11 Feb 2021 | The veterinary profession
British Veterinary LGBT: Mat's story
To celebrate LGBT History Month, small animal vet Mat Hennessey gives his advice to anyone experiencing difficulty with their sexuality or gender identity.
Can you tell us what started/inspired your path into the veterinary profession?
As a child I’d spent a lot of time around animals, my parents were easy going and agreeable and by the time I was 15 I’d turned our garden into a small menagerie. We had the usuals, plus an aviary, and at one time even a pig. I think a cementing moment though was when a teacher suggested getting into vet school would be too hard for me and so I became fixated on it. I think now that focusing on academia and my goal to become a vet was, in retrospect, a distraction from the issues surrounding my sexuality which I was desperately trying to avoid dealing with.
What has been the most challenging part of your career?
Consulting! I’ve always found it difficult, the constant stream of new people and the need to make small talk do not play well with the more introverted aspects of my personality. I much preferred to be in the back with the rest of the team, and luckily, I really enjoyed getting to work cases up especially if it meant I got to do some ultrasound. It took over a decade of trying many different iterations of work to finally decide to move away from clinical practice, and after completing a masters in One Health, join the world of public health.
What has been the best part of your career so far?
I’ve loved the variety of work, flexibility, and freedom I’ve enjoyed from being a veterinarian. Being able to work as a locum afforded me the opportunity to take a career break and the luxury of indulging in training to become a qualified garden designer. Since completing my masters degree I’ve been able to work in Vietnam on projects looking at improving the hygiene of the pork industry and antimicrobial resistance.
What are your proudest achievements of your career?
By far my proudest moment was leading the veterinary community in their first ever UK pride parade in London as president of BVLGBT+ in 2016. To see our profession take its place on the LGBT+ stage was immensely important to me and creating this degree of visibility is a core principle of our group’s ongoing work.
What advice would you offer to someone experiencing difficulty with their sexuality or gender identity?
If you’re experiencing feelings of shame or self-doubt, know that you’re not alone, most of us have been there. Find your community, be it online or physical, and with the help of others, you’ll find your pride.
If there is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self what would that be and why?
Not to fear failure and the unknown. Life can be more exciting when we don’t know what’s around the corner and in order to succeed we have to go beyond the limits of our comfort zones.
BVA has launched its first ever questionnaire to gather experiences of discrimination in the veterinary professions. BVA is seeking anonymous feedback from vets, vet nurses, students and other veterinary professionals regarding incidents where they have witnessed discrimination or felt discriminated against.
The questionnaire is open from 2 February until 2 March and should take around 10 minutes to complete.
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