Freeman Brothers supports Pride Month: in conversation with Nathan Martin

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in 1855, originally setting up in Horsham, West Sussex. The company now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and continues to employ a dedicated team of local people. Much has changed in the world since the business […]

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Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in 1855, originally setting up in Horsham, West Sussex. The company now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and continues to employ a dedicated team of local people. Much has changed in the world since the business first opened, and to show support for June’s international Pride month, we are pleased to welcome a guest blog from industry colleague Nathan Martin, who has been at the forefront of LGBTQ+ inclusion within the UK funeral sector.

Growing up in the UK, I knew that I was gay, but initially hid from that fact. I believed in what I recognised as ‘traditional’ values, and put pressure on myself to have the opportunity of becoming a parent within a heterosexual relationship. At the time, that was really the only way things happened – it’s easy to forget how far we as a culture have come in terms of legally recognising relationships, and having opportunities to raise children via a diverse range of households. So I assumed that the way to get what I thought I wanted was via a relationship with a woman.

As time went on, I realised that this wasn’t making me happy, and that it was time to live my life authentically. I accepted myself as a gay man, and was open with friends, family members, and my employer. My attitude towards others has flourished similarly: I believe in human beings having a choice in how they express themselves, and am pleased to be living in a society that is becoming more accepting of others.

Within the funeral industry specifically, change is often slow. I’ve seen this first-hand when experiencing a lack of acceptance from some others within the industry and, most notably, I experienced homophobia from a customer. This was a very hurtful experience for me – the majority of us in the funeral industry believe passionately in what we do, and do this job because we care about people receiving a dignified and compassionate farewell, whatever that looks like to them and their loved ones. Whilst it is important to me that I am able to be myself, I like my colleagues, don’t allow this to get in the way of doing a good job.

Having found out that I’m gay, a customer was upset and refused to deal with me any further regarding the arrangements, and also insisted that I didn’t work on the funeral. This is, of course, their choice, which they could make for a number of reasons, however in this instance, it is discriminatory behaviour.

My employer was supportive of me, but I still struggled to find others to talk to about this issue, and that’s when I approached the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), of which my employer was a member, regarding setting up a support group and safe space for others within the community. I was happy to find that they were interested in the idea, and ready to work with me to make the funeral industry more inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community.

One of the main ways we support our community is via a Facebook group, which is set as private, in order to maintain a safe space for discussion, idea generation, and education. For me, education is the key in making any industry and service provision more inclusive. Unfortunately, due to historical attitudes within our country, industries which have existed for a long time and typically serve those who are elderly are particularly vulnerable in this sense. However, we have to recognise that today’s younger community is tomorrow’s older community, and change will need to be made in order to fully support people later in their lives.

There are issues experienced by the LGBTQ+ community that many people might not be aware of. Most funeral directors will have worked with customers who experience tension within a group arranging a funeral – there may have been a falling out years ago which is still impacting the customer, or it could be that bereavement itself causes disagreement – and it’s important to remember that there are additional issues here for a lot of LGBTQ+ people. It may be that friends and family members of a Deceased person didn’t accept their gender identity, or choice of partner, and this then has to be handled sensitively by the funeral director to ensure that the life of the person who has died is honoured, whilst also working with those who are still alive.

If you are looking for opportunities to educate yourself and improve your organisation’s LGBTQ+ inclusion policies, I recommend colleagues in the funeral industry speak to the NAFD, and those from our industry or others can also use the LGBT Switchboard – this is one of the longest-running advice services in the UK, and their experience really helps. This is also a great resource for those who feel unsafe within their environment.

I hope that things will continue to improve within the UK in general and the funeral industry in particular – I’m proud to work within funeral services, and am looking forward to there being greater acceptance. After all, we are all human.

With thanks to Nathan for both his activism, advocacy, and time shared in order to contribute to this blog post.

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June 21, 2023

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