A great deal has happened since the Gay Police Association (GPA) was founded in 1990.
Indeed, it is difficult – and sometimes painful – to reflect on just how different societal attitudes were towards LGBTI rights 25 years ago, or the struggles our community has had to endure to arrive at where we are now. Acceptance seldom comes easily, and there can be little doubt that progress has been hard-fought.
This is particularly true within the police service, something Alan Sneddon – the current chair of the GPA – made clear during a speech he gave at a recent Out in Glasgow meeting on the history of his organisation.
The GPA was founded a quarter of a century ago, but the details of its early days are still shrouded in mystery. In 1990, it was an unofficial organisation, not supported by the police forces and forced to live in constant fear of the media exposing those involved. In reminding his audience of the hostility of the mainstream media (including more respectable titles such as The Independent) Sneddon referred to Marc Burke’s book, Coming Out of the Blue, the only record of the early days of the GPA and a stark testimony of what being gay meant for individuals living in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The police service itself distrusted “outside” organisations, and the early meetings were held secretly in pubs – mainly in London. The degree to which identities had to be protected seems shocking now, but in the early 1990s it was simply an accepted reality. Attitudes were to change, however, and Sneddon referred to a number of key events that had a powerful impact on the police service and its approach to minorities – leading eventually to the GPA’s acceptance and recognition.
The first of these was the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993, after which a lengthy inquiry concluded that the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist, sexist and homophobic. It shook the police service to its foundations, and forced it to address issues that had for too long been overlooked. It also led to the recruitment of more minority members; while this was aimed chiefly at “visible” underrepresented minorities such as women and people of particular ethnic backgrounds , nonetheless a marker had been laid down.
A second event that proved instrumental in forcing change was the bombing of the Admiral Duncan. It challenged the police into reconsidering how they treated people who might be LGBTI – in particular, being aware of the dangers of outing people. The incident led to the police service becoming more sensitive to addressing issues of homophobic hate crime, and diversity training (NEOTS) was rolled out.
In 2003, new sexual orientation regulations required organisations to become more inclusive. Duties in relation to protecting staff were effectively imposed on a police service still struggling to adjust to the Stephen Lawrence judgement. To its credit, the service responded positively and in the same year the GPA took part in its first ever Pride parade (in London). Sneddon himself was the first police officer from Scotland to ever take part in a Pride march, and at subsequent Prides more officers turned out in uniform – sometimes to the consternation of some colleagues, but a statement had been made.
The GPA had evolved from a secretive, unsanctioned organisation to an official unit campaigning for equality and, for many, a symbol of hope. More significantly, it had raised the profile of both its own work and the cause of LGBTI equality.
Even then, media attempts to discredit the GPA were ongoing. In spite of its newly found recognition, the GPA still had many battles to fight. As social attitudes towards LGBTI rights and inclusion generally softened, the media hostility subsided. The GPA became not only a visible organisation calling for inclusion, but a respected support network and a source of help and advice for LGBTI people and their families – for those working within the police as well as many from outside it.
A measure of how effective the GPA has been can perhaps be demonstrated by a recent inclusion and equality report into staff attitudes. In relation to the inclusion categories, there was a much higher response rate from LGBTI people and there is a general feeling that, while more progress has yet to be made, LGBTI employees broadly feel accepted and supported in the workplace.
Perhaps because of the advances that have been made in recent years, in 2014 the GPA in England and Wales opted to dissolve and replace itself with staff support networks. However, the GPA continues to make the case for inclusion and acceptance – and ensuring that the police service becomes an even better place for LGBTI people to work – with its efforts being rewarded by winning its category at this year’s LGBTI Awards and Icon Awards events.
Where does the GPA go from here? Where will it be in another 25 years’ time? As far as Sneddon is concerned, the GPA will be around for as long as it is needed to “be visible for changing attitudes”.
Alan Sneddon was speaking at an Out in Glasgow meeting on Thursday 26th November 2015.