September in the Channel Islands has seen three firsts: the first pan-island Pride, the first Equality & Diversity Awards and the first award by a tribunal of compensation for hurt and distress from discriminatory behaviour in the workplace.
Pride was a truly pan-island event this year with a whole week of celebrations in both the Bailiwick of Jersey and Guernsey. Jersey held the first ever Pride in the Channel Islands last year and this year Guernsey joined the party by holding the opening Pride parade of Pride week.
The theme of the week was #unitedthroughpride, which spoke to the way that the islands worked together on Pride week but also to wider themes about the nature of the global LGBTQ family; the wider diverse island communities in which we live; and, in the face of the geographical fracturing that we are witnessing in Europe, about people working together to create a more united world.
Due to the relatively small LGBTQ population in the islands, we deliberately position Pride as a celebration of equality, diversity and inclusion. We open our arms wide to embrace more than just the LGBTQ community but to include all those whose identity rests on a characteristic that has been, and sadly all too often still is, discriminated against.
I’m sure that Pride purists, who would like to retain the original political gay rights message of Pride, will dislike this dilution of Pride but in a small island it works for us. We don’t have the resources to hold a grey pride or a para pride or a women’s pride, so we hold one Pride that celebrates all identities, and it highlights for everybody who cares to see that our community is diverse and proud of that diversity.
The closing Pride parade in Jersey was only our second and it was noticeable how many more and varied organisations there were parading proudly under their banner, how many more wheelchairs and mobility scooters were in the parade decked out in rainbow flags, how many members of our religious community were there, proud of their faith, and how, young and old, everyone came to celebrate. I don’t know how many people from each of these groups were also LGBTQ but that is the point: nobody has just one identity. We all wear several labels that we are proud of. The intersectionality of those identities is what creates the unity.
A similarly celebratory atmosphere was visible at the first ever Channel Islands Equality & Diversity Awards, held during Pride week. The awards sought to showcase those organisations in the islands that support their employees and/or their customers in ways that embrace equality and diversity.
There were nominations for employers who had supported transgender or disabled employees; employers who had created programmes that were using their internal diversity networks to reach out to the wider community through training initiatives; charities who had undertaken a specialist project to support their young LGBTQ clients or to make their premises more accessible; service providers who embedded a charitable and inclusive ethos into everything they did; and, educators who were finding new and innovative ways to teach people about diversity and to include those who are often excluded from learning.
The awards were hosted by Rebecca Root, the first British transgender actress to be cast in a transgender leading role and star of the BBC sitcom Boy Meets Girl. Rebecca shared a little of her personal story with the audience for the evening, making everyone laugh with tales of constantly finding herself in tears on a bus! Afterwards, many guests told me how moved they had been by Rebecca’s honesty and how they found a connection in what she shared to their own story, despite not being trans themselves. Again, it was one of those moments where we were #unitedthroughpride.
The lifetime achievement award was presented to a lady, now in her retirement year, who has worked tirelessly for various groups over the course of a long career in the charitable sector. During the late 1980s she had been President of the Jersey AIDS Relief Group and had campaigned to get the law changed in Jersey so that gay men could come forward for testing and treatment without fear of being prosecuted for homosexuality (still illegal at that time in the island). She told the story of how this work had led to her being a target of hate crime.
The level of threats to her and her family and the violence done to her property are unheard of in Jersey now as more and more people accept that LGBTQ people have a right to equality with non-LGBTQ people. We have come a long way as an island since those days when our elected politicians could stand up in our parliament and make false and outrageous claims about the gay community.
However, we cannot be complacent as an incident at last year’s Pride parade proves. A gay shopworker was subjected to homophobic comments by his colleagues, excused as light-hearted banter. As the Pride parade moved past the front of the shop, amongst other discriminatory remarks, one of the perpetrators suggested that he should go up onto the roof and throw napalm onto “the gays”. To make matters worse, when the shopworker complained to his bosses about the offensive remarks, they handled it badly and, finally, sacked him.
It took a year for the case to be heard and for the tribunal to rule, just ahead of Pride week this year. The tribunal found in favour of the shopworker and made the first ever award of compensation for hurt and distress in a discrimination case in Jersey.
As we reflect on the success of Pride week and learn lessons for next year, I know that one of the things we will be focusing on is diversity and inclusion education for businesses so that incidents such as the one the shopworker had to endure become as much a thing of the past as the physical violence of the 1980s. I also know that we will be seeking to engage as many individuals and groups as possible in this work by creating networks of people who support equality. We know that we cannot change attitudes and prejudices alone. We need our allies and we need them to be proud of who they are, as we have learned to be proud of our LGBTQ identities. That way, we really can be united through Pride.