self-confident to raise up others around them. On the flipside, I don’t care at all for people who are all about their own personal brand, who sow seeds of division and who say one thing but behave another… and sadly I have come across a few of those too.
Now broadening our horizon, describe your experience being a member of the LGBTQ community at work? In your industry?
I work in the market research industry. Our job is *literally* to represent the diverse views of the population in the work we do. And yet, we have come quite late to the diversity and inclusion party. Our LGBTQ network is only a year or so old. Conversations about the need for research to properly reflect the needs and wants of ethnic minorities, socially excluded and LGBTQ ‘audiences’ are still not as commonplace as they should be. Research is a sector in which more women than men work. And yet senior leadership is biased towards men. We struggle to attract young black and Asian talent. In my own business, my partners have been nothing but supportive. But I am aware that I am also in a privileged position. There’s more to be done.
And, what could make the biggest positive impact for the LGBTQ community?
I always come back to the same two things. Education – which shouldn’t stop when you leave school. Anyone in business leadership has a responsibility to educate themselves about issues that may not affect them personally, but which do impact either their people or their customers. And visible role models. You may never know how your visibility makes a difference to someone else, but – believe me – it does.
Finally and on a less serious note, what stereotype do you love the most about the LGBTQ community?
So many stereotypes!
I think, flamboyance. Flamboyance is fab.
Alison on social media: