Flying the Flag for LGBT+ History Month

Jo Peres, co-Chair of L&Q staff LGBT+ network, Spectrum, reflects on some of the group's successes and milestones over the last decade

This year, our staff LGBT+ network, Spectrum, turns ten. Along with this milestone, we are celebrating the news that L&Q has been named one of the most LGBT+ inclusive employers in Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers list for 2022.

We first featured in Stonewall’s workplace equality index in 2013. Not even a decade on, and we’ve placed in the LGBT+ charity’s list six times.

So, over the ten years since Spectrum’s launch, what has been the secret to our success?

As an ethical and values-based organisation, L&Q is deeply committed to LGBT+ equality and inclusion. External recognition of this reflects the significant work Spectrum has carried out to make us a better landlord and employer for LGBT+ people.

As Spectrum’s elected co-Chair, I’m allocated three working days a month to carry out work for the network. Being able to take time out from my day-to-day job has provided me with the space and support to realise ideas quickly.

Becoming a diversity champion means holding a mirror up to our policies and practices. From safeguarding, recruitment and procurement, to how we engage with our LGBT+ residents.

Some of the changes we have made include reworking all standard tenancy agreements to reflect civil partnerships’ equal status with marriage in succession. Parity of service is paramount, but to truly understand the needs of our LGBT+ residents, we knew we needed to proactively engage with them. In 2014 we formed our LGBT+ resident forum where members could discuss housing issues and make recommendations for service improvements.

To improve the quality of our care and support for older LGBT+ people in supported housing, we worked with Opening Doors, a LGBT+ information and support charity. After completing an assessment, we received a registered quality mark that demonstrates our commitment to the continuous improvement of LGBT+ inclusion in our customer services, safety and security, policy and procedures, and recruitment and training.

LGBT+ history month provides an opportunity to look back on the distance our community has travelled, thanks to the drive, determination and courage of those that have gone before us. But whilst these actions signal real progress, we know that urgent change is still needed

Over the past few years, research has shown that the housing concerns of many LGBT+ people are still being neglected. The No Place like Home report– which was jointly funded by L&Q – spoke to 260 LGBT+ residents and found that 32% felt their neighbourhood was not a safe place to live for an LGBT+ person.

Following the report, HouseProud, the cross-sector LGBT+ network, launched a pledge scheme for social landlords. Signing the agreement commits providers to improving housing services for LGBT+ residents by ensuring they have an input into senior level decision making and finding ways for colleagues to grow their understanding of LGBT+ lived experiences. I’m proud that L&Q was one of the first housing associations to sign up.

We’ve also teamed up with London Older Lesbian Co-housing (LOLC) to set up the first cohousing scheme for older members of the LGBT+ community, which will be created and run by residents.

Improvements to services have been mirrored within the workplace and include updating staff and family friendly policies to make sure the language used is inclusive of LGBT+ experiences.

In 2019 we launched our rainbow lanyards, a move that has been widely embraced by staff.

The lanyard to me is a small but powerful symbol of solidarity. In the big picture, it helps send a clear message to anyone in the room that we are an inclusive organisation that welcomes everyone. It’s hard to be what you can’t see, so I wear mine with pride as an encouraging nod to LGBT+ colleagues that says: “You are welcome here.”

One of the ways we are supporting our trans employees going through a transition is recognising that they may need to take time off for medical appointments. In 2017 Spectrum asked HR leaders to consider allowing trans colleagues to do this without the need to use up their annual leave. Senior leaders were receptive to this idea, and the policy came into play shortly afterwards.

Structural changes are necessary, but so is the need to couple this with targeted wellbeing support. Launched over lockdown, our Fab Packs campaign encouraged staff to nominate a LGBT+ colleague who they felt could benefit from some TLC, and this LGBT+ history month, it’s back by popular demand.

Crucial to the progress of the network has been our work with others, enabling us to swap best practice and innovation with experts in the field. Since 2012 we’ve sponsored University of Surrey research into social housing for LGBT+ people and played a key role in setting up Houseproud. We’ve also invested £180k in Stonewall Housing and helped raise funds for other charities including Wise Thoughts, Proud Trust, and Gendered Intelligence. Stonewall’s network of diversity champions has connected us with like-minded organisations like MFUG and BNP Paribas, and we’ve met with some of our suppliers to discuss their work in diversity and inclusion.

Although there are lots of achievements to celebrate, our applause should be tempered in the knowledge there’s still much to do. As we move into our second decade, we look forward to developing new partnerships, broadening our knowledge and understanding, and continuing to support our LGBT+ residents and staff as best as we can.