The Tories have appointed a new LGBT business champion and the gays are supposed to be happy about it.
Minister for women and equalities Liz Truss announced on 10 September that Iain Anderson, Conservative Party insider and executive chairman of public relations firm Cicero, had been selected for the new post.
There’s no disputing that LGBT+ people continue to face discrimination and harassment in the workplace. A 2018 study by Stonewall revealed that over a third (35 per cent) of LGBT+ people polled said they weren’t “out” at work for fear of discrimination, a figure that rises to 42 per cent for black, Asian and minority ethnic workers and 51 per cent for trans staff.
And in February, a report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that over 40 per cent of LGBT+ workers have experienced a “work-based conflict” in the past year, which typically included being “undermined/humiliated or discriminatory behaviour aimed at a protected characteristic”, a figure that rises to 55 per cent among trans workers.
As well as confronting prejudice in the workplace, LGBT+ people in the UK must also shoulder the burden of a pay gap which sees them take home an average of £6,703 less per year than their heterosexual colleagues, a disparity of 16 per cent, according to a 2019 poll by YouGov.
So when it comes to the reality of working life for many LGBT+ people, there’s certainly plenty of room for improvement. However, I can’t help but feel sceptical about both the real-world impact the appointment of an LGBT+ business champion is likely to have on the average LGBT+ worker, and the Tories’ motivation in creating such a role.
This is a government that has repeatedly failed to deliver on promises to ban so-called conversion therapy, a dangerous and abusive practice that attempts to change, “cure”, repress or erase a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Despite being widely discredited by mainstream medical and human rights organisations for decades, including the World Health Organisation, the NHS and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, this inhumane practice remains legal in England and Wales, despite commitments from Liz Truss and former Conservative leader Theresa May to outlaw it.
And in April, Ms Truss disbanded a government LGBT Advisory Committee established to offer insights on issues and policies affecting LGBT+ people citing “fundamental differences”.
While these two actions in isolation may cause the average LGBT+ person to pause for thought, it’s also worth remembering that Truss belongs to a party that is trying to scrap the Human Rights Act – a bill that helps people access justice and speak truth to power – that is cutting Universal Credit to some of society’s poorest and most vulnerable households, one that is poised to tax the working poor to subsidise the wealthy under the guise of social care, a party that is typified by corruption and cronyism. Under these conditions, surely we’re well within our rights to retain a degree of suspicion.
Just as HR departments exist to support business interests rather than staff (despite their protestations to the contrary), I can’t help but wonder how much of an impact such a role is likely to have on ordinary working people. The clue’s in the name: a “business” champion is invested in capital, not workers. And it’s hard to envisage how Anderson, who has advised Conservative policy makers and FTSEs, is described on Conservative Home as “an expert in global political risk”, and attended the same private school as Michael Gove, has much knowledge or interest outside of society’s one per cent.
Let me be clear: I’d like nothing more than to see Anderson make leaps and bounds in addressing the issues faced by LGBT+ people in the workplace. It’s also worth noting that his position is unpaid and that he is also an ambassador for the LGBT charity Stonewall, who undertake important and essential work. I hope my concerns are unfounded.
But alongside this government, in this political climate? Reader, allow me my cynicism.
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