Sometimes it’s the little things that have the biggest impact – Guy Stenson of GCH
I was slightly torn about whether to write this to be published during Pride Month. It's great to see organisations showing their support for the LGBTQ+ community for the month, dusting off the rainbow logos and getting out the glitter. But a genuine commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) needs to be a year-round commitment and, most of all, it needs to be authentic.
In my role, I spend quite a bit of time out and about in Gloucester. Gloucester is typical of many towns and cities up and down the country. There is no 'gay village' or even, as far as I am aware, a single LGBTQ+ venue.
But whilst out and about, I noticed that Caffé Nero in the city centre displays the progress pride flag inside their store and has information displayed about local LGBTQ+ social groups on their community notice board all year round. Very subtly they've shown themselves to be a safe space and let both customers and potential employees who are from the LGBTQ+ communities know that they are welcomed on their terms, at any time.
As chief executive at Gloucester City Homes (GCH), that is very much the approach that I'm passionate about promoting within our organisation - proactively and consistently working to make sure we are inclusive and welcoming to all.
We're relatively small and so can probably never genuinely reflect all the diversity and differences within our community, but we can and we must ensure as many people as possible can see themselves at GCH, whether as colleagues or customers. This requires a continual focus and effort and is something we continue to chip away at.
When I started out in my career, positive visible LGBTQ+ role models were few and far between, but those who existed had a massive and lasting impact - just by being themselves.
Hazel was my manager when I was a young administrator working in Anchor's busy Bradford office. She didn't use vague pronouns when talking about her partner or avoid talking about what they had done at the weekend. She talked about the everyday highs and lows in her life just like everyone else - her passion for gardening and the Hebden Bridge folk music scene.
Today it might sound like nothing but to me, looking back, it was massive. I try to do the same, talking about my life with my husband, our two sons and our dog, something that doesn't necessarily come naturally to me, but which I hope might have a positive impact on someone.
A few years ago, I read a blog on our company intranet - I've copied an extract below - which showed me the impact that those small gestures can have on others:
"...I remember when Guy coordinated our away-day. There were some people he'd not met before and certainly did not know any of us particularly well. His introduction was something like 'My name is Guy and I am married to my husband and we have two boys'. I remember being really struck at how 'normal' he made it sound. So much so, I went home and told my wife and we had a discussion about why we REALLY waited until we knew each other before we stopped using those gender neutral terms to describe each other...."
Just like Caffé Nero in Gloucester, as housing providers we need to make sure we proactively let our customers know we are here for all our customers when they need us. Whilst it is true there has been massive progress in relation to LGBTQ+ visibility, rights and inclusion within society - all of which we should welcome and for which we thank those who went before campaigning and influencing to bring about those changes - there is still a long way to go.
For instance, LGBTQ+ people are still disproportionately overrepresented amongst homeless young people. Nearly a quarter of trans people will have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives and sadly we know that incidents of homophobic and transphobic hate crime is on the increase.
If that hate crime comes from a neighbour, from one of our customers towards another, then we must take it seriously and we need to make sure the affected customers know that they can report it to us, that we will listen and that we will act on it.
I learnt recently of how a school friend of mine has been suffering for a number of years from horrific homophobic abuse from a neighbour and how he struggled to get any agencies to recognise it or do anything to help him. He was let down.
I'm determined that no GCH customer similarly experiencing hate crime of any kind should feel the same, but that takes commitment and investment in a culture that takes it personally.
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