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Attitude publisher Darren Styles OBE recalls coming out as gay: 'It was such a different time'

The first gay owner of Attitude reflects on his personal journey and diversity in the workplace on Bentley's BeProud Network.

2021-04-28

Attitude Publisher Darren Styles OBE has opened up about coming to terms with his sexuality and the power of workplace diversity in a new interview with Bentley's BeProud LGBTQ network.

Styles, who in 2016 became the first gay owner of Attitude since the publication was founded almost 30 years ago, reflected on his own personal journey as a young gay man as well as the professional power of running inclusive businesses while in conversation with Bentley’s Global Head of PR and Communications, Wayne Bruce, last week.

While Attitude is used to using its platform to shine a light on the coming out stories of LGBTQ people around the world, the tables were turned as Darren was asked about his own path towards self-acceptance as a gay man growing up in '70s and '80s Britain.

"I remember at school actually, in my late teenage years, realising that perhaps I was – what was it Stephen Fry called it – ‘Not like other girls’," Darren revealed.

"But it was a difficult time. I was born in 1965 and at that time it was still illegal to be gay, which seems almost laughable now.

Attitude publisher Darren Styles OBE

"Insofar as a gay teenager can feel ‘gay shame’, I suppose I did. You don’t want to be different, you want to meld into the crowd at that point. I already had too much to say for myself and wore glasses – that was a playground target all on its own.

"I wasn’t very good at football, so I was different enough, thanks, without that."

The managing director of Stream Publishing, home of Attitude, continued: "As anyone whose watched Russell T Davies’ It’s A Sin will know… that was the time of the Aids crisis, so there was a direct correlation in everybody’s minds – mine included – between being gay and dying of Aids.

"It seemed an inevitable consequence. And so at that time I was closeted, and many men were. That period of ignorance damaged a lot of people, so I parked it, probably for ten years, and just got on and focused on other things: [I] didn’t think about men, didn’t think about that part of my life, focused on my business.

Attitude Publisher Darren Styles opened up about his life and career on the Bentley BeProud LGBTQ Network

"But in the end, you have to be your true self to be truly happy and you can’t lock it away, you can’t pretend."

Darren added: "Just past the age of 30, I came out. It was over a period of time, probably a bit more traumatic than it needed to be, but it was such a different time and such a different world then.

"Social attitudes have changed, the understanding of HIV and Aids has changed dramatically, and if I had my time again, I’d do it differently."

In 2018, Darren was appointed an OBE for services to the economy, diversity and charity in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Asked how global companies such as Bentley could ensure their workplaces foster diversity and security for staff, be they LGBTQ or from another minority background, Darren argued that inclusive brands don't just reap the benefits of allowing their employees to flourish.

"I think the most interesting thing is just understanding different perspectives. It’s very easy to assume you know what the other person’s thinking," Darren explained.

"I think if you have a workforce that reflects that, it gives you not only a better life experience and a greater understanding of people, but a more efficient, more commercially sound understanding of business, because you understand those differences."

He added: “The broader the canvas of your staff and the people around you, the better shaped your vision and understanding of your customer-base and the way the world works and is.

"I think it’s enriching on a personal level, but actually – and I say this as an entrepreneur and a businessman – it’s commercially really smart to understand how people are different and what motivates them."