With summer stretching out ahead of us and the days getting longer and hotter, it can only mean that Pride season is almost here! I’ve been to London Pride in recent years and love the atmosphere of celebration. It’s always a brilliant fun and the after parties in Soho are not to be missed. The creeping shadow of commercialisation has put off some people I know, but I’m hopeful that the true spirit of activism continues to shine through and the event can retain its relevance. This year I’m heading to the biggest UK Pride festival in Brighton, and am really looking forward to checking out the scene in this famously diverse and gay friendly city.
I was shocked and saddened to hear of the recent targeted attacks on the LGBT community in Orlando, the worst targeted mass killing of LGBT people since the Holocaust. More than ever this is a time for us and our heterosexual allies to stand together, to be defiant, and to lend our support in solidarity and protest against such hate crimes. Pride this year will feel especially emotional in light of this atrocity.
Going to Pride for me is also about showing solidarity with under-represented communities, many of whom do not receive the support and protection afforded to others. Whilst attitudes to sexuality have progressed positively in recent years, gender identity is only just starting to be talked about and understood in the public space. To present a non cis-gender identity outwith the traditional binaries is still hugely difficult despite increasing prominence in mainstream media. The recently published transgender equality report represents an important step for transgender rights, at the very least recognising some of the issues.
My role is in one of the digital delivery teams in the Ministry of Justice. We’re fortunate to have many incredible LGBTQ* role models in the digital and technology space. Last year’s Pride perfectly coincided with the United States ruling that denial of marriage to same-sex couples was unconstitutional. The lead plaintiff on the landmark civil rights case that led to this decision was Edie Windsor; one of the first female senior systems programmers at IBM who reached the highest level technical position at the company. Edie is heavily involved in LGBT activism, publicly participating in marches and events such as Pride, and is part of the Lesbians Who Tech community who run the Edie Windsor scholarship programme supporting LGBTQ* women to learn how to code.
Active participation in the LGBTQ* community doesn’t need to be purely extra-curricular. By being ourselves at work and fostering an inclusive environment, we can provide the opportunity for other LGBTQ* employees to reach out if they need support. Employers who foster inclusive environments where it’s safe for LGBT employees to be honest about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity enjoy higher retention rates and more productive teams amongst many other benefits. I’m pleased to see our Permanent Secretary Richard Heaton taking pride in difference across the Ministry of Justice and the wider Civil Service. We believe the Department is better for it, and that’s why we’re starting to setup a LGBTQ* community for colleagues in Digital and Technology across government.
Our community is very sociable, relaxed, friendly, and (we think) fun. We don’t have an agenda or set objectives; it’s about getting to know colleagues we wouldn’t meet otherwise. Members have told us they feel more empowered and confident to talk about issues with people who may have gone through similar, without having to go through a more serious or formal forum. The group is organic, rather than prescribed, and we’re always looking to extend the invite across other digital and technology teams across government. So far we have members from the Ministry of Justice, Department of Health, Business Innovation and Skills, the Government Digital Service and UK Trade and Investment.
If you work in the digital or technology space and are interested in coming along to our next drinks, get in touch and I’ll hook you up with an invite!