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Deputy Chief Constable for Cheshire Constabulary and National policing lead for LGBT+ talks about the impact that COVID 19 has had on pride events planned for this year.
As we celebrated the start of 2020 we had no idea what lay just around the corner. Now we are in a vastly changed world with every part of life affected by Coronavirus. Whether through loss of jobs, livelihoods, the inability to go out and meet people, schools, shops and businesses closed, socialising only from a distance and losing friends and family members, Covid-19 has hit us all hard.
Then we witnessed the horrific death of George Floyd in America and the events that have followed. On top of this we already know that the virus is having a disproportionate impact on our BAME communities. When I speak to people from under-represented groups it’s clear the past few months have been incredibly tough.
As the national policing lead for LGBT+, I have spoken to many people and it is clear that cancelling Pride marches and celebrations is also going to have a huge impact this year. Within Policing, Pride is celebrated as an opportunity for our staff to be themselves and show who they are, very publicly, in a Pride march. Pride started as a protest against the harassment and mistreatment of the LGBT+ community and today the police involvement in Pride sends a strong message, not only to victims, but to those who wish to cause harm to the LGBT+ community. I know from speaking colleagues how important it is to them that they are able to show their communities that the police service has changed and is on their side.
The encouragement and backing they receive from their supervisors to take part also reinforces the support for them in the workplace and it gives them a sense of inclusion and acceptance (I hate that word acceptance. I don’t think anyone has the right to determine whether, or not someone else can or should be accepted, but it is very important that LGBT+ staff do feel accepted and valued as one of the team by their colleagues and supervisors).
The effect of Covid-19 means that it is really hard for many LGBT+ people to get the support they would normally have through social contact and through their networks and social groups. Not having Pride has also taken away their opportunity to catch up with friends, which is critical to many colleagues as this is the time to refuel, re-energise and to share experience in a way that formal meetings can’t provide. Of course, this is the same for everyone due to Covid-19; but Pride is the place that many LGBT+ people boost their mental health and connect with those across the country, enjoying the security in being together, being in a safer place, celebrating progress made and being truly themselves.
Pride helps to show our communities that we are a diverse organisation and that we want to encourage people from all backgrounds to join policing. We have so many diverse opportunities for anyone to excel in policing, but we have to make sure we look like and are representative of those we police. Being at Pride helps to bridge the gap between policing and our communities and it helps to instil confidence for people to turn to us when they need us. It is vital that we show the public that policing has, and continues to, evolve. The past few months have brought back to the public eye the long way policing still has to go so we are truly reflective of the communities we serve and I know this is a priority for every chief police officer in this country.
Over the last few months there has been a lot of focus on trans rights and the rights of women. Within policing our focus has been to ensure trans people are supported in the workplace, that their welfare is paramount and they are able to be themselves at work.
So this year there are a number of Virtual Prides with some very exciting and diverse events planned. Policing already has strong links with Pride organisations across the country and at this time we want to further those relationships and fully engage with the virtual Prides. I am encouraging supervisors and senior managers to support their LGBT+ staff to be part of the virtual Prides, just as we would normally. Every year we have hundreds of allies who are keen to take part in Pride and I want this to continue this year. This visible support for LGBT+ colleagues is greatly appreciated and reinforces what the police service should be. But, as with every year I have no doubt I’ll be asked by some 'Why all the rainbows? Why the Rainbow cars? Why the need to keeping talking about Pride? Why do I need to support this – I’m not gay’' "you’re already accepted so why make a big deal of it?". I will tell those people to think about what it’s like to be persecuted because of the person you love or the person you are. I will tell them that LGBT+ hate crime is still significantly under reported and that LGBT+ people are still attacked in the street in 2020 Britain because of who they are.
People do not choose to be gay, bisexual or trans, it is just who they are. And like everyone else, they have the right to feel comfortable and confident in work as well as when they walk down the street.
I do hope that by next year we will be able to march alongside each other with pride – police, communities and allies - and celebrate our support for diversity in all its forms. Happy Pride season 2020!
DCC Julie Cooke
NPCC Lead for LGBT+