Here is my column from yesterday’s Ham & High: 

I got sacked from my first job.

It was a small design/advertising agency and one night during my six week trial period – one of the Directors asked if I would join him and a blue chip client for the show reel and drinks. Afterwards he offered me a lift home, insisted on stopping for a drink on the way home and as he dropped my at my mother’s house – made a pretty crude lunge at me. I told him where to go – and the next day I was fired.

I sobbed my heart out to my mother – who said it was just one of life’s lessons. Thank goodness these days (I hate to admit this was over thirty-five years ago) it isn’t just one of life’s lessons – it is sexism, bullying and discrimination – and we have laws against it!

But despite having pretty advanced equalities legislation – reality on the street means that women still find they are paid less than men; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of our community still feel defined by their sexual orientation rather than their personality or skills. Black and ethnic minority teenagers are still condemned daily by assumptions and prejudice.

One of my proudest moments so far in government was the launch at Number 10 of our action plan for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. We will be tackling homophobic bullying in schools. I am looking at the next steps for civil partnerships and I am currently working to produce a plan to take transgender equality forwards – the first ever by any government.

But perhaps the greatest shift is that this government sees gay rights not only as a domestic issue – but in an international context.

Homosexuality is still illegal in over 70 countries. It is why we will use Britain’s influence to push for a unified EU stance on LGBT rights and we will proactively question countries who retain homophobic laws.

We must also get our own asylum laws in order. I was delighted with the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay asylum – a ruling which endorses the coalition’s position of stopping the return of asylum seekers to countries where their sexual orientation or gender identification puts them at proven risk of imprisonment, torture or even death.

Last month I launched a consultation on the public sector equality duty. Public bodies have huge potential to create a fairer society through the way they deliver their services, the people they recruit and the training they offer. Up until now these bodies have been sidetracked by centralised targets – distracting them from the real goal –serving their local community in the best possible way.

Under our plans, these organisations will be free to focus on the community they serve. But in return they must be transparent. Public bodies will have to publish a whole range of equality data – about their staff – about their services. Complete transparency, putting people in charge of the public bodies they pay for.

Gender inequality at work persists – the pay gap itself, the paucity of numbers of women on boards and at senior levels across organizations and companies throughout Britain and in segregated work –where women’s work is often just paid less than men’s.

So we are working to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees, to bring in shared parental leave and to get more women on boards – as well as having commenced the Equalities Act on October 1st – which simplified, extended and improves protection from discrimination.

There is no greater privilege than to spend every day fighting for equality. But it’s not just a privilege – it’s a necessity. Because when companies or organisations discriminate – it isn’t just the individual who loses their job who suffers – it’s all of us. We cannot afford to ignore 50% of our population whose skills and talents we all need.

Moreover, it’s just plain wrong.

0 thoughts on “Equalities

  1. Equalities is undoubtedly one of the most difficult task and in many ways, thankless, so your efforts are appreciated.

    However, there are a number of hidden areas of inequality and ways of discriminating against individuals and that is something that needs addressing.

    Try working in an industry where just 12% of senior positions are held by women yet the workforce overall is more than 60% female.

    It is not about ability, or legislation, but changing the way people think. Environments exists in which “promotion” decisions are reached that naturally exclude women, particularly those that have children.

    How do you propose to change the rules such that a person does not discriminate in the recruitment process? Don’t employ those you have prejudices against in the first place. I am openly lesbian and had a job offer removed after the employer visited my website.

    Then there are issues for those undergoing gender reassignment where the birth certificates are very different to the originals, making it impossible for them to just get on with their lives without discrimination.

    There are just too many problems with existing legislation and with the attitudes of the public, so often fuelled by the sensationalism in the press.

    The work you are doing is appreciated, but is it enough?

  2. It’s very disappointing that, during Anti-Bullying Week, the Coalition has made no concrete proposals on how it intends to combat homophobic bullying. I’m sure you know that homophobic bullying was specifically mentioned in the Programme for Government. Yet in a period of 6 months nothing has even been formulated. I hope you can help move things along a bit faster.

  3. “We must also get our own asylum laws in order. I was delighted with the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay asylum – a ruling which endorses the coalition’s position of stopping the return of asylum seekers to countries where their sexual orientation or gender identification puts them at proven risk of imprisonment, torture or even death.”

    It’s not the law that’s the problem but the Home Office’s behaviour. The promise hasn’t been fulfilled because we still are sending people back. Here’s one from this week http://madikazemi.blogspot.com/2010/11/action-alert-nigerian-lesbian-faces.html

    The Home Office business plan makes no mention how this will be rectified, how the promise will be kept. This post just feeds the assumption that the Supreme Court decision has solved the problem, it hasn’t. UKBA have simply moved on from ‘go home and be discrete’ to ‘we don’t believe you’re gay’ even in cases where Blind Freddy could see the applicant is gay!

  4. But some transgender folk who are unable to get jobs would settle for being paid the same as women!

    The trans action plan is a splendid idea – in theory. I dealt with military equipment specification in the initial stages of the procurement process (for many years!). It may come as no surprise that the military had a large say in what it was they wanted improved and why. The procurement specifications then reflected the expressed and proven need.

    Thus, unless the trans action plan is based on meeting the needs of its customer community (trans folk) then it is of little value. On this one ‘Auntie’ does not know best!

    Given that government is directly responsible for some of the more extreme treatments of trans folk and their families, I am sure that it will action itself to put right major wrongs. Tinkering with civil partnerships will not stop trans affected families being disrupted by the unfortunate requirements imposed by the GRA.

  5. So how does this work for shiftworkers and the like?
    No wonder they say politicians are out of touch with the real world.

  6. Speaking of equalities, how will Ms Featherstone be marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 03.12.10?

  7. Lynne,
    are you aware that some people are flushing their Libdem membership cards down the toilet?
    They are however neglecting to say what they did with them first.

  8. Pingback: Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #196

  9. Pingback: Posts of the week: Suspicions about polling and sacked from first job | Mark Pack

  10. When the excemptions in the single Equality Act which discriminate against transsexuals are overturned and that they support same sex marriage alongside civil partnerships, then I will believe that this ConDem government is pro trans.

    @ alison Whelan …. Alison if you were refused employment because your prospective employer discovered your trans or lesbian status you have a good case for litigation as employers are not allowed to do that.