Sue Sanders and working in the public sector

Back in February we interviewed Sue Sanders about her work on LGBT History Month and her activism work to try and get Section 28 removed. This month we have part two of her interview which is all about her work in the public sector and her thoughts on Inclusion and the part this plays in our society.

Suhayla Ibrahim: Could you tell me about your work in the public sector?

Sue Sanders: When the Stephen Lawrence enquiries came out, I was an advisory member of the homophobic action group in Southwark and we were working to enable both the Southwark council and the Southwark police to be more pro-active on issues of homophobia and general effective policing.

We met with the police on a regular basis to look at the cases that they were dealing with and give them advice on how they could deal more effectively with the victim and communicate more effectively with the community to report hate crime because one of the biggest issues with hate crime is under-reporting. People didn’t have the faith in the police that they would actually deal with it effectively.

We were also working with the council to see how they could meet the needs of LGBT people in the borough with issues such as housing, education, looking at libraries and whether libraries we meeting the needs of LGBT people. Generally trying to wake up the council and the police to meet the needs of a population that was paying their taxes but being ignored.

When the Stephen Lawrence enquiry prompted the decision to train the police and the justice system, I went to the agency that got that contract and was hired to be one of the trainers for the police. I then became very much involved with The Crown Prosecution Service and I was on the advisory group for The Crown Prosecution Service to enable them to look at how to prosecute hate crime.

After the three bombs that went off in London, an LGBT advisory group was set up. I helped create an independent group of LGBT people and I worked with them. We came up with this methodology to invite people to be members of this independent advisory group. We started with a list of people from within our community who did not wish to be on that advisory group but had managerial experience. We then invited people to put in applications to be members of the advisory group and the people from within our community looked at those applications and then appointed them. The police had nothing to do in any way, shape or form with the choosing of that advisory group. People could also apply and be on the advisory group if they had been in prison or had been arrested and for us that was incredibly important. The methodology we designed is still used by some advisory groups although sadly there are less and less of them.

Working with Scotland Yard was incredibly important. We trained the police, and we trained trainers of the police. We worked at a very high level, we knew Cressida Dick because at that stage she was Head of Equality at one of the stations we were working from.We met with the Commissioner of the Police, so it was a very important piece of work which had a powerful affect to build on the cultural changes that the direct enquiry had started.

One of the things that I would say was that the Stephen Lawrence Enquiry definition of institutional racism was incredibly important, but in fact it could be extended to the concept of institutional prejudice which would then cover all the groups of people who had been left out. We talk about race but Black and Asian people are disabled, have religions, are members of the LGBT community and are women. You cannot tackle racism unless you tackle all the other ‘isms’ as well in the same way you can’t tackle homophobia and not tackle all the other ‘isms’ as well. To some people, that was quite shocking. They just wanted to tackle racism and nothing else so I was consistently having to challenge this concept that you can do just one strand. It was an interesting process to get people to think about what we now call intersectionality.  That had been something that I had been doing for years in School’s Out, the organisation of which I am Chair. We had a list of what LGBT people are and then we created an incredibly long list of all the possibilities. Because we’d labelled this, people could approach us and say we had left them out and that was a very useful process to help us think about how not to do that in the future. In my mind, the Stephen Lawrence Enquiry was an incredibly important landscape changer.

Suhayla Ibrahim: What initially drew you to work in inclusion?

Sue Sanders: I think that I’ve always been a bit of a rebel. I was born in 1947 when in my childhood and teenage life as I was beginning to recognise my difference and beginning to come to terms with the fact that I was a lesbian, there was nothing mainstream in the culture which gave me any inkling of what it may be or might not be. The weird thing is that there were gay men in plain sight but not necessarily recognised as such. One of my early memories is that when the Wolfenden Report came out in 1957, I knew to go and get the paper to read it. It’s interesting that at the age of 10, I knew that it was something important and I needed to read it. I was kicked out of two or three schools and I very much wanted to challenge the status quo at a very early age. I managed to become the editor of the school magazine and I changed it significantly from an A5 very boring piece to an A4 paper with lots of pictures. I found my voice by having been kicked out of so many schools. I got into drama school and became a teacher and resisted a lot of what was going down in schools and this was challenging some of the authoritarian methodology.

I was very socially aware and I began to see what was happening very ineptly because I didn’t have a political angle. It wasn’t until I went to Australia and met up with feminists and got a sense of what feminism was about, that things began to fall into place. I learnt that I was dealing with white patriarchy and as a woman I could do something about that and connect with other women. One of the things I did while I was in Australia, was teach in a women’s prison. All the prisoners had been put there because of their relationships with men either as drug carriers or activities such as doing fraud for men. I got to see the structure of the prison and how the abuse of power was going down. I suppose there has been that recognition of the abuse of power, that recognition of what prejudices and stereotypes could do to people. I had the desire to challenge that construct and make the world a more comfortable place for us all to live.

Lord Halsford said ‘They will push us off the pavement if they give us half the chance.’  This was a really telling quote of where they were coming from. Their absolute fear that we were pushing them out of the way, but of course what we wanted was a very wide pavement for us all.


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