As LGBT+ History Month begins, Mark Washer reflects on what the role of the housing sector should be in fostering inclusive workplaces and communities, and in tackling discrimination
LGBT+ History Month has begun – a period of celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history. This is an annual event which, in the UK, commemorates the abolition of Section 28 in 2003. Section 28 was part of the Local Government Act 1986 which outlawed any local authority “promoting homosexuality” in schools.
But of course, as well as looking back historically, it also invites us to reflect on where we are now and what more needs to be done.
“When I was chief financial officer at Clarion Housing Group, I was contacted by a member of staff who thanked me for being open at work, because he realised that he was in an environment in which he could come out to colleagues”
It’s easy to think: “It’s 2021. LGBTQ+ people don’t face discrimination today. Surely? Not in the UK. Not in 2021.” Sadly, that is not the case.
There is no doubt that society, our laws and culture have made massive strides in the decades since Section 28 – the legal landscape, society’s views, the levels of support and the representations in the media that a young LGBTQ+ person encounters today when contemplating coming out is a world apart from the one which I came out into at 24. But it’s far from straightforward for everyone.
“Pride Month in June saw the creation of our own LGBTQ+ employee network. That group formally launched in September and has grown in strength and numbers”
A few years ago, when I was chief financial officer at Clarion Housing Group, I was contacted by a member of staff who thanked me for being open at work, because he realised that he was in an environment in which he could come out to colleagues. Then, and only then, did he feel that he had the support framework to come out to his family.
The point is, work is a huge part of our lives and it’s vital that we provide a place where people can be themselves. That requires every single one of us to engage.
I’m pleased to say that Sovereign’s own journey towards actively promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion has come a long way in a short time. Last year, Pride Month in June saw the creation of our own LGBTQ+ employee network. That group formally launched in September and has grown in strength and numbers.
Beyond the workplace, though, and for housing, there’s another dimension altogether. While attitudes have changed dramatically since the days of Section 28, homophobic and transphobic hate crimes have doubled since 2014, bullying in schools continues to be a problem and homelessness among young LGBTQ+ people is disproportionately high.
“Let’s create environments in our workplaces and our communities which celebrate equality and difference”
Since I joined Sovereign in 2018, I’ve been keen that we up our game in equality, diversity and inclusion. Our investment of time and resources will encourage even more diversity of thought, generate innovation, and help us to understand our customers better.
We are a business which deals with its customers on more than a transactional basis, we deal with their daily lives, work in their communities and support them with many of the challenges they face. So, we must also work to ensure that all LGBTQ+ customers feel as safe and included in their communities as others do.
Let’s create environments in our workplaces and our communities which celebrate equality and difference, because that will enable us to achieve our goals in the best way possible, with the best people.
And let’s use LGBT+ History Month to take a big step on that road.
Mark Washer, chief executive, Sovereign