READ: There’s Something Up With This Picture

15 years ago, Gamal Turawa called out an LGBT+ staff network’s failure to include any Black or Asian LGBT+ colleagues.

3 years ago he felt that he had to do the same again.

Last week they published a picture from their conference

Boldly melanin free!

G reflects on what this means to him and for his former employers

In 2004/5 I was invited to attend the international Gay Police Conference which took place in Hammersmith, London. The then chair of the UK LAGPA as it was then called did his opening speech and then showed a short film of the history of Gay Policing in the UK. As the film played he came and sat next to me.

As I watched the film something bothered me, all the stories were of my white gay colleagues. Having recently appeared in a two page spread in the London Evening Standard, The Financial Times and spoken on the stage at Pride London as the first openly Gay Black Police officer, I wasn’t included in the montage. I turned to the Chair and whispered, “Is this just about white gay police?” Now bearing in mind he was sitting next to a Black Gay cop who he personally had invited and who was now whispering in his ear, he replied, “What do you mean?” I pointed out that I had been in several media shots over the past few months and none of them were in the film.

Again I point out he was talking to the Black Gay cop he had invited because his response was “I didn’t know about any”

I then pointed out that I was a 6’1, 20st, big bald Black Gay cop with a big mouth and a loud laugh who had been in the papers. If he couldn’t see me, then who else was off his radar?

I still remember the look, it was if I was a creating an issue, I was now a problem, the same look he must have received when talking about Gay issues to homophobic senior officers of the day. He then avoided me for the rest of the conference and beyond. I walked away feeling that this was not for me and never went back to another meeting or event.

I still remember the look, it was if I was a creating an issue, I was now a problem

That was not to be the first time the police made me feel invisible. After coming out I started receiving hate mail from my family and others in Nigeria, as well as from certain sections of the black community. Once I was even told that I was a traitor and why did I have to bring the curse of Gayness upon the Black community, don’t they have enough problems.” One particular relative said that I should not go anywhere near their kids anymore because they didn’t want them turning gay!! All this I had to bear and still be able to do my job professionally, at the time there was no one to talk to, no one to understand what it meant to be a Black gay cop, the burden of being the first. Wellbeing was not yet on the agenda, you had to “Man Up”. Those were tough days.

On the positive however I was nominated by the Black LGBT Community Awards as Black Gay Man of the Year, of which I was so proud. It was a great boost to my self-esteem.  The MET was one of the corporate sponsors and that felt good. It would be a proud day. Not only for me but to raise the visibility of the diversity agenda.

Or so I thought.

I was shocked to discover that they refused to publicise my nomination within any internal communications despite myself and others pointing out that there were already sponsoring the award. As a result, I didn’t get the votes required. To add insult to injury, at the event, held on a boat on the Thames, the MET representatives came up, shook my hand and “commiserated’ on how it was a shame that I didn’t win. If only they knew what was going on inside, how I didn’t explode, I will never know. It added to that feeling I had after doing the speech at Pride London, I was interviewed on the BBC and Sky News; this was news. I had made history. Yet from the MET, my employers who were shouting ‘diversity’ from the rafters, not even a whimper of recognition.

But I never gave up. It fired me up, gave me the energy to work harder on increasing awareness. I went on to become a diversity facilitator and delivered training across the country and throughout Europe. I was even a facilitator and co-designer on the Diversity for Executive Leaders module for senior police leaders at the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA), at the then prestigious Bramshill College in Hampshire. I received commendations and letters of appreciation from police and other organisations across a wide spectrum, yet nothing from my home force, the MET.

I never gave up. It fired me up, gave me the energy to work harder on increasing awareness

In 2017 I was invited to be the keynote speaker at the National LGBT Police Network Conference in Leeds;about 13 years since the Hammersmith conference. Sadly, again it was still a room without any visible diversity. I had to mention it. After my talk, a few delegates came up; visibly shaken at my observation, assuring me that they were going to talk about it and see what could be done. I offered my help and support. I never received a call. The classic ‘talked about but not talked to‘, process.

Then, last week I saw this picture.

In 2020! I wonder if my efforts have been in vain? It saddens me that although the concept of intersectionality is readily discussed, it is still not understood.

I look at this picture and think of the LGBT Asian, Black or Chinese officers, who had already challenged stereotypes within their own communities to join the job. Officers who had been brave enough to rise above racist taunts and jibes they may have received from those that still hold onto their ignorance as if its a badge of honour. And whilst they can’t hide their visible appearance they may still be hiding their sexual orientation at work. Then they see pictures like this and it taps into that uneasy feeling; asking themselves, do I really belong? If I were to say, how much of me will be accepted?

Intersectionality, although spoken about now, remains invisibility. The current model of diversity that divides people into characteristics has made silos and those with identities that cross barriers are left to fall between the cracks.

I recently spoke with a young Black Gay officer and asked him why he was not in the staff association of his force. He replied, “What’s the point, it’s always the same people and none of them look like me. When I have attended meetings I have to act and behave white and that’s stressful so I don’t bother.” That saddened me because that’s how I felt in 2004. 

“What’s the point, it’s always the same people and none of them look like me. When I have attended meetings I have to act and behave white …”

These associations were set up to challenge exclusion and enhance integration however they are perpetuating the very things they seek to change.

The first woman has been recognised, so has the first Black officer, the first openly Gay officer has also been recognised . For those of us who are blessed with dualities, if this picture is anything to go by, we remain unseen. We are still in the ‘too difficult to understand’ box. We get spoken about but not spoken to. 

Diversity is not about one characteristic. It’s about valuing the nature of our character, our humanity. If we want people to bring their whole selves to work then at least show them that the workplace is welcoming and inclusive. Show them that they will be valued, appreciated and accepted for who they are.

Pictures paint a thousand words.

We may each see things from our own perspectives. Let’s challenge ourselves to also appreciate it from the perspectives of others.

It’s not just about diversity, it’s also about dignity.