Every year since 2004, different organisations have come together on 17 May to stand against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. The date is significant as it marks the anniversary of the World Health Organisation’s decision in May 1990 to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. In the UK, this change was made seventeen years earlier in 1973.
Both events were key moments when homosexuality broke free from decades of medical, psychiatric and psychological experimentation and intrusion into the lives of LGB&T people. It marked a historic step towards achieving basic human rights.
In November 2014 I was appointed as the national lead for LGB&T issues across the police service. Since then, I have been hugely impressed by the support I have received and the dedication and enthusiasm of staff, who often give up their own time for the greater good of our profession and the communities we serve.
The experience of LGB&T officers has changed dramatically over recent decades. However, there is much more to be done. Incidents of homophobia in the police service, whilst infrequent, still happen and some forces lack a visible staff network. Dealing with these issues requires joined-up leadership and I am in the fortunate position of being able to talk to fellow chief officers, raising these concerns and driving forward best practice.
Organisationally, many police leaders still need to ‘get it’, particularly in terms of why it is important to provide a welcoming environment for LGB&T workers. There are some fantastic senior lesbian role models but far fewer senior gay models and hardly any senior transgender officers or staff. For this reason, we are engaging with the College of Policing’s ‘Leadership Review’ on increasing diversity and representation at the highest levels. We are also working alongside Stonewall and the Police Superintendents’ Association for England and Wales to formulate a bespoke LGB&T national leadership development programme and a scheme of police role models open to all ranks and grades.
Earlier this year I launched the new LGB&T Police Network for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands. This was attended by over 38 forces and represents a fantastic achievement which I wholeheartedly welcome. We know from research that two in five officers are not ‘out’ and men, in particular, appear to face difficulties. For some it may be a personal choice but it is important to explore these subtle issues further, as our people should feel able to be open and authentic in the workplace. I hope the new network will play a key role in ensuring officers and staff can always be themselves.
Looking at the wider picture, LGB&T communities still face many challenges in society and day-to-day life. Although hatred on the grounds of sexual discrimination has been criminalised, I am determined to see our response to hate crime improve and made more consistent. We have already engaged with all 13 Crown Prosecution Service national hate crime leads on this matter and the new government may choose to review existing legislation to ensure there are no gaps.
Having recently met with the National Trans Police Association, transgender issues will be at the forefront our future work. The service is now better at dealing with gender recognition data but there is a pressing need to refresh police guidance on the Gender Recognition Act and practical issues around custody need to be addressed.
I am confident that we are moving forward in our efforts to tackle homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Please join me in recognising the significance of IDAHO to the police service and why our role is so vital to LGB&T communities.