Creating a safe space

29th May 2024


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Mv Tom Pashby

Tom Pashby celebrates being LGBTQIA+ in the sustainability sector

It takes a brave soul to put their hand up at work and say they are LGBTQIA+ or to ask for their employer to improve queer inclusivity policies. Pointing out and explaining marginalisation raises the prospect of bringing difficult emotions to the surface, creating conflict and threatening professional progress.

The long legacy of the homophobic Section 28 policy, which effectively criminalised being openly gay in schools, robbed millions of an LGBTQIA+ inclusive education, leaving many unprepared for a workplace where LGBTQIA+ people can thrive.

What’s going well
The Equality Act 2010 outlawed discrimination based on a series of protected characteristics, including gender reassignment, sex and sexual orientation. This means that employers are exposed to legal action if they discriminate on any of those grounds. Shareholders, employees, customers and the general public have all raised their voices to demand that organisations go further and implement policies that promote equity, equality, diversity and inclusion.

Today, good work is being done to improve outcomes for LGBTQIA+ people by forward thinking organisations in the sustainability sector. Meg Baker, co-director of inclusion and climate justice at Students Organising for Sustainability UK, said: “Having a LGBTQIA+ staff network means there is a safe space for colleagues who are out as well as those who are not publicly out to come together, voice their feelings about work and non-work related issues, then take these to our employer as a unified voice. “It’s so significant, being able to speak out as a collective rather than as an individual as it creates that shift from feeling like, or seeming like, this is your own personal agenda, to it being something impacting a group of people with shared identity characteristics.”

IEMA’s Diverse Sustainability Initiative has its own LGBTQIA+ Network, of which Baker is a co-leader. The network is for anyone working within the environment and sustainability profession who identifies as LGBTQIA+.

LGBTQIA+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex and asexual, and the plus sign indicates the plethora of additional identities within the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. Bat Conservation Trust director of communications and fundraising Dr Joe Nuñez-Miño said: “I feel very supported within the Bat Conservation Trust where everyone is encouraged to be openly themselves. Even though we are a small charity, we have an active equity, diversity and inclusion workgroup that meets regularly and looks at how we can make our workplace and all our work more inclusive.”

It’s so significant, being able to speak out as a collective rather than as an individual”

It often takes either a small number of highly motivated and confident people to lead at the grassroots, or one or two passionate senior leaders at the top, to make workplaces more LGBTQIA+ friendly.

Room for improvement
Hate crimes against LGBTQIA+ people in the UK have risen alarmingly over recent years. Trans and nonbinary people have been particularly victimised. Reflecting on what organisations could do to improve, Nuñez-Miño said: “We need to continue to celebrate the diversity within our ranks. “We need to make sure that more people understand that we want everyone to become involved in conservation, and for that to happen we need to become more welcoming and accepting of diversity.”

Mx Tom Pashby (they/them/their) is a senior reporter for New Civil Engineer

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