Wednesday , 6 July 2022

“Visible to change attitudes” – 25 years of the Gay Police Association

Alan Sneddon
Alan Sneddon, chair of the Gay Police Association


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.

About Andrew Page

Andrew Page
Andrew is KaleidoScot's sports editor and photographer. An experienced blogger, Andrew was raised in the Hebrides and currently lives in Renfrewshire. Andrew became an active equality campaigner at the time of the Section 28 debate, and has particular interests in faith issues and promoting LGBTI equality in sport. Andrew was shortlisted for the Icon Award's 2015 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. As a gay man, who has actively campaigned for gay equality & HIV/AIDS awareness, there is still not a UK police officer who draws breath in the Devon & Cornwall police force I would trust in my home any more than I would a convicted rapist, murderer or drug dealer.

    Seeing police officers take part in uniform at Gay pride events is as ever bit as offensive to me as would be seeing Neo-Nazi taking part in Jewish Holocaust memorial services or Klu Klux Klan taking part in Black civil rights.

    • Dear Malcolm,

      As someone who has equally campaigned for LGBT equality and HIV/AIDS awareness, your comments are both deeply offensive and incredibly prejudiced.

      You will be aware of the expression, “Tar with the same brush” which according to the Collins English Dictionary means – to believe WRONGLY that someone or something has the same bad qualities as someone or something that is similar.

      What is the basis of your knowledge concerning GPA Scotland that you can compare us to the KKK or Neo-Nazis? Quite frankly, disgusting and heinous allegations.

      However, in all fairness, I welcome you to substantiate your claims concerning GPA Scotland via Skype. Our Skype username is gpascotland. If you are agreeable, we shall record this discussion. After all you seem perfectly prepared to accuse us ‘publicly’.

      We look forward to hearing from you.

      Alan Sneddon
      GPA Scotland

    • I don’t know much about Devon and Cornwall, however I do know Simon Hill. He was highly active in the Devon and Cornwall GPA and you genuinely couldn’t have met a more upstanding and decent individual.

      Now retired from the police service, he continues to support LGBT causes and activities, entirely contrary to your claims.

    • As a convicted paedophile (for which you spent 2 years incarceration) because you sexually molested a 14 year old boy whom you had legally adopted, and admitted in court to being a paedophile, can you genuinely expect sympathy from those of us who see you for what you are?

      So please don’t compare us with any moral standards which you clearly lack.

      Just remember that you (rightly) have a court order or SOPO (Sexual Offences Prohibition Order) and are on the Sexual Offenders Registrar.

      None of which applies to GPA Scotland. Yet you say that we are the bad guys!

  2. If you want to read more FACTS about my life

    As a Child Rape survivor from when I was 6 to 10 years old from a pedophile ring which operated in Tarpots Essex, I have been requested to give testimony to the Statutory Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse & I have been notified in writing that the above website in its entirety has been accepted by the Statutory Inquiry as part of my written statement evidence.

    I have NEVER encountered in person, by phone, email or by letter ONE SINGLE POLICE officer in Devon & Cornwall who has not colluded & collaborated, aided & abetted in covering up and/or turning a blind eye to the child rape I experienced as a child & the subsequent police attempts through dishonesty, prejudice, criminality, arrogance, ignorance to silence me, both about the child rape & institutional homophobia of the Devon & Cornwall police.

    Thirty years I was reporting to numerous Devon & Cornwall police the child rape I experienced when I was six through to age ten from a teacher & his POLICE & clergy mates among others. For thirty years Devon & Cornwall bullied,m threatened, victimized, ignored, rubbished & disregarded..because I was gay.

    In 2013 I gave up with homophobic scum of the Devon & Cornwall police and I contacted Essex police. It took Essex police just ONE WEEK to confirm identity of one of the child rapists I had been identifying to Devon & Cornwall police for almost thirty years. It turned out he had been convicted for abusing six other children under 16yrs of age, (but being a mason? was not sent to prison). I have since identified two further victims who predate the period covered by his conviction….but police still covering up.

    Because of my multiple experiences of police dishonesty, police corruption, police criminality & police homophobia carried out by multiple Devon & Cornwall police officers I as a gay man survivor of multiple homophobic hate crimes (many instigated by police) & as a survivor of multiple child rape (covered up by Devon & Cornwall police for decades)…I would no more trust ANY Devon & Cornwall police officer past or present in my home than I would a convicted multiple rapist, serial killer or drug dealer..& THAT is precisely my statement to the Statutory Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

    • Just for the record.

      I give my verbal testimony statement (which I shall be doing voluntarily under oath) to the Statutory Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse ‘Truth Project’ this coming week. Tues 22 Jan 2019

      I hope every police officer I’ve ever encountered or communicated with (CC Shaun Sawyer down) since 1988 in the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary bursts into flames & burns in hell for the homophobia endured as an adult & collaboration in these police covering up child sexual abused rape & sodermy I was subjected to as a 6 through to 10yr old boy by these evil vile scum who wear police uniforms.

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