Equalities: LGBT+ Inclusion in HMPPS

Usually PiPP updates in the Gatelodge are all sunshine, rainbows and a ray of positivity, so apologies in advance that this is a deviation from the norm. However, it’s important to be honest about the issues we’ve faced recently, current challenges we’re facing with work regarding LGBT+ inclusion in the service and what we’re trying to do to improve the situation that LGBT+ staff, especially trans colleagues are experiencing.

Over the past five years, there’s been a number of “Gender Critical” groups which have established themselves online, have increased their prevalence on social media and have being at the forefront of activities opposing LGBT+ inclusion measures and trans equality, such as raising legal challenges against inclusion toolkits, hate crime guidance, trans healthcare and equalities policy & legislation, which have garnered an increasing amount of press coverage. This has resulted in societal attitudes towards trans people and the LGBT+ community becoming increasingly hostile and has seen Home Office hate crime statistics reflecting a 210% increase in hate crimes against sexual orientation and 332% increase in transgender hate crime over the past six years.

This has also had an effect on attitudes within the workplace. Our PiPP members survey 2020 saw members reporting increases in experiencing or witnessing LGBT+ discriminatory behaviours within the workplace, compared to our 2018 members survey:

The impact of this was highlighted in the 2020 People Survey which found that LGBT+ staff reported higher levels of discrimination, bullying and harassment in the workplace, feeling as though the culture of the organisation allowed it to continue, poorer well-being outcomes in terms of mental health & stress and higher intention to leave service within the next 12 months to three years.

All of this was prior to issues which have arisen over the past six months affecting the service’s diversity & inclusion work following negative press regarding the Let’s Talk Intersectionality toolkit, which featured derisory comments about LGBT+ inclusion – as well as the withdrawal of MoJ from the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme, which created a lot of upset and worry among staff about their inclusion and support within the workplace.

In the aftermath of the withdrawal, we had a large increase in support cases which led to us holding a LGBT+ listening meeting with LGBT+ staff and senior leaders to discuss the impact of withdrawal on staff and their concerns. This meeting highlighted the detrimental effect on staff experiences within the workplace and how it had exacerbated issues through the emboldening of those with discriminatory attitudes, which saw:

  • Pride celebrations being obstructed, and pride flags being removed at prisons.
  • Trans and non-binary staff reporting experiencing incidents of transphobic discrimination from colleagues following these events, but the discrimination incidents not being appropriately handled.
  • Staff expressing feeling unsupported and less safe within the organisation, negative effects on mental health and increasing worries about being able to be themselves in the workplace.

There were some key needs identified and priority work arising from this, which we’ve been working on with the organisation, that includes:

  • Developing an alternative LGBT+ benchmarking scheme incorporating external scrutiny and internal embedding within the organisation to ensure LGBT+ inclusion work is maintained and continues to progress.
  • Guidance regarding addressing trans & non-binary discrimination in the workplace.
  • Supporting trans & non-binary staff in the workplace, through awareness raising and policy development including the searching policy.

These pieces of work are currently undergoing different points of processes. Some are in consultation stages, others are undergoing clearance processes and are due to be released over the next few months. Due to the above issues and ongoing work directly affecting LGBT+ staff who are POA members, we’re wanting to improve working relationships with branch officials to enhance support for staff and can offer awareness workshops regarding LGBT+ awareness and Trans awareness to help develop understanding, as well as offering assistance to officials with queries they may have arising about LGBT+ issues. If you’d be interested in these offers, please contact pipp_hmpps@justice.gov.uk

A challenge we are facing with work in this area is negative coverage and commentary regarding LGBT+ inclusion work, especially on social media channels including Facebook groups for ex and serving prison staff. These have recently featured posts making derogatory comments and branding this work as woke or politically correct nonsense. It’s deeply unpleasant for LGBT+ colleagues to see and seeks to undermine support for vital work in this area. It’s important to understand the purpose of this work (as outlined above) and counter these negative narratives:

Woke: As a Ministry of Justice agency, one of our roles is to protect and advance the principles of justice. It is imperative that we address systemic injustices and prejudices, especially those related to civil and human rights, in order to deliver a justice system that works for everyone in society.

Political correctness: This is about professional conduct. We are responsible for criminal justice, prison and probation services and as public servants have a public-sector equality duty to uphold. It is crucial that we exemplify this and that, as an employer, the organisation takes action to minimise discrimination, bullying and harassment of employees within the workplace.

Nonsense: It is counter-productive to not address issues affecting staff well-being and retention. High rates of sickness and people leaving the service increases shortages placing further pressure on colleagues, which leads to the loss of good staff and difficulties in maintaining safe and secure prisons.

We’ve got a strong relationship with the POA and a shared interest in ensuring the safety & wellbeing of staff within the workplace and would like to ask members to stand in solidarity with us in trying to create a better workplace culture, through countering negative narratives and assisting us in our efforts to instigate much-needed change. Allies are actively encouraged to join the network, where you’ll receive regular updates on the progress of work we’re doing and resources, you can join us through emailing pipp_hmpps@justice.gov.uk for a membership form

Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.