Checkmate Fire and Rosse Systems are proud to be equal opportunities employers, and we are committed to equality, diversity and inclusion. As a result, we are keen to highlight our holistic approach to LGBTQ+ inclusion that goes beyond rainbow logos.

With June seeing celebrations of Pride month, the Checkmate Group got together to raise money for Mind Out UK, along with undertaking various inclusive campaigns. But what happens next? Do we put away our rainbows, sparkles and crowns, and dust them off again next June?

No, we don't think so!

Keen to avoid the perception of paying lip service to something so completely important, we are incredibly eager to keep the momentum going. And that starts with sharing stories of our very own Checkmate/Rosse systems LGBTQ+ community – in their own words.

Because breaking down barriers is fundamental to acceptance, development, and leading a fulfilled life. Raising awareness of the plights of minority communities is never going to be time wasted. And in the words of Elliot Page, “we all deserve to experience love fully, equally, without shame, and without compromise”.

So, without further ado, here’s to our first brilliant volunteer…

Roman Dewitt, Contracts Administrator – My Coming Out Story

“Coming out as bisexual was incredibly easy. Growing up, one of my mom’s closest friends was an out and proud gay man and much of my childhood was spent with him around us.

But speaking out about your sexuality and speaking out about your gender identity are two completely different things - because each carries their own implications and affect people in different ways.

When I told my mom at the age of twelve that I had a crush on my then best friend, Josie, she told me that was okay and so long as I was happy, she was happy too. I was elated, even though I always knew she wasn’t ever going to judge me or shun me for liking who I like. She’d never been the type who turned her back on someone just for being themselves, and I knew she was going to continue to love me. Of course, at the time I didn’t know I was bisexual, I’d not even begun to fully query my gender identity at that age because the truth was, I’d never encountered the word transgender at that point in my life. I didn’t know that you didn’t have to stay in the body you were born in if it didn’t feel right. If it didn’t feel like you.

So, for a time I began to simply say that I was a gay woman, even if it didn’t sit at all right with me. It didn’t feel true to myself, I felt like I was still lying to myself I just didn’t know why. Even when I acknowledged I was bisexual because I was beginning to crush on boys as well as girls, I didn’t feel right in myself.

At the age of nineteen, I met the person who helped me onto the path which ultimately opened my eyes and helped me to see just what it was going on in my head. Why I felt the way I did, why as a child I’d wondered about being a boy and what if I’d been born a boy, I’d like that. Joining him in playing new video games, within weeks of joining a group for one of the games I met Selena. Selena was breath taking, she was confident and open about herself, she was unimaginably beautiful, and she was an out and proud transwoman. She was my first experience with someone who spoke openly about their gender identity; almost in my twenties I was finally understanding something about myself. The more Selena and I talked, the more comfortable I felt with speaking about how I felt.

Reflecting on my life, I realised that I now had a word for how I felt, I had a word for who I was. Transgender.

Unfortunately, my relationship at the time was not a supportive one. After tentatively telling my then fiancé how I felt, he told me I wasn’t what I said I was. If I was transgender, I would have said something long before now, and with just one interaction he pushed me back into the shadows.

My mental health was suffering, and with the lack of support from someone who claimed to love me no matter what I felt, I simply stopped trying to be true to myself.

For years I went back in on myself, ignoring my feelings and ignoring how I felt when I was confronted with my body. My birth sex. When my relationship ended, I was free, but I didn’t feel free. I was too unsure about everything; I was too worried about being shot down to ever speak aloud again how I felt. So, for years I hid, I kept myself hidden.

It wasn’t until 2020, at the age of 29, that I finally let myself shake off the pain I’d been carrying from that cruel rejection. To my girlfriend at the time, I came out again, and I was accepted and supported. Immediately, she changed her language and the name she used for me – at the time I hadn’t settled on Roman for myself though, I was rather enamoured with the name Dorian Jack, which looking back isn’t as excessively over the top as my chosen name now!

Every time she used such affirming language, I felt elated. I was being seen, I was being acknowledged and accepted. One by one, I let my friends into my world, and every time they used the right pronouns and my name, I felt more and more comfortable with myself.

Coming out to my mom… well that was perhaps the most flippant way to ever come out! During a discussion while we were both working from home, we were talking about Amber and myself having children one day. My Mom asked how they’d differentiate between us – would Amber be Mom and I’d be Mommy? Without realising I was saying it, I simply replied “Oh no I’m going to be Daddy and she’s going to be Mommy.”

My heart stopped for a moment. No way did I do that so easily and so brazenly like it was informing her of the weather. And then this angel of a woman simply smiled at me and said “Fair enough”. Tentatively asking her if she minded, she repeated her words from so many years ago when I told her about my crush on Josie. “If you’re happy, I’m happy. That’s all I ever wanted for you, my son.”

Did I cry? Absolutely. Am I crying a little bit while writing this? Absolutely I am! But my mom was only one of the people I needed to come out to before I did it publicly on Facebook to explain my name change: I had to talk to my Grandparents.

My stomach was in knots, and it took me weeks before I finally picked up the phone to call my grandma. My hand was shaking, and I was in tears the moment I heard her voice. Stumbling through my words and choking through my tears I managed to say I had something to tell her. With her calm patience encouraging me to take a breath, I came out to her. And just as my mom had done, she assured me she didn’t love me any less and all she wanted for me was to be happy. Then in true fashion of my wonderful Grandma she asked me “does this mean you don’t want my charm bracelet in my will anymore?”

She has been collecting charms for posterity since she and my grandad met over sixty years ago, and she had no granddaughter to leave it to in her will now I was living my truth. Of course, I assured her I wasn’t going to leave her charm bracelet unbequeathed and I could one day pass it on to my own daughter.

I remember my coming out post on Facebook. As I was writing it, I found myself realising so many people were going to commend me on being brave… and the idea made me so very sad. Why was I going to be considered brave for being true to myself? I didn’t want to be called brave because all I was doing was writing a post on Facebook. Contacting my doctor for gender affirming care. I wasn’t fighting in a war; I wasn’t standing up to someone. I was just being myself.

I rambled on so much, but by the end of it, all I asked was for people to leave me a heart in their favourite colour. And there was something magical about seeing an array of hearts in so many colours on my post from people who loved and supported me.

Skip forward to today, and I’ve been on the waiting list for gender affirming care for eight months. It could take another year or two before I get seen, but I’ve waited this long. A little bit longer isn’t going to hurt me, not while I have the love and support of the people who matter to me.

I was born Helena Neill…And what’s my chosen name now? Roman Booker DeWitt. Bonus points to my game nerds who know where I got two thirds of my name from. 😃 “

Integrating into the Checkmate Way

Joining Checkmate in May 2023, Roman’s signature was displayed as his birth name. Responding to internal comms that were sent out during Pride month, Roman requested both his pronouns and chosen name to be put in their rightful place. This also gave him the opening to come out yet again in the corporate world – and we are so glad he did.

Speaking of her pride to work alongside such a wonderful person as part of her team, Contracts Support Manager, Georgina Oddy, stated;

“It has been with great pride on behalf of Checkmate to support Roman’s journey, and personally I am incredibly proud of his commitment to himself and ultimately living his truth. It has been a great honour to be a part of a team that just love and accept, nothing less! Checkmate is a wonderfully diverse place to work, where we are proud of who we are, committed to caring and supporting one another continuously, both as colleagues and as friends - and celebrating that each day of the year. Pride 2023 was especially amazing, thank you to all involved, the team and office took the rainbow theme and ran the whole way with it! A great testament to the diversity and inclusivity of Checkmate – a joy to be part of”.

Continuing to speak out on behalf of minority communities, keep your eyes peeled for our next story! And a huge thank you to the amazing Roman DeWitt for being the first of us to take this step!