Caroline is a Policy Advisor in the Civil Service Diversity & Inclusion team. She shares her personal story.
I am a lesbian. A simple statement, but central to who I am.
I came out in 1976, at the age of 20, after a long internal struggle to try to understand who I was. Coming out started me on a lifelong journey in pursuit of equality, diversity and inclusion. I was a student at the time, but frankly lost interest in studying, preferring to put my energies into being a gay activist. I did manage to graduate, and then went to live in Aberdeen, working first as a gardener and then as a van driver to support my activism (and a fair amount of socialising too!).
I have always been outraged by the fact that lesbians at this time commonly lost custody of their children – we were seen as not fit to parent. I remember reflecting on the need for sympathetic solicitors, and decided that perhaps I should try and do something about it. I moved to Newcastle to study law. Three years after qualifying as a solicitor I was involved in setting up a firm which became “go to” solicitors locally for lesbians and gay men.
After nearly 17 years, I had had enough of the legal profession, and left to become an advocate for a disabled people’s organisation. I then joined the Civil Service in 2008 – not because I wanted to be a civil servant, to be honest, but to take up the role of Equality, Diversity & Community Engagement Manager at CPS North East. After nearly 10 years in that role, developing strong relationships with community groups working on all strands of hate crime and in violence against women sector, I took up my current position as LGB&TI Policy Advisor in Civil Service D&I.
None of this would have happened if I were not a lesbian. Being angry about the invisibility of lesbians, and the discrimination faced by lesbians – both as lesbians and as women - drove all my career choices. Understanding how discrimination works against lesbians meant understanding sexism and helped me to identify connections with and to develop some understanding of other forms of discrimination – if I want lesbians to achieve equality and inclusion, I want that for all lesbians, so I need to be willing to tackle issues of race, disability, socio economic background etc.
And now I am a civil servant, working in Civil Service D&I in this Year of Inclusion. Inclusion means a sense of belonging, being able to bring your authentic self to work, and having a voice in your organisation. There is always more work to do, but there is much to be proud of in the Civil Service commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Over the years I have experienced harassment and abuse, have twice been punched in the face, chosen not to be out in some workplaces, and been aware of gossip and hostility in others.
But I can honestly say that in the Civil Service I have had no problem making that simple and authentic statement: I am a lesbian.