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Case Study

Russell Cutler

"Let me set the scene first of all. I work for the Electricity Board, it's a huge multi-billion type company and therefore we adhere to policy and are governed by regulators. We have an Employee Relations department, Union Reps, company nurses and so forth. I am very aware of my employee rights, and being a gay man, the Equality Act. This provides me with security from discrimination, sick pay and medical leave."

"A big part of my role is to manage the field staff, this can be up to 30 men of all ages. We do have females also, just not part of the field staff in my particular team. I have a very good relationship with the guys despite me being the only gay man, and them not really knowing any other gay guys.

The same week I was diagnosed, I told the DM - Distribution Manager (my boss's boss if you like) as I knew I had impending hospital appointments during work hours. I was shaking and was very difficult to hear the words, "I'm HIV positive" come out of my mouth. The DM could see I was distressed and gave me the chance to go home. I didn't. He spoke very calmly to me, and reassured me that I can take whatever time off I needed and that it would remain between me and him. He also advised me to think about informing the ER department and my direct Manager.

I continued down my journey for the next week or two, attending several appointments at the hospital and started to understand what it all meant. I then informed the ER department but asked the DM to advise my manager. At this point I didn't want 'the boys' (my term of endearment for the field staff) to know, I didn't feel they would understand, and I was worried it would affect my working relationship with them.

As I work for the Electricity Board, we have the HV network, I kept slipping up, classic Freudian slip, when I had to say HV, I'd say HIV, I nearly died on the spot a couple of times. This led me to the decision to let the boys know. I had such a great response from them, one of the guys had a tear in his eyes, as he only knew about HIV in Africa and thought it meant I was going to die. It was emotional but very warming to know how accepting they all were. I had private texts from some of them, offering support,  invites to their houses and other kinds gestures.

The company continued to support me throughout the many appointments I had as a newly diagnosed positive person. They made slight adjustments to my working schedule for me and eventually gave me the entire day off for bloods and the day off for results instead of just a few hours. This remains to this day, 6.5 years later.

I have since moved depots and I am open about it with all office staff and my new boys. I've only experienced kindness and support and obviously some banter, which I think is a positive thing. I can only imagine how I'd feel if I had to keep it all a secret. I experienced that as a gay youngster growing up in the 80's and 90's and refused to be oppressed again. Being open has enabled me to have very open and frank discussions about it. I always say, don't worry about terminology, just ask in your words, and I will answer, and give you the right words, as I think open conversations are extremely important and as I have the opportunity to do so, I feel I should.

I am extremely lucky that I am able to be open and have the reassurance and security of the Equality Act etc. All my colleagues, the boys, management etc take it all as the norm for me. I'm not treated any differently at all. I'm well-liked and some do show me understanding and empathy, if and when I've ever felt low, or when I've gone for bloods, asking how I got on. I've had a good experience, and I'm grateful that I work with some lovely people."