Why am I the National Police Chiefs' Lead for LGBT+ when I’m straight?!
I have never come out as straight. It is just not a thing. Hold onto that thought – how often do you think about disclosing you are heterosexual?
I was out with friends recently and I was telling someone who I hardly knew, that I was the LGBT+ national police lead. "Why do you do that when you’re straight?" was the reply. Why do I do that, I thought?!
In my reply, I explained that when my husband and I walk down the street holding hands, no one bats an eye lid. When two women or two men walk down the street holding hands, however, they may get looked at, pointed at, stared at, verbally abused or even physically attacked. If you’re trans, you will be extra vigilant about being able to be you most days. A mixed sex couple would simply be assumed to be straight when either partner may be any sexual orientation. Many LGBT+ people have to consider very carefully in what environments they even choose to hold hands – it’s an active decision – not something they do without even thinking.
The sad part about this discussion was that the person I was talking to is a nurse; I didn’t expect this kind of response. When we continue to see the sickening reports of homophobic attacks such as those on Melania Geymonat and her partner Chris, it is quite clear there is a lot we need to do to educate people on what it’s like to be LGBT+. So that’s why I, as a straight ally, will do everything I can to keep highlighting the inequalities and the real challenges that are there every day, for someone to go about their normal daily business, simply because they are LGBT+.
It is so empowering when a person champions the rights of those groups to which they do not belong. I will champion all genders and all sexual orientations because I want to make policing a more attractive place to be for LGBT+ colleagues; I want my colleagues to understand that many of our colleagues will fall under the trans umbrella and I want them to understand what that means, to dispel myths, explore prejudices and make our workplaces more inclusive. I want our straight colleagues to understand the challenges of being LGBT+ and also the huge positives of LGBT+ people in our organisation. If we achieve this, our workplaces and our communities will be a better, more vibrant, more inclusive places and our communities, in turn, will get a better service from us.
So we are in the midst of Pride season. I have been an LGBT+ ally for many years, but if I look back some years and consider Pride, I never thought it was an event I should be at. Why? Because I’m not gay, and I thought people would look at me thinking "why is she here?" I couldn’t have been further from the truth and I feel much more enlightened now. So, why is it important for me and other straight allies to be at Pride? There are many reasons:
- Our LGBT+ colleagues see that they have visible support and allies, and that the organisation has the will to be inclusive
- Attendance by senior officers and allies implies permission to be yourself
- It shows that we want to listen and make things better – it supports and enhances good communication and dialogue
- It educates and improves understanding of what it’s like to be LGBT+
- It shows our communities that as an organisation we are inclusive and it should attract more diversity in those who are applying to join us.
Why is it important for our LGBT+ colleagues to be at Pride?
- By giving our support, it gives staff greater confidence to be out about who they are and to be themselves. So many people tell me that it took a long time for them to be out in work (and of course we have many colleagues who have still to come out). This gives visible support to those who may not be out yet.
- We are supporting our staff to be part of their community and help us attract others to join us.
- Because for many days throughout the year, perhaps they are unable to be themselves and this is their moment to celebrate being their true selves surrounded by like-minded people
Over the next few months, there are Pride events going on every weekend. As Dan Ivey put in his blog recently, thankfully there is no need for a straight Pride, but there is still a need for Pride. Firstly to celebrate just how far society has come regarding LGBT+ inclusion, but also to highlight how far we still need to go to improve understanding, knowledge, support, fairness and equality. This year is 50 years since the Stonewall riots, not that long ago.
So if you’re considering asking the questions, "why all the rainbows? Why the Rainbow cars? Why the need to keeping banging the drum about Pride. Why do I need to be there, I’m not gay!" Please consider what it’s like to be persecuted just because of the person you love or the person you are. People don’t choose to be gay or trans, it’s just who they are. Like everyone else, they have the right to feel comfortable and confident in work as well as when they walk down the street. Your support will be gladly received.
Deputy Chief Constable Julie Cooke is NPCC lead for LGBT+ issues.