Last month was LGBT+ History Month. Dan Forth, Human Resources Director, shares his reflections on the importance of this month and what it means to him.
At the bold age of 15 I decided to come out and tell the world that I was gay. My family was incredibly supportive and whilst they were shocked (hard to believe I know) they continued to support me in the best way they could.
I’ve always been a strong-willed kind of guy and on reflection, coming out was an incredibly brave move, particularly because at the time there was little education around LGBTQ+ issues. Speaking from experience, the word ‘gay’ was used as more of an insult rather than a sense of endearment. This experience got me thinking…. “I wonder why we never discussed LGBTQ+ issues at school?” or “every image of what the education system illustrated was aimed at the typical heterosexual image of having a wife, kids and growing old together”.
Section 28, which became law in 1988 and wasn’t repealed until 2003, stopped the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools. For my teachers that meant they were unable to speak about homosexuality nor address inequality from an LGBTQ+ perspective within the educational system. The legislation was introduced in reaction to the AIDS pandemic, which for certain diluted the view of gay men, in particular. Channel 4’s recent series ‘It’s a Sin’ illustrates how difficult it was for members of the LGBTQ+ community throughout that time period. Even now we’re still seeing the effects of the lack of education around LGBTQ+ issues.
What is even more shocking is the treatment of those in the armed services: “By law, gay men and lesbian women were banned from serving in the British military until 2000. About 200 to 250 were thrown out each year because of their sexuality, and frequently had their service medals removed. In some instances, medals were physically ripped from a service person’s uniform after a conviction at court martial. Those found guilty of being homosexual sometimes went on to a serve a prison term, typically several months long” (Guardian, 2021). These service personnel, many of whom fought for their country, are only now having their medals returned.
They are not the only ones to fall foul of the law which up to 1967 made homosexuality illegal, and punishable by prison or chemical castration. Alan Turing is an example, the mathematician who invented the Turing Machine to break Nazi communications in World War 2. He contributed greatly to the Allies' success and paved the way for modern day computers. His reward was to be forced to undertake chemical castration, which led to his untimely death. Turing died in 1954 having ingested cyanide, although suicide cannot be confirmed. Since Alan’s death, the UK government has issued a public apology and in 2013 the Queen granted Alan a Posthumous Pardon.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the LGBTQ+ community for not allowing the threat of criminalisation to prevent them from serving their country. Their selflessness and service must never be forgotten. The Alan Turing Law, introduced in 2017, retrospectively pardoned men cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.
Reflecting on my own experiences, in some ways I am incredibly lucky as I have been able to accept who I am from a young age. I have grown up within a more tolerant system because society’s understanding of equality has continued to evolve over the last 20 years. I am completely thankful for the LGBTQ+ members who fought for our freedom. Their sacrifices must not be forgotten.
Whilst so much has been done to improve LGBTQ+ freedom, we still have a lot of work to do in order to change attitudes around LGBTQ+ issues. It's important to remember that we are all united in our differences.
Pride at Work - Cadent
Cadent has its very own Pride at Work employee community. The group's ambition is for current and future generations of LGBTQ+ employees to feel comfortable, safe and included at work. The group aims to provide informal support to LGBTQ+ colleagues and is run by employees, for all employees.
Find out more - Diversity & Inclusion at Cadent