Mark Washer, Chief Executive Officer

LGBT+ History Month - a time to celebrate equality and difference

By Mark Washer, Chief Executive
1 February 2021
First published in Inside Housing 

Today marks the start of LGBT+ History Month, 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 1986 Local Government Act 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. 

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, 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.

A few years ago, when I was CFO 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. Whilst 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; homelessness among young LGBTQ+ people is disproportionately high.

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; 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.