LGBT+ History Month: Izzi Lerwill shares their story
Izzi Lerwill, transgender and non-binary chartered accountant at Grant Thornton UK, shares their story for LGBT+ history month.
My pronouns are they/them
My name is Izzi Lerwill and my pronouns are they/them. I’m a chartered accountant who trained in audit in Leicester, Nottingham and St Albans. I’m now a financial modelling assistant manager for the London office at Grant Thornton UK. I’m a human rights activist and One Young world Ambassador. I’m currently seconded 50% to the Inclusion and Diversity team focusing on Social Mobility.
I’m a queer person from a working class background with long-term mental health disabilities called premenstrual dysphoric disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
My queer identity includes two aspects: my sexual orientation and my gender identity. In terms of my sexual orientation, I am bisexual which means I have the potential to be attracted to a person regardless of their gender. In terms of my gender identity, I am transgender and non-binary. This means that my gender identity does not match the gender I was initially assigned at birth.
I grew up under Section 28
Section 28 of the Local Government Act prohibited “the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities” and was not repealed in the UK until 2003. However, I went to school in Kent and Kent County Council voted against the UK government decision and instead brought in their own version of Section 28.
While I was at school, our MPs in Kent said, "we will ensure that sex education values family and marriage as the foundation of a civilised society, and a firm basis for the nurturing of children" and described homosexuality as a “pretended family relationship”.
These were the accepted views until I was in sixth form when the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 effectively outlawed discrimination. I was never taught at school that you could be anything other than heterosexual. The level of homophobic and biphobic bullying across the schools was awful. For me, it wasn’t until I went to university that I was able to learn about and embrace my queer identity and no longer be ashamed of who I am.
Reverse mentoring our CEO on LGBTQIA+
Reverse mentoring is where senior partners are paired with and mentored by more junior colleagues. This exposes the partner to challenging dialogue which they might otherwise never encounter. This dialogue enables our senior partners to reflect on how they can build a more inclusive culture at Grant Thornton and it helps our junior people know that their perspectives are understood.
When I started reverse mentoring our CEO, I wasn’t fully out at work regarding my queer identity. I was out to colleagues about my sexual orientation, but I wasn’t out to most colleagues about my transgender non-binary gender identity. I was being held back by a negative experience of being outed in a previous team.
The supervisor had confronted me loudly in the office, in front of my whole team. They said, “Izzi I heard you’re gay, is that true?! We need to know these things!”. I was mortified. The general anti-LGBTQIA+ “banter” then became directly targeted at me. I’d overhear colleagues talking about me being bisexual, and how, in their opinion, it wasn’t really a thing and that it was disgusting. It really negatively impacted my mental health. LGBTQIA+ people are more likely to experience poor mental health, and this is generally thought to be linked to the stress of hiding or disguising that you are LGBTQIA+ and the harassment that you may face for simply being you.
I was really keen to become a reverse mentor, as I want to drive cultural changes, to ensure that in the future, people don’t have to go through the same negative experiences that I have. I want to live in a society where people are happy and able to bring their whole self to work.
Everyday inclusion is crucial. It’s the small changes in behaviour that can have a really significant impact on people. For example, a really small change I encourage everyone to do is to avoid the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” when addressing an audience. It immediately makes non-binary people
like myself feel excluded. As someone who doesn’t identify as a lady nor a gentleman, I feel much more included when speakers use an alternative neutral phrase such as simply “good morning everyone”.
The culture where I work is really special. We don’t have restrictive dress code policies here that police your self-expression. I can have “unnatural” hair colours, visible piercings and tattoos, because my employer respects that these don’t have a negative impact on my ability to work. If anything, enabling people to self-express in a way they feel comfortable allows them to bring their whole self to work and, as such, their performance will be even better.
Coming out at work
Since becoming a reverse mentor, I’ve come out at work about my transgender non-binary gender identity. This has been so liberating and was something I didn’t think I would do before non-binary people in the UK gained more legal rights (in the same way that non-binary people in other countries, such as Canada and Argentina, already have). For example, I would not be able to legally get married as a non-binary person to my partner in the UK. This is because currently in the UK, the only gender options for marriage are male and female.
A comment I hear a lot is “I’ve never met a trans person”, and I’d love for people to appreciate that they will have in fact met many trans people. They just won’t have realised it as we don’t generally wear a label.
On a personal level, I really wanted to become a mentor to help gain back my confidence. It’s been incredibly empowering to have one-on-one sessions with our CEO, and to truly see first-hand how passionate he is about inclusion.
Inclusion starts with hello. It is the simple everyday actions that make a difference. Be curious, be respectful and ask questions about identities and experiences that are different to your own. Together we can make the inclusive change we want to see, so let’s talk!
Find out about ICAEW's LGBT+ network, Together.
For further Diversity and Inclusion resources, see our D&I hub.