Our Progress Lifeline Service Director, Loraine Simpson, has previously written about her own journey to working at Progress Housing Group, being part of the LGBTQ+ community and the equality, diversity and inclusion (E, D and I) challenges that are still being faced today.

Having recently set up a successful LGBTQ+ network for colleagues at the Group, we asked Loraine if she'd be happy to share her blog as part of LGBT+ History Month...

Lots of things have changed, and the world has progressed, but sadly there is still work to do.

33 years ago, on 20 February 1988, over 20,000 people marched in Manchester in one of the UK's largest LGBTQ+ demonstrations ever, to protest against the introduction of section 28*.

The enacting of Section 28 in 1988 stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality". Some of my gay teacher friends were fearful and led very private lives. The following year Stonewall UK was set up to oppose this act. There was a gay scene that was very separate and underground with blacked-out windows and bouncers on doors, only letting people in who ‘looked gay’. The LGBT community had to be cautious when entering and leaving through fear of attacks.

It was to the backdrop of this private world that I secured my first 'proper' job after leaving college in a large life insurance company in 1988. It was so long ago that there were no emails; we had a typing pool instead, and smoking was still allowed in offices. I’d only just 'come out' to family and friends at the age of 18, sadly receiving a mixed response from some friends.

In work, I did not disclose my sexuality to my work colleagues, mainly due to office banter and my appearance. So when asked about my weekend plans, my girlfriend was referred to only as ‘we’ or ‘they’, and I became very skilled at avoiding unwanted questions.

It was quite a few years before I felt confident to disclose my sexuality at work to a few trusted workmates. It seems bizarre that I would have to disclose my sexuality when, for heterosexuals, this is a given. This is not the thing that defines me. But it was 1988.

Skipping (in a gay-like fashion) forward to 2004, I find myself in the reception at Progress Housing Group waiting to be interviewed for the Head of Customer Service job, but also reflecting on leaving my current role where I was out to all my colleagues and felt supported. Whilst attitudes were more progressive, I was still looking for signs that the Group could be a place I could continue to be myself and contribute to an inclusive environment.

I have found Progress Housing Group to be a supportive place to work; however, I am a confident, happily married, 49-year-old gay woman - so much more resilient than the 18-year-old youth! Lots of things have changed, and the world has progressed, but sadly there are still homeless charities that support young people who have been disowned because they have come out to their family.

At the Group we aim to be inclusive and we are on a journey to make our support for, and commitment to, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (E,D and I) even more visible to colleagues and potential colleagues, and also to our partners, tenants and customers. We want to know that our apprentices, joining us at 18, feel comfortable, supported, and confident to be themselves.

I was surprised to learn lots I didn’t already know when I first attended a Stonewall conference in 2019, given I have been part of the LGBT+ community for over 30 years. It made me stop and think about how vital information is to improve understanding - and the importance of role models. I also felt the responsibility to be a role model.

It may be 2021, and many people may have a perception that because we have gay marriage and equal rights, there is nothing further we need to do. However, there are transgender people taking their own lives, high profile celebrities in the closet for fear of discrimination, and gay people being beaten up on trains.

At Progress, we've recently set up an LGBT+ network group for colleagues. A group such as this in the workplace can transform the experiences of employees, promote inclusion and embed confidence in LGBT+ colleagues.

We've got lots of plans here at the Group to further increase, promote and embed our commitment to E, D and I - and we are looking forward to sharing our journey with you along the way.

To find out more about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the Group, please visit our E, D and I web pages by clicking here.

*Source: Manchester Pride