June marks Pride Month 2023. Rob Pushkin, Payroll Specialist at Zellis, reflects on its meaning and significance in the UK, global, and workplace contexts.
What is ‘Pride’ in this context and why does it matter?
The relevant definition of ‘Pride’ for me is, ‘A feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by others’.
A history of struggle
Until 1967, just six years before I was born, it was completely illegal to be a gay man in the UK. Men were regularly sent to prison for it. It was not illegal for women to have same-sex relationships as the law ignored this. However, discrimination and harassment were not unusual against anyone who was not heterosexual or cisgender.
For men, homosexuality was partially decriminalised in 1967 in England and Wales. But it remained illegal in Scotland until 1981 and in Northern Ireland until December 1982. It remained illegal for anyone under 21 until the 1990s and it was also only permitted in private.
By ‘private’, I mean that until 2003, if they wanted to, the police could prosecute two men holding hands in the street or in a bar, for ‘public or gross indecency’.
Until very recently, some people prosecuted under these laws remained on the Sex Offenders Register.
How workplace attitudes have evolved
Prior to 2003, a friend of mine at another company experienced workplace discrimination for being gay. When it became known that he was gay, the head of that company called him into a meeting and asked why he hadn’t declared this before or in his job interview.
He was then told that he wouldn’t be dismissed, “As long as none of the regular customers found out and he remained ‘discreet’. “
Until 2003, it was not automatically illegal for a UK employer to dismiss someone purely because they were gay.
In the last few decades, in the UK, laws and general attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people have improved immeasurably. It means so much for a workplace to be openly welcoming to LGBTQ+ people.
Thinking about my own experience here at Zellis, I would say this is the first workplace where I have felt complete acceptance of my sexuality.
That is a credit to Zellis and to the vast majority of UK people who have realised homophobia is wrong.
Why Pride is still important
So, if things have improved so much, why does Pride continue to be important?
Unfortunately, in many countries around the world, LGBTQ+ people are still persecuted and prosecuted, purely for being gay or for simply saying that it is ok to be gay.
In fact, just last month, Uganda’s president formalised the world’s harshest anti-LGBTQ+ law. This allows the death penalty for homosexual acts.
We should never be complacent that progress made in the UK is guaranteed to be permanent. In Russia, life got better for LGBTQ+ people in the 1990s, only to get much worse again in the last decade or so.
A historical example of things improving before getting terrible is Germany in the 1930s and 40s. There had been a thriving gay scene in the 1920s and early 1930s. However, a few years later, the Nazi Party was in power. Along with Jewish people and other minorities, suspected LGBTQ+ people were persecuted and eventually, sadly, many perished in concentration camps.
In the UK today, LGBTQ+ people are still often ostracised by their families. I still hear people say, “That’s gay” or “That’s so gay” [meaning ‘bad’ or ‘negative’].
It may seem harmless. But while that phrase is still commonplace, what message does it send to young people trying to come to terms with their sexuality? Or to straight young people about how LGBTQ+ people should be thought of and treated?
Although, as a gay man myself, I have spoken mainly about homosexuality. I strongly believe that Pride is really about all human beings respecting and supporting each other’s differences: be it in gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, transgender status, belief, class, or age.