A History of the LGBT+ Support Network at British Transport Police

by Barry Boffy – Head of Inclusion & Diversity BTP

British Transport Police’s (BTP) support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees was formed in 2004 at a time when there was still a belief held by some that being a gay male meant “being effeminate”, and that gay men could not possibly make good police officers because of this.  Gay women on the other hand could be good police officers but would generally not be taken seriously.  Although there were some ‘out’ gay police officers at British Transport Police and across policing by this time, many gay male police officers were still not able, or comfortable, coming out to their colleagues and the mood in the force was generally reflective of society at the time when it came to LGBT tolerance and acceptance.

The Admiral Duncan Bombing – 1999

As context, this was only a short few years after the Admiral Duncan bombing in 1999, where the police force tasked with investigating the attack found themselves without any meaningful LGBT community contacts to rely on, and an external LGBT community that distrusted police officers and were unwilling to engage with the investigation.  Finding themselves facing a wall of silence, an active campaign by the police senior officers tried to identify gay and lesbian police officers to support the investigation and act as liaison between the community and police – arguably, the first time that police leaders had seen real operational value in the sexual orientation of their own officers.  However, finding police officers willing to ‘out’ themselves proved difficult which naturally led to police services questioning their culture of LGBT silence.

At that time, the LGBT community had no trust in the police and refused to help the Metropolitan Police Service in their investigations.  They only got that help by enlisting the support of the Gay Police Association, which subsequently set up a Command Centre outside of the pub asking for witnesses to come forward.  The arrest, charge and conviction of David Copeland can be attributed to the evidence gathered from this Command Centre.

In return, the Met Commander at that time said that he would look to actively protect officers who were subject of homophobic behaviour in the workplace and that he would reach out to the Chief Constable’s of other forces to do the same.  This ultimately led to police officers marching visibly at gay Pride events for the first time in 2003.

One of those Chief Constables approached by the Met Commander was Sir Ian Johnston, the then Chief Constable of British Transport Police who reached out to two ‘out’ police officers at BTP to discuss this culture of silence in policing, and the issues affecting the LGBT community. As a result, he asked them to start an internal LGBT network for officers.  Mr. Johnston felt it was needed not only to support LGBT colleagues, giving them a voice, but also to make it clear to the public that we were an open and inclusive organisation. It would also give LGBT members of public confidence in approaching us at BTP should they find themselves victims of crime.

Founding members, Denise (Deni) Hamilton-Harris, Mark Ruscoe-Romanov, Diane Doyle, James Atherley-Bourne and Sue Peters met and the group’s name, “LINK”, was adopted along with a logo comprising of seven triangles in pink and black to represent the (then) seven BTP geographical areas of the force.  The name “LINK” was chosen because of its association of all LGB&T employees being linked by a common issue and coming together with one voice.  They went on to host an impressive and well attended inaugural conference in March 2004, which was fully funded by the force and attended by the Chief Constable and Assistant Chief Constable Alan Pacey. Key speakers at the event were Brian Paddick, now Lord Paddick, who was at the time a senior officer with the Metropolitan Police Service and Betty Glover, a retired Chief Inspector at BTP and then the highest promoted ‘out’ lesbian female officer at British Transport Police.  It was a day-long event which focussed on issues around being gay and a serving officer and the dilemma that police officers faced around the decision to be themselves, or to hide this side of themselves usually in the misguided notion that this would mean their careers wouldn’t be limited or cut short.

From this event “LINK”, British Transport Police’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Support Network, was launched and in the first few years built a strong reputation as being a professional and supportive network of like-minded individuals.  Rather than remain solely a network for LGBT people to be put in contact with each other for purely social reasons, LINK immediately started looking at the force’s internal policies and procedures and took the opportunity, and the explicit support and endorsement of the Chief Constable, to actively challenge bias or any perceived discriminatory practice.  LINK Committee members also took the proactive step of engaging directly with members of HR, the force’s senior leadership teams and Chief Officers as well as the Professional Standards Departments to build better working relationships and to offer support, advice and guidance on LGBT issues and communities.  At this time, some of the cases being referred to the Professional Standards Department were managed very differently if a gay officer was involved, be that if they were being treated as a suspect or victim with some very outdated and stereotyped views of LGBT people influencing how cases were investigated, or what sanctions were put in place.  Being gay was still not something that was spoken about openly in policing, and even those few ‘out’ gay officers felt unable to be their genuine self with colleagues – sharing information about themselves, their partners or social lives.

Other police forces soon heard of the successes made by the LINK Committee in influencing operational activity and affecting a change in perception and culture and reached out to get advice on how they could do the same within their own police forces.

In 2008 / 2009 most of the existing committee members, who had all been involved from the launch of the network, made the conscious decision to step back and to actively look to find new members for the committee to re-invigorated “LINK”, giving it the renewed boost and enthusiasm that it needed.

Although meetings held were documented from as far back as the launch of the network in 2004, with minutes being taken and actions being documented; it wasn’t until 2010 that LINK wrote its first formal Strategy and Action Plan outlining how, in its 5th anniversary year by then, they could formalise the work of the Network, actively challenging the organisation in a credible and professional way.  At this point, the LINK Committee turned its attention to setting out how they could have a direct impact on the delivery of policing services to the public without the need to segregate themselves into being the only point of contact for LGBT victims or crime or operational activities.  The Committee felt strongly that it was important that ALL officers and staff at British Transport of all sexual orientations were comfortable enough interacting with LGBT communities to deal directly with them, rather than expect or call upon an LGBT police officer to do this for them and on behalf of the force.  The Strategy and Action Plan was written in two parts:

Internal Focus:

  • Increasing members’ engagement with LINK activities
  • Providing structured support to LINK Area Reps
  • Establishing a solid welfare/support structure for members
  • Providing guidance and support to Area Diversity Action Groups in meeting their Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Action Plan Objectives

External Focus:

  • Support the Area Hate Crime objectives, where applicable
  • Provide support and guidance to Neighbourhood Policing Teams regarding LGBT engagement, as well as influencing Hate Crime strategy at a Force level
  • Establish links with Train Operating Companies and other stakeholder LGBT employee support networks, providing a unique avenue for BTP to influence public confidence in policing and the impact of fear of crime

In 2018, the LINK Committee voted to change the branding and look of the organisation as, by then, the “LINK” branding and name didn’t have much resonance with most employees and wasn’t clear in communicating its identity as a support association for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender employees.  The membership voted to rebrand as the “LGBT+ Support Network” and new identity and graphics were created to reflect this.

The LGBT+ Network has gone through considerable change over the last 15 years and is now an integral part of the organisation’s equality, diversity and inclusion governance, scrutiny and quality assurance.  It has, and continues to, influence and contribute to the force’s Inclusion & Diversity Strategy and Objectives as well as working alongside other police forces across England, Scotland and Wales and much further afield.

From its initial creation in 2004 as a response to tackling a culture of silence within policing, the network is now leading the way in ensuring an inclusive workplace free from bullying and harassment and is in its own right a well-respected function within the organisation – not just a social network that is extracurricular or secondary to the organisation’s operational day to day activity.

The network continues to support its members through events, by raising awareness of LGBT+ issues and contributing to the development of BTP policies and the agenda on equality and diversity and inclusion.  They also provide advice and guidance to BTP on LGBT+ issues in support of the Force’s policing objectives. They have a clearly written Constitution which aims to explain its purpose, aims and objectives and publishes new objectives annually in a Strategy that aims to support the force’s Inclusion & Diversity Strategy 2019-22 and the BTPA Strategic Plan 2018 – 2021.

In explaining the purpose and necessity of having an LGBT support network, the current Chair, David Rams, says it best:

“It’s vital that the LGBT+ Support Network supports its members internally but is also able to add value to the organisation as a whole in terms of the delivery of policing services to the public. In the current financial climate, we will need to work harder than ever to deliver to our membership, the force and the wider community.” 

Why do we use the term “LGBT+” at BTP?

How people define their sexual orientation or gender identity is changing all the time with new terminology being used every day, particularly by younger communities. That is why, here at BTP, we have chosen to use the term “LGBT+” to include all those people who may not describe their sexual orientation or gender identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The longest acronym being used by the LGBT+ community is “LGBTQQIP2SAAASA”, which stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Pansexual, 2 Spirit, Asexual, Androgynous, Ally, Straight Ally”.  However, what we do not want to do is to confuse our employees, so we think it’s easier just to use “LGBT+”.

We also know that an increasing number of younger people are describing their sexuality or gender identity as ‘queer’. However, this word has a particularly difficult history in the UK and can still be deeply offensive to some, which is why we will not use it or the ‘Q’ in ‘LGBTQ’.