This week on the It Gets Better UK Blog we have an interview with Laks Mann (he/him). Laks works in comms and business change and is an award winning D&I advocate.
Please be aware that this post touches on the topics of mental health.
Thank you so much for your insightful interview Laks!
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I’m a South Asian, cis, queer, gay man, of Indian heritage, Panjabi cultural background, Sikh faith upbringing, with a working class Black Country/Brummie background. I’ve been a Police Officer in London for 13 years in a number of frontline and project roles. I’m Secretary of the National LGBT+ Police Intersectionality Group and a Met Police Sikh Association member.
Previously I worked in the charity sector for 2 years, and before that I worked in international corporate roles for 8 years as a Chartered Accountant with PwC, Deutsche Bank, and JLL.
I’m a Trustee with caba, a global wellbeing charity for the Chartered Accountancy community, as well as being a Trustee and the LGBTQ+ Lead for South Asian Heritage Month UK. I’m also a Mayor of London appointed Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Advisor to City Hall, and the Founder of Gaysians UK.
I won the Positive LGBT Role Model Award 2020 at the prestigious ITV National Diversity Awards, and was a shortlisted finalist at the Rainbow Honours 2022 and British Diversity Awards 2020. I was listed in the UK’s Top 30 BAME Role Models 2020 by University of Oxford, House of Commons, Operation Black Vote and Lloyd’s Bank.
2. Tell us a bit about your own mental health experiences and being LGBTQ+?
I recall a ‘sex education’ school lesson around 1989 where the teacher described homosexuality, and that under Section 28 it was illegal for her to say that as she could be fired, but nonetheless wanted us to be educated. I remember secretly thinking of the boys and male teachers I had a crush on and feeling scared of ‘what if I’m gay?’ and ‘I must keep my feelings secret’.
That’s what a homophobic society does; it oppresses mother nature, suffocates people, and causes mental harm. My feelings were compounded by growing up in an extended family with strong Panjabi cultural roots which can be hyper-macho, patriarchal, and cross-over into toxic masculinity.
So I suppressed my feelings through my teenage years and early twenties. I was expected to marry a woman, have children, and continue the family line. Everyone I knew in my family and community had trodden that path so I knew I would be the first to come out as gay, and that terrified me!
Looking back around that time I did experience anxiety, mild depression and had fleeting thoughts of suicide - but always drew on my inner strength and resilience to lift me out of those feelings.
3. What do you think LGBTQ+ people can learn from your experiences?
Life is for living and it’s what you make of it. If you’re not where you want to be right now, set about charting your own course to your destination.
When I started coming out to myself, I didn’t know how I could forge a way forward. I couldn’t imagine what my life could be like; I had no template or role models to guide me. Though I’ve always been a resourceful person and I knew I’d find my way somehow.
I transferred to London for work, left the family home, and immersed myself in queer culture whenever possible. I saw how beautiful the queer community is when we’re allowed to flourish. I knew my future would be better, though it was difficult to find LGBTQ+ spaces where I could embrace being Brown/POC.
I set about connecting with people, volunteering for LGBTQ+ initiatives, and along the way I found my tribes and made many new friends. I decided I wanted to amplify the narratives for Brown queers to platform authentic and positive representations of the UK’s South Asian LGBTQ+ community. I launched Gaysians at Pride in London 2017 and it was a game-changer in creating a resurgent Brown queer movement.
4. If you had one message for LGBTQ+ people what would it be?
Aim to be the person you were born to be! Focus on happiness as your priority!
That means navigating your way through life’s challenges and obstacles, whilst always being aware of your physical and mental safety. Take your time if you need it, there’s no rush - do things at your pace if you’re able to. Connect to your people - build your networks - embrace your chosen families.
Understand the his/her/their stories of our communities and know that we stand on the shoulders of many legends, icons, and queeroes who’ve been torchbearers and beacons of hope. Show solidarity with queer siblings and know that together we are stronger.
5. Is there anything you want to add to the interview that we haven’t captured here already?
There’s no single lens to queerness - that’s why our rainbow family gets bigger and more colourful as our community grows in confidence and strength.