Updated: Mar 8, 2021
"I was born in a conservative town in South Africa into an ethnic minority community. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I found life tough because I was the victim of bullying at school for simply being ‘different’. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was gay and that I was also a different colour than the majority. I stood out and spent endless hours wishing I could have been like everyone else.”
In this exclusive interview, Deon Pillay reveals how embracing being different has forged his enduring inner strength and has led him to achieve greatness/fulfilment in life.
He talks about taking that extra leap of faith to always be true to yourself+choosing the right way no matter how difficult that may have been at times … and of course, having fun doing it all. Live and work, he says, but do not forget to play!
A motivational quote that helped through lockdown:
"It's only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength and brilliant light within ourselves that can never ever be dimmed" by Doe Zantamata.
If you could travel back in time, the first person you would like to meet ...
I guess I would like to meet my younger self, so that I could provide him with the reassurance that no matter how tough life will seem, know that you will be ok. And no matter what people say, this is who you are and know that it’s OK to be yourself, it’s OK to be you and you have a community that will support you. You are loved, valued, and will grow up to achieve great things!
What book inspired you the most growing up?
I would say The Cider House Rules by John Irving which is a great coming of age story, reflecting a young man's journey. The book tackles the consistent theme of individuals defining their own rules by which to act and live despite what society dictates, as well as - addiction, abortion, racism – topics that really resonated with me and have relevance in any timeframe, even today!
What song makes you feel empowered the most?
The Boyzone classic - #NoMatterWhat! It’s one of my favourite songs, I remember singing this in the car as a young man! The lyrics that resonated with me most: “I can't deny what I believe, I can't be what I am not"
It filled me with hope as a young gay man from an ethnic minority community, growing up in South Africa, where homosexuality was taboo! It's a song of resilience, love+hope, that empowered me to be authentic despite how others may have perceived, persecuted, or judged me! It helped me remain true to my beliefs and values.
One piece of advice you would pass onto the next generation
Don't wait for someone else to make a difference, be the catalyst that drives change!
I began my journey as a one-man band by stepping up and sharing my personal story (publicly) at my workplace. By revealing my authentic self and sharing my vulnerability,
I hoped to help light the way for those who were walking a similar path.
My Mum! She has taught me compassion, kindness and has always pushed me to be the best version of myself. She is one of those selfless people who always puts her family first. She is my Rockstar. She is my pillar of strength!
… is so important, right now. ‘You yourself as much as anybody else deserves your love and affection’. You can't take care of others unless you are in the right state of mind, be kind to yourself and each other!
Sources of inspiration?
I guess I have been inspired by the human compassion and kindness that has thrived during lockdown. The pandemic has prompted countless acts of caring and examples of generosity, bringing out the best in human nature.
What are your hopes/aspirations for 2021?
The world returns to some sense of normality, that we take from it the many lessons that it has taught us, to continue to drive meaningful change in society and to meet that one special person that will positively impact my life!
Any hidden talents?
Fashion photography, and I’m (becoming) quite the chef. I’ve been offering Facebook live ‘cook-alongs’ every Saturday to entertain and teach friends to prepare new dishes.
What never fails to lift your spirits?
Friends and family and a glass of champagne, you can guess the priority order?!
About Deon Pillay
Deon is the Head of Marketing Operations, Legal and General Investment Management in London and also the Chair of the firm’s L&GBT+Allies network. Outside of the office, he is the Co-chair of InterInvest, a network of investment professionals, that drives LGBT+ equality across the investment management industry.
Deon has several notable achievements for his contributions to diversity and inclusion. He is a keynote speaker, sharing his personal experiences to surface LGBT+ issues, a panellist championing diversity and inclusion, committee member of the Diversity Project’s LGBT+ stream and a supporter of Queer Britain.
In 2019, Deon was recognised as an LGBT+ Future Leader in the OUTstanding list and also featured in Empower’s Top 50 Ethnic Minority Future Leaders list. He has also been a supporter of LGBT Great since inception and was the recipient of the inaugural role models award.
Source: LGBT Great