After a summer of celebration of the advancement of gay rights in the UK, Charlie Atkinson talks to one of the county’s youngest councillors about what it is like to ‘come out’ in modern Northampton…
The world looks a lot different to how it did in 1976. In many senses, the United Kingdom seems to have grown up in terms of its views towards culture, ethnicity and sexuality. Yet this apparent shift in attitude is long overdue, considering the first openly gay Member of Parliament, Maureen Colquhoun, freed herself of the closet over 40 years ago.
Although somewhat under the radar, Colquhoun’s story has never been more poignant, considering the impact of the recent LGBT movement. Deselected from parliament due to her sexuality and feminist beliefs, the treatment of the very first openly gay MP is the pin-up for regressive attitudes which are still displayed to this day.
A 21 year old councillor from Spinney Hill will hope to have a different experience in politics, however. You may recognise Sam Rumens, particularly if you are in the constituency of Kingsthorpe North. For the past few years, this young Tory politician has been canvassing and campaigning to stamp his mark down in local politics. Being one of the youngest elected councillors in Northamptonshire is remarkable in itself, but achieving all of this while hiding the fact he is gay is truly inspiring.
To this young man, however, it has all been a walk in the park. “Nothing has changed since I came out,” says Sam. “My life is exactly the same as it was before I came out; work is the same, council meetings and events are still the same, so I don’t see how my life is going to change at all as a result of my sexuality.”
You would not have to look too hard for a completely different experience of being openly gay, even in 2017. What is immediately noticeable noticeable, however, is Sam’s apparent acceptance of himself and the pride he holds in his sexuality. It is no surprise to hear that Sam has had somewhat of an easy ride in the early stages of life as an openly gay man.
Although the day to day has been a breeze, Sam does admit that the only difficult period he faced was the prospect of coming out to his parents: “The mum and dad thing was really weird, because, and I don’t know why, something inside made me really fear telling them,” says Sam. “I didn’t fear the reaction because I knew they would support me, but I feared just saying it.”
The fear that overwhelmed Sam is one of the most common problems closeted homosexuals face, yet hearing it from a first hand perspective makes you realise how daunting the task actually is, and allows you to gain an understanding of just how stressful and agonising being in the closet can be.
If you were hoping for a Hollywood coming out story, then you should look for someone else. Sam’s story is particularly fitting for that of a millennial. “I had this whole plan of telling my parents around the breakfast table and quickly darting off to go to work, but I ended up pacing around the kitchen and not being able to psych myself up enough to say it,” says Sam. “In the end I rushed off to work and did the typical social media child option of creating a group chat with my mum and dad and telling them that way.”
Hardly worthy of a Pride of Britain award, is it? Although comical, the warming side to this story is the response he received from his parents just a few seconds later. “Within 2 and a half seconds my mum responds ‘Do you know I guessed? Come out, enjoy your life, I love you so much’ and my dad followed up with ‘Good on you, but I’ve kind of known for ages.”
It can be argued that the response Sam received from his parents is representative of the worlds attitude to the LGBT movement which has gained so much traction over the last few years. With gay marriage being legalised across an array of countries, including the United States of America, it seems as though coming out of the closest has never been easy. Although, in the typically maverick style of Sam Rumens, he claims that the movement didn’t play that big of a role in his decision to reveal his true self.
“Knowing I have a lot of supportive friends around me was what really made the ‘coming out’ process a lot easier,” admits Sam. “But the LGBT movement didn’t really influence me too much, it didn’t really change anything for me at all, but what it has done is change the perception of the average Joe and their opinions on homosexuals to get them to think that they are people and not just strange aliens, but the vibrancy of the movement itself hasn’t really affected me.”
As with anyone, Sam has ambitions, and high ones at that. This proactive career in politics is all geared towards an end goal of becoming Prime Minister. With the political landscape of recent years becoming more diverse, does Sam think that the world, and indeed the nation, is ready for a gay PM?
“The reason why we haven’t had an ethnic minority as a Prime minister is because ethnic minorities make up a very small percentage of the population,” says Sam. “ Mathematically speaking, it’s just likely to be a white person every time. But people do not base who they want to be their PM on their skin tone, their sexuality or their gender, they vote for them because they think they’re going to do the best for the country.”
“If you stood a gay bloke up against a woman and a white, middle class, straight man, I don’t think anyone would care ‘who’ they are as such, they only care about who says the right thing and who stimulates them and excites them.”
The national side of politics is a long way off, however. Sam’s main priority is local government and doing his best for the people of Kingsthorpe North. Although he has hope in the future of national politics in terms of diversity, Sam also believes the same attitude will translate to his constituency.
“If I’m completely honest, I don’t think people take any interest into what their councillor gets up to in their spare time so long as he’s doing good work for the area and responding to queries and sorting out the potholes or whatever,” says Sam. “If anything, my sexuality might have a positive affect by promoting the LGBT forum, which is where people get together to discuss their sexuality, so in that sense it can help people who are struggling to come out of the closest to see that, actually, there are people in positions of power who have been in exactly the same position, and that could help influence the way people perceive me.”
Sam’s attitude is commendable and his stiff upper lip way of thinking is arguably what has made him so successful as he enters his twenties. Despite somewhat of a unfazed exterior, Sam still remains human, and still wishes to be held in high regard. With that in mind, how does one of the youngest councillors in Northamptonshire who has recently come out as gay, want to be perceived? Unsurprisingly, Sam response is both humble and refreshing.
“I just want people to understand that being gay is no different to being straight, to being bisexual, to being transgender, or black, white, Jewish, disabled, abled or whatever, we are all human beings and we live on the same planet and we have to work together whether we like it or not.” For the first time in this interview, Sam reveals a sense of passion and almost a degree of annoyance. “If people are going to look at people differently based on something they have no choosing over, then why should we respect that opinion? This is all about continuously breaking down barriers and just changing the conversation and changing preconceived ideas of what relationships are and just getting people to accept that anyone can love anyone, no matter who they are.”
It is a message which has been repeated a thousand times over the last few years. An urge to break down barriers and change the perception towards LGBT members is such a simple request yet is one which a community has had to fight for. Despite a political career at the forefront of his mind, as well as juggling a full time job, Sam is still leading the line in the battle for equality. Many will view his battle as inspirational, but the real commendable feature of Sam is his attitude and his way of thinking. Sam never takes himself too seriously yet displays unerring passion, and it is this combination which will undoubtedly serve him well in his journey through politics and his journey through life.