Thursday, 8 November 2007

Unequal Equalities

I am just back from a meeting of the Southwark Anti-Homophobic Forum and I am feeling elated and disappointed at the same time.

The meeting was great. Good company and good food were the least of its positive points. Yes, Columba Blango, Executive member for citizenship, equalities and communities (Lib. Dem.), had left mid-meeting during a presentation on domestic violence in the LGBT community but the whole meeting was very positive and in many ways empowering.

Simon Hughes, the local MP, had suddenly remembered his (in more ways than one) communi (I have never seen him at any of our events) and was present at the meeting (although not for long), talking about working with us on several local issues and asking for advice on the current Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill and the government's proposals to introduce a new offence of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.

This was followed by an intervention by members of the equalities team of the Borough who are in the process of updating the Council's equality scheme and policies. They asked us about what we thought were the important points the council should look out for, which part of our community are most in need of support and attention. We particularly asked that the council worked more with the community and realise that LGBT people are part of all other communities. It felt great to be consulted for once and it really felt that they were listening to us. I caught myself dreaming that this little meeting with all the good points that were raised would actually make a difference.

And then it was time to leave the building. On the reception desk, I saw a glossy brochure entitled Celebrating Southwark - Community Cohesion in Southwark. I picked it up. It is actually a folder holding three leaflets, all produced by the Southwark Alliance (whose website doesn't even seem to work properly). The first leaflet is called A Sense of Belonging and is mostly about ethnic minorities and the hot issue of Britishness. the second one, the thicker one is about faith (A Mark of Faith) and the last one, "How to... build community cohesion in Southwark" gathers a series of case studies.

I looked and looked. There is obviously much about race and faith. There is a little about gender and even less about age and disability. And guess what, there is nothing about sexual orientation. Nothing at all.

Interestingly enough, this is probably representative of the order of importance the different strands of diversity have in people's and organisations' minds. Race is the big one, sometimes the only one. Faith and religion has been propelled to the foreground by the combined actions of fundamentalist Islamists and the media. Gender (women) can sometimes make their voices heard but not often and the same goes with older people and disabled people. Almost nobody outside the community seem to give a damn about LGBT people. This probably sounds bitter and cynical but isn't too far from reality I think.

I happen to be attending an event organised by the Southwark Alliance on Monday (which happens to be described as "an opportunity for various forums in Southwark to get together (faith, disabilities, older, Muslim etc etc)."!!!). I shall certainly raise the issue of our absence in their literature.

Watch this space....


  1. 'Community' isn't really a helpful term, as it implies that all the members of these so-called communities are look-alike think-alike carbon copies of one another.

    Your point that LGBT people are to be found in ALL the so-called communities is an extremely important one, and I hope you will make it a focus for consciousness-raising in your future discussions.

  2. Yes, the idea of communities/community was also discussed during the consultation with the equalities team.

    How the concept is needed to provide a sense of cohesion within a group but how it can also give false impressions about this group for the people outside it.

    It was a very interesting discussion, hence the re-enforced impression of a let down when browsing the brochures.

    (congrats on your award, dear sir) ;o)


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