BCHA refuge support worker Amy Smith is a member of our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion forum. In celebration of Pride Month 2021, she has written this insightful blog about the need to raise awareness around LGBTQ+ issues and the work being carried out at BCHA to ensure equal rights for both employees and customers.
Some of you will be aware, June is Pride Month - a time for celebrating love, acceptance and diversity for the LGBTQ+ community. The occasion is marked and celebrated across the globe by flying the rainbow flag, whose colours represent the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community.
In recent years, global brands and businesses have stood in alliance with the LGBTQ+ community, by creating rainbow versions of their logos and posting messages of support on social media.
However, pride month is much more than just fluffy rainbow graphics and an annual message of support from corporations. Pride is a protest. Thousands of LGBTQ+ people face persecution, violence and death each day, because of how they identify or who they love. The purpose of pride isn't just to celebrate the community, but to raise awareness of the injustice LGBTQ+ people still face and to fight for equal rights across the world.
There's no doubt that progress has been made in campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights in the UK. However, LGBTQ+ people still do not have equal rights entirely - LGBTQ+ people are still subject to homophobic/trans¬phobic attacks and hate crimes, such as the London bus attack in 2019, where two women were subjected to a violent attack by teenage boys because they were in a relationship. Metropolitan police statistics also show an increase in homophobic hate crime in London between 2014 and 2018 (BBC News 2019).
Statistically, 2.7% of over 16’s in the UK identify as LGB, according to the ONS (2019). There is no current statistics to note on transgender individuals (which proves equality still has a way to go).
If 2.7% of the general population identify as LGB, then potentially there are additional LGBTQ+ people who aren't included as they are not ‘out’.
The fact that same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK less than ten years ago shows that the progression in equality for LGBTQ+ rights is quite slow.
Pride and BCHA
There are BCHA staff and customers who identify as LGBTQ+. So we would like to discuss how raising awareness of LGBTQ+ issues and equality is vital in order to provide an outstanding service to our customers. In terms of equality, there is always more that can be done to create positive change.
A study by LGBTQ+ inclusion organisation HouseProud found that 21% of social housing tenants surveyed, didn't feel comfortable with maintenance personnel entering their home, and 24% felt this way about their landlord. This is a staggeringly high proportion of people. The study also found that some LGBTQ+ people would self- censor prior to a visit from a maintenance team or landlord.
Self-censoring is where an LGBTQ+ person changes their home environment to hide their identity - such as take down a pride flag or hide photos of them with their partner.
A BCHA member of staff recently disclosed that she had similar feelings and experiences when a repair team entered her rented home a few years ago:
"Around three years ago, a maintenance crew came to do a job in my home and I took down the photos of me and my partner - I didn't want to feel judged or feel uncomfortable. I worried they would make derogatory comments about the fact I was in a relationship with a woman. I feared a negative reaction - that they would be disgusted and treat me as lesser because of my sexuality.
“I think it was just societal pressure and fear that made me worry. I don't think I'd be as worried now as I'm a lot more confident in myself, but the thought is still always in the back of my mind.
“I think that organisations training their staff to be aware of LGBTQ+ issues would be reassuring for members of the LGBTQ+ community.”
This account of an LGBTQ+ issue shows why awareness raising and training of workforces is desperately needed and this is something that BCHA is working to improve both internally with employees and externally with customers.
We want BCHA customers to know that we are aware of the potential issues and worries that people identifying as LGBTQ+ may be facing and we would like to reassure them that, as part of our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) forum, we are putting an action plan in place to ensure that no customers are excluded, discriminated against, or live in fear.
Our starting point is going to be the creation of a BCHA ED&I advocacy email address. This email will be monitored by select members of the forum who will operate separately to BCHA’s HR department and the company’s complaints procedure. The support and advice will remain confidential (unless there’s a safeguarding concern that needs to be addressed), and will be provided by BCHA staff members from across the organisation, as well as BCHA customers. Those responding will have a passion for ED&I and/or will have lived experiences of discrimination or exclusion that gives them some knowledge around the issues our customers may face, to be able to meet them with understanding and empathy.
The email address will be up and running within the next few months. We hope this platform will be a place customers and staff can come for support if they need to discuss any discrimination or exclusion they have faced, or if they would like an advocate or support person to assist with making a formal complaint (should they wish to do so).
We are striving to create an environment that is equal and safe for all our staff and customers.
Anyone who would be interested in joining the ED&I forum is welcome. We are particularly keen to recruit our customers into the forum. If you would like to join or would like more information, please email EDI@bcha.org.uk.