The change in social attitudes towards the LGBT+ community over the last 50 years seems sometimes to have been one of the most miraculous things of my lifetime. When you find someone who you love and who loves you back why should their gender matter? To an amazing extent, it doesn’t now.
However it’s easy to forget how hard fought and recent, this is. Pride this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Many of you will know the story. The Stonewall Inn was a safeish space for the queer community who had come to New York from all over the US looking for safe space. A police raid provoked resistance igniting the Gay Liberation Movement. A community systematically oppressed and excluded decided, finally, that enough was enough. An iconic moment in LGBT+ history. The last 50 years have provided many others: the abolition of Sec 28 in 2003 which prohibited the teaching in schools “of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”; the legalisation of same sex marriage in 2014; and the sheer emotion of the Irish Referendum the following year. But this wasn’t always so and to assume that progress was one smooth and painless progression would be to distort history. Because history often meanders, turning back on itself before going forwards again.
How did that change happen? Well how these things generally happen in the end. The community which was the demonised ‘other’ turned out to be your friend, work colleague, son, or daughter. Prejudice tends to crumble when confronted with love and relationship. We are all different from one another in different ways but (and this is the important bit) we are no less legitimate for that difference.
And this is where diversity and inclusion, the rights of individuals and the needs of business converge. Nobody who feels themselves to be ‘lesser’ or lacking in legitimacy (whether because of sexual orientation, gender, race or anything else) can possibly have confidence in their ideas and feel that they have a right to express them, to be heard. Any business needs all the ideas and creativity it can get. This is true now and will only become more so as AI develops. All businesses will need to become more creative. It is those businesses where people feel they can be fully themselves at work which will most fully unlock their most precious asset: the creativity of their people. As a result the corporate world has every reason to reflect this evolution in social attitudes and will sometimes be in its vanguard.
So let’s celebrate this mixture of joy and pain, heroism and struggle, the extraordinary progress made, and the lives of those who made it happen, both LGBT+ people and allies. Let’s continue to work together for acceptance without exception. But let’s never become complacent, because we know that history can otherwise meander, turning back on itself before going forwards again.
By Lindsay Pentelow
Lindsay is a member of the UK Executive team, a member of Mazars LGBT Champions Network and Management Group, as well as a Stonewall Ambassador.