Each year, 17 May is International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
2020 is the Civil Service Year of Inclusion. Inclusion can be defined as having a sense of belonging, being your authentic self, and having a voice in your organisation. Usually, when we talk about homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, we are thinking about the impact in the workplace – but this year, in the context of COVID-19, it is particularly important for us to think about the impact on LGB&TI colleagues at home and in their communities.
As Civil Service LGB&TI Champion, I am always proud to hear LGB&TI civil servants saying that they feel safe to be their authentic selves at work. But at this time of lockdown and social distancing, it is sad to reflect that some LGB&TI colleagues do not feel safe to be their authentic selves at home, or in their communities. For some, they are not ‘out’ at home and are now, therefore, living in a situation where they cannot be themselves, and are constantly fearful of giving themselves away. Others who are ‘out’ to members of their household may be living in an atmosphere of constant hostility. In either case, individuals are currently unable to escape to the safety of their workplace, and are also cut off from their own support networks.
Whether or not people feel safe at home, sadly some LGB&TI people still experience hostility in their communities, and currently there is no escape; in fact some may feel more exposed and vulnerable if they go outside in their neighbourhood to exercise or to go shopping.
And let us not forget that domestic abuse also occurs in same sex relationships and relationships involving trans people. Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia have an impact here as well: controlling and abusive partners sometimes use the threat of ‘outing ’ people to their families or communities as a means of control; LGBT victims of domestic abuse often do not have the support of their families and can become very isolated; and LGBT victims are often reluctant to report domestic abuse to the police or other authorities for fear of encountering homophobia/biphobia/transphobia themselves, or exposing their partner to homophobia/biphobia/transphobia.
At this time our employee networks, at departmental and cross-government level, have a vital role to play in offering peer support to LGB&TI people who may be feeling isolated and vulnerable.
So let’s be proud of the progress we have made in the Civil Service to tackle homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and create safe and inclusive working environments for our LGB&TI colleagues. And let’s resolve to continue our efforts in our workplaces. But let’s also remember, and be sensitive to, the impact on our LGB&TI colleagues of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia that they may be experiencing outside of the workplace, and find ways to let them know that they have our support. And let’s express our gratitude to our LGB&TI networks for their work offering what can be a lifeline to people in what may seem impossible situations.