Beyond the rainbow: a view from inside the civil service

Sex Matters Anonymous: A gay civil servant speaks.

For the past six years I’ve worked in the civil service, in a Whitehall department that is a Stonewall champion. My boss for the first six months was overtly and unapologetically sexist and homophobic, and set a tone of bullying and discrimination across his team. A female colleague in her late 40s took to wearing oversized jumpers because of the constant comments about her breasts. Racial slurs were commonplace, as it was for male colleagues to call each other “poofs”. 

When I transferred I told HR about the culture of discrimination, harassment and bullying, but to no avail. And in my second post, which I held for two years, the boss was no better. Once, when I (a gay man) and his two other direct reports (both women) had to arrange a trip, he told us he would have to find a “real man” to do the driving. Other similar comments followed. I complained to his manager, his manager’s manager, HR, my union rep…but nothing was ever done. When he found out that I had arranged a transfer, he took me to a private room, where he swore at, insulted and berated me for the best part of an hour. I had complained many times during that two years: to his manager, his manager’s manager, HR, my union rep…but nothing was ever done. 

My current manager and team are far better. But the institutional culture is still homophobic and sexist. The worst of it comes from the “LGBTQ Group”, which takes the Stonewall line  – that sex isn’t real, homosexuality is a dirty word and transgender-identified males should have full access to the women’s toilets. Its members use the word “queer” for all gay men and lesbians, even though I and others have complained. It spends most of its time promoting identities such as “non-binary”, “asexual” and “polyamorous”. I fail to see what any of these have to do with the struggles faced by gay men, lesbians and bisexual people. 

And now it is trying to get everyone to start declaring their pronouns. It circulated a memo on the subject to all staff, copied word for word from Stonewall. More senior staff are adding pronouns to their email signatures every day; recently, I noticed that my first boss has declared himself to be a “he/him”. I think he likes the implication that some men – the gay or effeminate ones– aren’t “real” men. I don’t think any ideology that appeals to a sexist homophobe like him can possibly be progressive.

Tell your story about what is happening in your organisation on sex and gender, or about what you are doing to challenge it and protect everybody’s human rights (around 500 words)