In July 2022 I attended the National Police LGBT+ Network conference in Belfast, Ireland. This was my second ‘physical’ conference (thanks covid!), with the first being the adorably titled ‘Cwtch Con’, hosted by the Welsh network in the heart of my home city, Cardiff in 2019.
In 2019 I was a newly transitioning policewoman, having come out to my colleagues as trans less than two months previously and ending up being invited to the conference by pure chance when crossing paths with the Co-Chair of my local Network on a CBRN training day (which stands for Chemical, Biological, Radioactive and Nuclear, and involves donning apocalypse-resistant outfits whilst the trainers try to CS gas you to tears). I knew nobody, spent the day meeting people from all forces, specialisms and ranks and it was very wholesome. I walked away feeling inspired and empowered, though I didn’t really know what to do with it. The thing was I hadn’t truthfully had any interest in joining any LGBTQ+ networks or organisations. I’d begun my transition and as far as I was concerned, I only wanted to get quietly on with my life as the woman I knew myself to be, sure it’d take a while for the hormones and surgeries and the stuff I wanted but in those first couple of months everyone had been so supportive, why would I need a network? Other women I worked with got along fine without, right?
This, it turned out, was a very premature, incorrect and blinkered conclusion, as I realised in the months that followed when the problems that I hadn’t encountered early on started to present themselves where I least suspected it. Not knowing what to do, I found myself emailing the Co-Chair that had invited me to Cwtch Con and it was from that point that my understanding of what staff support networks are for and why they are needed changed radically. The words, the help, the response I received was compassionate, effective and above all crucial for me. It will likely shock some who know me to say that I had never been particularly outspoken up to that point. Every decision I made, every sentence I said would always be carefully crafted so as not to upset or offend anyone – even if that meant putting myself at the back of the line. It’s one of a few reasons why it took me so many years to transition – the thought of causing upset was so torturous to me, it stopped me being… well… me.
Making the decision to come out to my colleagues on a warm June day was the start of me taking back control and realising that just because my feelings were personal to me did not make them unimportant – a lesson I encourage anyone who doesn’t know to learn. Of course, knowing it and practicing it are two very different things, but you’ll never do the latter without the former.
Fast forward to July 2022, and I am sat in a beautiful conference which has been impeccably arranged and hosted by PSNI. I’m sat at a table and surrounded by friends, people inside and outside of the police, people I’ve met at that event and other events stretching back over the past few years. Some I’d only previously met online and others I work with every week. And all of whom I have a tremendous love and respect for. In three years, I had gone from a quiet, unremarkable-other-than-the-trans-thing person to travelling the country (and Belgium, once) and giving talks to current and future police officers and staff at stations, headquarters and universities about my experiences. Experiences which also prompted me to amass a small but very personal social media following which has given me opportunity to interact with and meet people that 2019 me would have fainted at. It’s something that I’ve grown to really enjoy, and I know has helped others – which ultimately is the only reason I do any of what I do. And with only three years of doing it, I feel like I’ve got lots left to give.
And so I almost fell from my conference seat when they started describing the winner of the Julie Barnes-Frank award. Perhaps because of my previous church mouse disposition I have never been capable of winning anything other than the occasional raffle or £10 on a lottery ticket. But as the descriptors kept coming… work with the trans community… temporary co-chair… I still couldn’t quite believe it was me. Only when my current network title was read did it dawn on me that they were actually talking about me. I was being given an award which, for so many reasons, means so much and I felt (and even now, months later) cannot believe anyone even thought I could be nominated for, let alone win.
I can’t begin to do the scale of this accolade justice, but very briefly – the award is named after Julie Barnes-Frank, a police officer from Greater Manchester Police who retired in 2009 and sadly passed away following her battle with cancer in 2017. She was one of the first police officers to ever march in a Pride parade in the UK and was pioneering in making her own force a more inclusive place for LGBTQ+ people, and this in turn led to sweeping national changes in culture and attitude. If Julie wasn’t directly responsible for the progress itself, she was inspiring those who were.
And she still is.
As I didn’t join the police until 2012 I never crossed paths with Julie, but I have heard many others talking about her (mainly at that conference) and as the award was being talked about I could see many tears rolling down cheeks, palpable memories of a woman who clearly meant so much to so many.
My legs could barely carry me as I walked to the stage and took the award. I looked around the room at my colleagues and friends, even now I still don’t think I’ve fully taken it in. That day renewed my passion for making policing a more friendly place for LGBTQ+ people, as a bisexual trans woman in the police I will continue to speak up and speak out. The trophy for the award, you may be interested to know, currently sits in a cabinet at South Wales Police HQ. There are two reasons for this: Firstly, I have two dogs and a teenager. Nowhere shy of a secure police premises will protect it!
Secondly and most importantly, it stands as a reminder for anyone who walks into that building – whether visitors, new recruits, or chief officers – of the importance of inclusivity in policing. That award is a reminder of how far we’ve come and the work that has been done to get us here. In these troubled times, where my very existence as a trans police officer is routinely (and inaccurately) deemed by some as controversial, it is a reminder that to be complacent is to step backwards and that what we have achieved needs to be safeguarded and progress is still the order of the day.
Thank you to everyone who nominated me. Thank you to Outreach Youth for selecting me as the recipient this year. Thank you to PSNI for hosting an incredible conference and Pride parade participation the following day. Thank you to all of my supporters, whether you’re a part of our LGBTQ+ community or an ally – you are absolutely amazing.
And thank you Julie. We wouldn’t be doing any of this without you. I hope you’re proud.
Written by Police Sergeant Rhian Carter, Winner of the 2022 Julie Barnes Frank Award.
Trans Lead for the Wales LGBT+ Police Network and Wales Regional Representative to the National LGBT+ Police Network