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  • Neil is a Non-Executive Director at Progress Housing Group

Progress Housing Group's Non-Executive Director, Neil Townsend, on the importance of visible LGBTQ+ role models at work and equality, diversity and inclusion support in the housing sector.


We have recently been celebrating LGBTQ+ history month which has got me thinking about how we ensure that the workplace culture and the services we deliver to all our tenants are inclusive. I am very proud to be a non-executive director at Progress Housing Group which, since my recent early retirement from full time work, has taken me back to my roots within the social housing sector.

As a gay man who worked on the frontline in my early housing career and then later worked in a senior position, I was all too aware of some of the issues that LGBTQ+ employees and residents could experience. I have recently watched the brilliant TV drama, 'It’s a Sin', chronicling the lives of a group of friends in the 1980s. Apart from the amazing soundtrack, the story was compelling and upsetting in equal measure, reminding me of the way society reacted to the emergence of AIDS and its attitude to the Gay community. As a child of the 1960s it was very close to home as it collided with my own coming out in 1984 aged 22.Fast forward to today, and it’s easy to think (that because of a sea change in acceptance) that prejudices have gone away. Believe me they have not and providing inclusive services is more important than ever.

Within the housing sector many providers are signing up to the HouseProud Pledge, designed to help landlords ensure that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,Trans and Queer residents are able to enjoy their homes without fear of discrimination. This is something Progress is also looking into.

Stonewall - the international LGBTQ+ charity and campaign organisation, has recently revealed through a survey that a third of LGBTQ+ employees have hidden their identity and one in five LGBTQ+ employees have been the target of negative comments from colleagues because of their identity. In my early career, I would refer to my partner as ‘her’ and kept this part of my life secret for a while. When I finally felt that I was working in a safe place this stopped. Happy to say that after 31 years together, Alan is now my civil partner.

Experience tells me that having visible LGBTQ+ role models can have a transformative impact on creating a truly inclusive workplace and helping us to develop and deliver truly inclusive services.

Visible LGBTQ+ colleagues within the organisation help others see that being from a minority group isn’t a hindrance to success at all levels in the workplace. I think role models help show it is ok to be you and that there are no limits on what anyone can achieve. Role models that cut through mental health, LGBTQ+, ethnicity and disability all help to break down barriers and challenge misconceptions.

I'm proud to say that I hope at Progress we can all be ourselves, thrive in a truly inclusive environment, inspire each other and deliver the very best for our tenants.