Anthony Smith Wells
Joined in: 2018
Job title: SME Account Manager
February marks LGBT History Month, a celebration of the strides we have made as a society, and an opportunity to reflect on what more needs to be done. We caught up with Anthony about setting up Team Rainbow at Advanced.
My name is Anthony Smith-Wells. I’m 31 years old, originally from Sunderland, now in the Midlands and work based out of the office in the Mailbox.
I am also a gay man and have been married for over five years.
Each February in the UK we celebrate LGBTQ+ history month. History month is there to help celebrate and educate others of the progress made by the gay community and the civil rights movements, both in the UK and globally. I am keen that this month gets celebrated at Advanced and is used as an effective opportunity for education.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and journey to Advanced?
Prior to working at Advanced, I worked for six years in police custody, so to say that this was a U-turn in my career path is a fair comment. The main reasons behind looking at Advanced was the option for progression in my career and to utilise my Marketing degree. I started in the Business Development Team and moved to Account Management not too long after, and I am looking forward to progressing further here.
I also have a history of chairing on a committee within an LGBTQ+ community group, called the Birmingham Blaze Football Club, throughout my 20s. I was able to help the club transition from local training sessions, to participation in national leagues and internal competitions, and to finally moving into an FA affiliation league and competitions; the first openly gay friendly representative of players team to do so.
What does LGBTQ+ History Month mean to you?
So LGBTQ+ history month, for me, is a chance to review and reflect what progress has been made for both me personally, and generally as a society. I have, over the past year or so, become more forthright with how I discuss being gay to my colleagues; it’s no longer a secret. Societally, however, I have seen regression in how the LGBTQ+ community have been addressed. This may be due to the pandemic and people being more comfortable sharing their opinions behind a screen.
Why did you want to get involved in starting up Team Rainbow?
I am what the community calls “straight acting”, which basically means I am stereotypically masculine; there is nothing beyond what I say that could give me away as being gay. Which to me is odd and preposterous. I didn’t outright tell anyone when first joining that I was gay due to the daunting environment a new, large technology company can be.
Aware other may feel the same, I therefore wanted to set up a group for the LGBTQ+ community and allies where we could openly discuss our stories and our experiences, especially at work, to make it less daunting and more open. I truly believe that we can do our best work when we are able to just be ourselves and not distracted by thoughts of self-preservation.
What is the biggest challenge facing the LGBTQ+ community?
I am not able to speak about the whole LGBTQ+ community, but I can share my challenges for the ‘G’ – the gay community. There is open homophobia, violence, having to consistently ‘come out’ and the lack of representation within broader society.
- Homophobic slurs, comments and hate speech are commonplace in the UK and are rarely challenged, in my experience.
- Whilst playing for Birmingham Blaze we were targeted by another team in the same league and assaulted, purely for being supportive of the LGBTQ+ community.
- This idea of ‘coming out’ is foreign to most, but when it comes to ‘hidden characteristics’, such as sexuality, gender identity, disabilities, the concept of coming out is very familiar and common. You get filled with dread each time you meet someone new, aware that you have to shock them with the news and hope that they react positively, or at the very least indifferent.
- Finally, the representation of the gay community to only ever one of two things: either ‘the absolutely fabulous’ or the ‘downright evil’. There is seemingly no in-between, no spectrum, no compromise on the stereotypes. It makes me laugh when I was in my mid-twenties and I went to a drag show at a night out and someone said, “her dress and shoes are fire” and I said “I don’t know anything at all about fashion / shoes, they just don’t interest me in the slightest”. They then asked me “are you even a gay then?” … I am, yes, that’s not how being gay works!
What do you want Team Rainbow to look like in a year time?
The group is in its infancy at the moment, so it’s hard to say what progress is possible. I’d like to see the number of people attending and contributing to our bi-weekly meetings grow. I’d like to see how the meetings translate should we move back into the office. I’d also like to think that Team Rainbow will be an integral influence within Advanced when looking at making changes to employee development and hiring, including a mentorship program.
What is the one thing people can do to be an ally?
This one is simple, let us know that you’re an ally!
- Ask questions. In some of the meetings we have had so far education is a key thing that keeps popping up. Questions like ‘what do each of the letters mean in LGBTQ+?’, and ‘what the right thing to do if…”
- Feel free to join the group on Teams, join in on our discussion, help by adding to the conversation.