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Allies in Action: Sam Forster

This week, we’re celebrating the allies making the Civil Service a great place to work for LGBT+ people. Sam works in the Ministry of Justice. In this post, he talks about his role as an ally.

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By Sam Forster

Civil Service allies Week

What’s your job role and where do you work?

For the past 18 months I have been working in the prison education policy team in the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), and leading specifically on assessment and accountability policy – though in reality, the majority of that time has been spent working on the procurement of new prison education contracts, which will roll out from April next year, and have provided prison governors with the fantastic opportunity to design and commission the education services that best suit the needs of their individual prisons.

How long have you been an ally?

I became an ally a few years ago whilst working at the Department for Education. One of my team members at the time asked if I would consider it – and I must confess that it wasn’t something I’d considered, or even given much thought to, before – and when she explained more about the role that allies play I was more than happy to become one! When I moved to the MOJ I continued to be an ally – it is something that I’ll do for the remainder of my career (a long time still!), and the great thing is that it doesn’t rely upon there being a formal network or similar, it is simply something you can take into any role with you, it’s a way of being!

Why do you think it’s important to be an ally, and to have allies within an office?

I think it is important to be an ally for both personal and professional reasons. I am lucky, I have always felt able to be myself and feel comfortable at work and in my personal life – the thought that anyone might be in a different position doesn’t sit well with me - everybody should feel able to be themselves in any situation, without fear of the reactions of others. The role of an ally should help to promote that message and develop more inclusive environments within which individuals feel able to be themselves. In a professional sense, having allies in the office is extremely important as well, it sends a message that inclusivity is a shared responsibility and not something that is owned by any particular group – we all have a duty to ensure our workplace is a safe and welcoming place where everyone can be comfortable, regardless of who they are.

What have you done to be a visible ally within your office or what do you plan to do?

One of the key things I’ve realised and tried to address as an ally is that unless you are part of an LGBT+ network, you often won’t see or hear many important and interesting messages relating to the community. I’ve therefore always tried to help disseminate messages more widely – generally by talking to the director’s office and asking them to send key messages out to the group via email. Another big part of the role of an ally, as I see it, is making yourself available (and ensuring people know it!) to listen to and support any colleagues who may want to talk about LGBT+ issues. This is as easy as sending an email, something I’ll try to do a few times a year so that people are aware. Another simple way to promote both the role and your own availability is to add something to your email signature. I also encourage others to get involved and raise awareness of how they can support the LGBT+ community – such as signing Stonewall’s ‘No Bystanders’ pledge, committing to never being a bystander to hateful language and abuse. Going forwards, I’m looking forward to working with our network chair to develop some internal information and support for allies and encouraging more people to step up!

Civil Service allies Week is a chance to highlight the important role of LGBT+ allies in the Civil Service.

Find out more about Allies Week