- Date: 18/06/2021
Following the PlaceShapers LGBTQ+ Diverse Voices session, Head of Communications and Engagement Sarah Pye shares her findings on how the housing sector can provide greater support to the LGBTQ+ community.
"Chaired by Hannah Harvey, Executive Director, Saffron Housing with speakers Sasha Deepwell, Chief Executive – Irwell Valley Homes, Daniel Hibbs-Woodings, Community and Customer Relationship Manager – Tonic Housing and Professor Andrew King, Department for Sociology, University of Surrey
Another great Placeshapers Diverse Voices session saw the discussion focus around what it’s like to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community in housing, some of the fantastic work happening across the sector, and how much more organisations can do to improve services for customers and support for staff.
The key themes of the discussion were visibility, trust and data.
Here’s why all of these things are fundamental to the way social housing providers can empower and support LGBTQ+ customers and staff…
“I appeal to all governments and societies to promote the values of tolerance and respect for diversity, and to build a world where no one has to be afraid because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.” – UN Secretary-General António Guterres
Visibility for the LGBTQ+ community has never been more important. Daniel was our first speaker and following a brief intro on his really interesting journey into housing, shared something he’d recently heard in a NHF event – that organisations need to be more than just accepting of the LGBTQ+ community we needed to visible and step forward as allies. And do this by bringing together both staff and residents to make change, by listening and learning from people’s lived experience and then supporting them to create community-led housing solutions. The moto should always be ‘Nothing about us, without us!’
As Andrew later pointed out, it is no longer enough to tick all the right boxes when it comes to equality and diversity, organisations need to step up and promote their commitment through the work they do with the communities they work for.
There were some really quick and easy suggestions on how to do this – imagery around lettings and shared ownership to show more LGBTQ+ relationships, including your pronouns in email signatures and on social channels, showing visible support through lanyards and badges (and not just during Pride month!) and publicising and promoting LGBTQ+ issues and what we’re doing to support them.
The ’No Place Like Home’ study carried out by the University of Surrey in 2017 uncovered LGBTQ+ residents experiences in relation to their social housing and their views about what needs to change. 72% of participants said that some form of accreditation or certification to demonstrate LGBTQ+ inclusivity was a good idea.
Because visibly showing support in this way makes residents feel safe, heard and accepted. From this, the HouseProud accreditation for social housing providers was created.
Fundamental to successfully gaining the HouseProud accreditation is building trust by providing a framework for landlords to work with involved residents to take action and demonstrate their commitment to LGBTQ+ equality and support.
Sasha gave us an interesting but shocking history lesson that reminded us all that while Section 28 was repealed in 2003 and despite recent changes in equality legislation we should never be complacent or assume that there isn’t still work to be done. Things have, in fact, got worse and become much harder for the LGBTQ+ community in many ways over recent years.
The ’No Place Like Home’ study also revealed
- a third of LGBTQ+ residents felt their neighbourhood was not a safe place to live as a LGBTQ+ person
- a third of respondents felt their landlord was not able to deal effectively with issues like harassment
- a fifth of gay men reported that they regularly modify their home if visited by their landlord or a repairs person to make their sexual orientation less visible (for example, moving pictures, books and DVDs)
Sasha also shared how getting older disproportionally affects older lesbians through homelessness, anxiety, and fear of having to go back into the closet. The LGBT Foundation study on health inequalities has found that there are higher rates of homelessness, domestic abuse and sexual violence experienced by people in the LGBTQ+ community.
So, when it comes to trust, there’s a long way to go but building trust within our own organisations and with residents is essential to improving the way our LGBTQ+ communities are heard and seen.
Showing that your workforce is representative of its community is also crucial. The diversity of our employees and the way people are represented across all levels of the organisation has a real impact on the wellbeing of all employees. Staff perform better because everyone is confident to be themselves at work, workplace discrimination is reduced and retention increases.
To both build trust and increase visibility we must start by educating all employees with intersectionality diversity and inclusion training to give an understanding of inequalities, multiple identities, and what discrimination and abuse looks like.
None of this can easily be achieved however, without the data.
Daniel, Sasha and Andrew all talked about the lack of LGBTQ+ information and data in social housing for both staff and residents.
Sasha is also the Chair of the Diversity, Inclusion, Community Cohesion & Equalities (DICE) group of Greater Manchester Housing Providers (GMHP). Working together with Irwell Valley Homes they identified in 2020 that they didn’t have baseline data relating to their strategies and actions plans to tackle inequalities and therefore no measure of progress or impact of their initiatives.
It helped to see the great work that was already happening – work is supported well by frameworks and accreditations and training is happening to embed equality and diversity. As well as highlighting areas of improvement – workforce demographics show diversity remains a challenge, low turnover at senior level and at board present a challenge to ensure diversity and there are substantial gaps in data particularly for sexual orientation and trans status.
So, what did I learn?
In a nutshell, it’s a full circle approach. We need to be visible, to then gain trust, to then gather the data. And we need the data to measure our impact and success.
Simple? No. Essential, yes.
To ensure that everyone has access to the right support, housing, healthcare and feels a part of a community that is listened to, not done to – ‘Nothing about us, without us’ remember?Organisations need to be more than just accepting of the LGBTQ+ community... we need to be visible & step forward as allies"