Ministry of Defence LGBT Network: Biphobia and transphobia are ‘new frontiers’ for workplace equality

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

A Human Resources professional for the Ministry of Defence LGBT Network has said that although workplace equality has come a long way since the ban of gay people in the military, ‘B’ and ‘T’ still represent significant hurdles for full LGBT acceptance.

Robert Malpass, vice chair of the LGBT Employee Network Committee, spoke in an interview to say that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has come a long way since he joined in 2003, but also added that the next step must be to focus on including bisexual and transgender people in the workplace.

He said: “A lot has happened for LGBT equality in the UK generally between 2003 and today. Has the MoD had further to travel because of the ban on gays in the military? It’s difficult to tell.

“I can say our whole purpose now is about ensuring that LGBT people can be out and authentic in the workplace.

“The kind of hidden agenda, if you like, is ‘B’ and ‘T’. I think biphobia and bi issues are certainly the new frontier for us in the LGBT group and society generally”.

He added that we need more “visible role models” for bisexual and transgender people, and that once these role models are found, many more will follow.

MoD came 73rd in the Stonewall Workplace Equality index for gay-friendly employers in 2010. But this year, having not taken part in the listings for two years, it moved down to the 194th spot.

Mr Malpass said that this is a position he is hoping to set right.

He said: “Because we didn’t participate for a couple of years, other employers have stayed in the index and kept improving and pushing on.

“The Home Office is always lauded as the most gay-friendly government department. The Security Service [MI5] came 26th, the Department of Health was 24th — that kind of positive internal competition kicks us on to do more and try harder next time.”

As well as regular LGBT network meetings, between 70 and 100 staff at the MoD actively subscribe to a newsletter and information feed, and role models are promoted via the intranet and internal magazine.

Hayley Barnden, who is an engineering apprentice at the MoD said: “Being part of a network makes a big difference. If somewhere didn’t have a network, I think people would struggle to know where to go and get help.

“It’s very hard to meet other people in a minority group – you can’t just go up to other people and say ‘Hi, are you gay as well?’ The network makes things a lot easier and a lot more friendly.”

Head of the civil service, permanent secretary Sir Bob Kerslake, has also lent his support to the network.

He delivered the annual Rainbow Lecture at the House of Commons, on diversity and the civil service, and he also blogged ahead of the London Pride event in June, where the MoD marched alongside the civil service cross-departmental network group, the Rainbow Alliance.

Mr Malpass also said: “We’re sponsoring some LGBT community groups, for instance a workplace LGBT networking group in Glasgow.

“We’ve got a plan to help an LGBT youth group deliver a CV writing course. Simon Cholerton spoke at Bristol University Student Union’s LGBT Society a few months ago, and we’ve also had a senior LGBT person speak at Deloitte’s ‘Out in the City’ event.”

But he concluded that there remains one area that the MoD network, like all employers, continues to struggle with.

He said: “What we need to do is to try and find people who are visible role models to demonstrate to B and T people that it is acceptable and you can succeed in the civil service and be LGBT”.

Earlier this month, Sarah Guerra, Head of Equality and Diversity at the Ministry of Defence, said that the way forward for workplace equality equality is reverse mentoring, or “teaching up”.

She said: “Our mentoring throws tradition on its head by having a less experienced staff member, often with a very different background, mentor a more senior member of staff.

“The more senior member of staff learns a huge amount from being shown the world through another person’s eyes.”

Recently in the US, an independent group that studies gender, sexuality and the military announced that they are to research whether the inclusion of transgender members into the US armed forces would affect the “readiness” of its troops.