Article | The Exploration And Value of Intersectionality

Intersectionality is a term, recently being used by public and private sector organisations to help better address diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) matters: particularly around recruitment. Although some in-roads are being made, there is still a great deal of work that could be done. To help understand more, we approached PC Laks Mann. He brings his knowledge and expertise to his numerous volunteer roles such as a Committee member on the Met’s LGBT+ Network and in his role as a Mayor of London Adviser on City Hall’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group. He has spoken at length about this topic at events and online, and was recently nominated for his work in the ‘Inspirational Role Model of the Year’ category at the British Diversity Awards 2020. We asked Laks to give us an insight; and what advice he would give employers to improve DEI approaches.

How would you define intersectionality?

It’s where aspects of identity intersect and overlap – e.g. race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, faith or disability – so that prejudices and discriminations converge and become multiplied.

To visualise this, if you were in a competitive race then your lane would have multiple hurdles to overcome – or each hurdle would be that bit higher – when others may be privileged to have a clear lane with no/lower hurdles.

Can you give us a sense of how intersectionality plays in your life?

I identify as a queer person of colour (QPOC), from the Sikh faith, and having Punjabi cultural roots, with a working class background. I am all of these aspects of my identity – all of the time.

So as a gay guy – I can be subject to homophobia. Being a person of colour – I have to deal with racism. Coming from a working class background – I can experience discrimination. Belonging to a particular faith/cultural community – means I can encounter prejudice. When looking at this through an intersectional lens – these barriers and hurdles converge and can all be experienced at the same time. So for me, just to be me, can involve having to navigate discriminatory systems in society that have been designed to marginalise, silence and oppress.

Do you find one characteristic dominates more than the others or does this vary in different situations? Could you explain your answer?

I’m comfortable with my identity – though I can experience different feelings, depending on situations.

Being a person of colour is a visible aspect of my identity – whereas my sexuality, or my class, faith and cultural backgrounds are not necessarily visible. So when I’m in the minority amongst white people – I’m more tuned in to racism being an issue, whereas in a situation where I’m predominantly amongst straight people – I may be heightened to homophobia. In other scenarios – I may be alert to derogatory views and comments about working class people. I can experience some or all of these at the same time within a given situation – that’s where intersectionality bites hardest.

If you link these scenarios to where others have privilege, position and power – you can begin to understand how societies, cultures and workplaces begin to enforce barriers and hurdles.

Intersectionality is being recognised more by public and private sectors right now. Why do you think this is so?

More people are talking about intersectionality because we haven’t made the progress towards DEI that we thought we would have made. Prejudice and discrimination continue to blight employment opportunities, in all sectors, meaning barriers to progression have not been tackled. In wider society, certain aspects of oppression are being reinforced with increasing levels of racism, homo/bi/trans phobia, disability hate crime and religious/cultural intolerance.

How would you advise intersectionality is recognised better in the workplace? Can you name a number of ways in which the Met has been working on this or where it can make in-roads?

Leaders in workplaces need to acknowledge intersectionality exists – only then can change become a possibility. Once leaders make that conscious effort to address workplace prejudices and discriminations – then progress can become a reality. All too often, employers make aspirational claims about meritocratic workplaces but their leaders are firmly resistant to change. Basic logic tells you that you cannot achieve difference by staying the same.

I’m not sure the Met, like a lot of employers, has grasped the concept of intersectionality. The Met seems to have a blinkered focus on simply recruiting more BAME people, or more women, into its ranks and staff. However, the experiences of racism and gender discrimination can still be an issue for some – meaning the intersectional experiences of BAME females are not addressed. Likewise, simply wanting to recruit more people who identify as LGBTQ+ into the organisation does not address the issues of racism and homo/bi/trans phobia that QPOCs may encounter.

The Met LGBT+ Network has taken the lead on discussions around intersectionality by consistently raising these issues with other Staff Support Associations, and by engaging with community organisations that reflect the diverse communities of London. I’m proud to see these achievements recognised and for the LGBT+ Network to be shortlisted in the ‘Building a better Met’ category at the Met Excellence Awards 2020!

What has been your experience of intersectionality within the Met, personally, as well as organisationally?

I think the Met as an organisation has a long way to go – the first step is to acknowledge multiple barriers and prejudices exist. There are pockets of good practice that may become central to the DNA of the organisation, perhaps in the future. Personally, I began addressing inequalities in the workplace over 20 years ago as a Co-Founder of the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Ethnic Minorities Forum. At times, it feels like conversations I see taking place in the Met right now are a throwback to those PwC days!

On a personal level, I’ve always addressed instances of negativity, bad behaviour and poor treatment directed towards me with the specific individuals concerned. I’m also more confident to speak up and highlight issues that need to be discussed, and just as importantly, to champion individuals and good practice where they exist. I’m comfortable speaking about intersectionality as it’s the main focus of my contribution to the Met LGBT+ Network Committee, and fortunately I’ve had great support from colleagues and line managers. I’ve been able to represent the Met LGBT+ Network as a guest panellist and speaker at DEI events with Stonewall, British Transport Police, The Telegraph and Knowledge Quarter – and I also recently featured in a podcast with an award-winning author and DEI specialist, which you can listen to here.

The topic of intersectionality in policing has steadily risen up the agenda, and it was promising to see the National LGBT+ Police Network making it the theme of their annual conference in 2020. I was due to be a keynote speaker – though this has been postponed for obvious reasons due to Covid-19.

What are the opportunities around intersectionality for the Met?

The Met’s leaders must firstly acknowledge intersectionality exists – and begin a journey to understand the damaging effects it can have in the workplace and throughout organisational culture. When leaders actually start to see individuals working in the Met for who they truly are, the lived experiences they bring, and what and who holds them back – they can begin to change the culture to address inequalities that exist, instead of maintaining a constant state of denial. Once you have that organisational shift internally, the Met would then have a better focus on outwards engagement with communities – it would have a greater understanding of London and Londoners. The Met would become more in-step with this great city – with opportunities for increased confidence in policing from all communities.

Why should the Met and others be utilising these lived experiences?

Since I joined the Met 11 years ago, I have consistently maintained my sense of self – which at times has been challenging when navigating an organisation with institutional behaviours and practices. Like all employees, I bring a unique set of lived experiences and knowledge – which go beyond possibly featuring in a poster ad or recruitment campaign. For the Met to move forward – it needs to embrace all its employees, to listen to their concerns, and engage them with a sense of belonging – leaders need to show that all employees have a stake in the organisation. Also, the Met could place Staff Support Associations at the centre of its decision making, be more transparent with employees and the public about problems that exist, and commit to community engagement with all of London’s communities with the same vigour in order to work towards solutions. Crucially, this means understanding that some of its officers and staff belong to, and have strong connections with, often marginalised and oppressed communities – those connections and lived experiences go beyond simply images.

So if the Met wants to truly embrace DEI, it needs to understand that these discussions start within – centred around a culture of honesty and speaking truth – after all, that’s what we expect from the public

 

Source: Extract from the Met LGBT+ Network’s newsletter ‘Out & Proud’, May 2020.

Article | Lesbian Visibility Day 2020 – PS Northern Ireland

Lesbian Visibility Day is a day that recognises, celebrates and supports lesbian women to be themselves at work, home and socially. This is a day to show solidarity with every woman in the LGBT+ community and be a voice for the empowerment of all women.

Recent studies have shown that women are twice as unlikely to be ‘out’ in the workplace as their gay male colleagues. Most citing fear of sexual harassment from colleagues, fear of derogatory comments and an impediment to their career aspirations.

Sgt Beth Wickham-Thomas, Police Service NI LGBT+ network chair comments on what Lesbian Visibility Day means to her:

“What is visibility? I have been pondering that question this week and often I find that I chastise myself for not being a good enough lesbian, which is of course nonsense! For me my visibility is living my life truly and authentically. The main reason I became involved with the LGBT+ Network was because I did not see myself reflected in its ranks, so instead of looking for someone to do that I decided to be the person I needed to see. I by no means consider myself a role model but in truth everyone has the potential to be a role model even if it is just to one person.

Lesbian visibility throughout history is hard to trace as women in history have quite often been invisible. So this day is also a celebration of women and in this case those who identify as lesbian, a gay woman, queer and this is not exhaustive.

I was 15 when, in 1997, Ellen DeGeneres came out publicly on her sitcom. It was the first time I had seen a lesbian on TV, there was at first celebration and then a massive backlash but for me this was brave, it was marvellous and for the first time I felt validated. It would be another few years before I took that step but that moment was a turning point for me and although times have moved on so much since then I still get emotional when I see a TV programme with a lesbian character or even when Renault’s latest advertisement had a love story with two women.

So the conclusion I have come to is when you can be yourself, your whole self, be open at work, to be supported by that job, to be who you are, then the rest of your life can flourish. You don’t need to wear a badge or T-shirt to be visible, you just need to be your authentic self”.

 

Constable Belinda Dodsworth, PSNI LGBT+ member comments:

“Even though I knew I was a lesbian from an early age, there was little or no positive representation of lesbians in the mainstream media when I was growing up. Lesbian visibility is important to help take away any stigma that gay women feel when coming to terms with their sexuality. Diverse teams perform better; it has been measured and proven. When everyone can be themselves without fear, without compromise, we have stronger connections with our internal colleagues and external communities. Lesbian visibility empowers all women, as being true to yourself at work makes you stronger and more resilient. All allies should celebrate and support those who have chosen to be truly themselves at work”.

Sergeant Morena Wickham-Thomas, LGBT+ Committee member discusses the need to reclaim and empower language:

“I hate the word ‘lesbian’. It makes me cringe. I grew up with the word ‘lesbian’ being an insult, its connotations for me are hurtful and unflattering. The word manages to make you an object, dismissing you as a mere stereotype. ‘Lesbian’ has become weaponised for me and as much as I try reclaiming it is incredibly difficult to do so. Like, seriously, has anyone ever heard the word ‘lesbian’ used in an affectionate way? ‘You’re a lovely big lesbian so you are’ No! No-one means anything nice when they call you a lesbian, it’s not empowering, it sounds like a contagious disease, or some affliction that you would probably find yourself in group therapy for. BUT- the world has changed, in theory at least, lesbian visibility in mainstream culture has never been higher, with high profile role models like the Metropolitan Police Chief Cressida Dick, Scottish conservative leader Ruth Davidson, and Megan Rapinoe, Captain of the USA team and Ballon d’Or Feminin winner, and words are now being reclaimed- in part as a younger, more militant, queer generation demands acceptance. Visibility is not acceptance, but it is a step to normalisation, recognising someone’s sexuality without having to invalidate anyone else’s. We have a responsibility, I have a responsibility, to the next generation to keep pushing for more, more inclusivity, more representation, more normalisation and less words used to cause hurt. If I own it, it can’t hurt me, I am a lesbian…so I am”.

**Some names have been changed to protect officer’s identities.

 

Article | Transgender Day of Visibility

Today is transgender day of visibility, or TDoV for short.

It is a day when trans folk, the LGBT+ community and allies celebrate the lives of trans, non-binary and intersex people. A day to honour trans people, to embrace diversity and to raise awareness of the challenges trans, non-binary and intersex people still face as well as celebrating the contributions of trans people to society. The day was founded by US-based transgender activist Rachel Crandall, citing the frustration that the only well-known transgender-centered day was the Transgender Day of Remembrance which mourned the murders of transgender people but did not acknowledge and celebrate living members of the transgender community. The first International Transgender Day of Visibility was held on 31st March 2009.

The trans pride flag is flown by many organisations across the country to celebrate the day. The flag represents the transgender community and consists of five horizontal stripes: two light blue, two pinks, and one white in the centre. The designer of the flag, Monica Helms, explained the design as such: “The stripes at the top and bottom are light blue, for baby boys. The stripes next to them are pink, the traditional colour for baby girls. The stripe in the middle is white, for those who are transitioning or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender.”

Sergeant Morena Wickham-Thomas of the Police Service NI LGBT+ Network committee said: “Research indicates that 51% of trans people have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination. The ignorance and misconceptions around the trans and non-binary community is perpetuated by media sensationalism and this manifests itself in an unwelcoming workplace. This is why, as allies, we must do better. I must do better. As a supervisor I would be embarrassed if I found out that one of my team was frightened to be themselves at work. We all have a responsibility to make our work environments supportive, safe spaces for a diverse workforce.”

Constable Paul Bloomer, Co-Chair of the Police Service NI LGBT+ Network said: “In these challenging times of isolation and social distance which are necessary to fight the pandemic we face, we must remember those whose isolation is compounded due to them being trans and not being able to be themselves at work. It is more vital than ever that trans people and trans allies remain visible and connected.”

Leo Lardie, a trans man and Sexual Health Development Officer for The Rainbow Project said: “Trans Day of Visibility (TDoV) is about recognising, validating and celebrating trans and non-binary people for being their authentic self in a world that often frames our mere existence as a problem to be ‘solved’. With anti-trans rhetoric on the rise it is more important than ever to remember that trans and non-binary people are not an abstract concept to be debated. We are human beings who deserve the same compassion, respect and dignity that any human deserves. Today is about highlighting the accomplishments of trans and non-binary people who were often written out of history. But it’s not just about us, it’s about you. You must come out of the shadows to say that you appreciate, support and love trans and non-binary people like us. Remember to stand up for trans and non-binary people not just today but everyday! We cannot erase transphobia alone, but with your help we can!”

Article | A Celebration of LGBT History Month in Northern Ireland Police College

February is LGBT History Month. This is an annual celebration that provides education and insight into the issues the LGBT+ community faces. The aim of LGBT History Month is to primarily educate the wider community about the history of the gay rights movement and to promote an inclusive modern society. As part of the PSNI’s commitment to celebrating equality, diversity and inclusion, the Police College at Garnerville will host a display of pop ups containing samples of the oral histories of those police officers that participated in the service’s first uniformed march in Belfast Pride in 2017.

David Johnston, Police Service NI Diversity and Inclusion lead, said: “I am incredibly proud to have some of this organisation’s contribution to LGBT history recognised by the display in the Police College. This will give visitors and colleagues the opportunity to experience some of what it was like for those officers and staff to be there on that historic day. Our service is fully committed to celebrating the diversity of our officers and staff, irrespective of characteristic, and we will continue to work collaboratively with our minority support networks and other stakeholders to recognise a number of key dates and events throughout the year.”

Co–Chair of the PSNI LGBT+ Network, Beth Wickham-Thomas, said: “LGBT History Month provides us with an opportunity to acknowledge the work of those who came before us while also raising awareness of the work left to do. All too often significant historical figures have been ignored or left out of the history books because they are LGBT. Alan Turing is a notable example as he spent the last few years of his life living isolated from society, with his contributions to computing and the allied war effort ignored for decades, simply because he was gay. Today Alan Turing is remembered and celebrated but it is only through the efforts of campaigners and initiatives like LGBT History Month that this became possible. LGBT history is human history and it is right that events such as LGBT History Month raise awareness of it.”

Constable Paul Bloomer is Co-Chair of the Police service of Northern Ireland LGBT+ Network. He commented: “Sometimes it is forgotten that we are constantly creating history and we need to be mindful of what we are leaving for future generations. When we participated in Belfast Pride in 2017 we realised that we were stepping into the history books. To fully capture the day we had a photographer accompany us throughout in order to create a visual record of the day. After that, we invited those participating in the day to submit their personal stories. We later collaborated with the Ulster Museum to capture the oral history of those that participated. This led to the museum producing pop ups of the photos and a short film with excerpts of the oral history interviews. It is fitting that the display is in the Police College in Garnerville as it will share the space with the memorial for our colleague Darren Bradshaw who was murdered in an LGBT venue in Belfast in 1997.”

Superintendent Norman Haslett, Head of ‘Policing With the Community’ said: “I am delighted that we were able to facilitate this within the police estate. Pride is a great opportunity for police and community engagement. Since our participation in Pride we have noted an improved level of confidence in the police from the LGBT community. This is evidenced by increased levels of hate crime reporting as well as increased applications from the LGBT community during recent recruitment campaigns.”