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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 September, 2004, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
Have the police overcome gay prejudice?
By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Online Magazine

Gay Police Association poster
Gay officers say huge strides have been made towards acceptance
All new applicants to police forces in England and Wales are now given the option to declare their sexuality, in a move welcomed by gay campaign groups. Does this mean the police has finally overcome prejudice?

The profile of gay police officers has been raised in recent years. Dozens dressed in uniform to take part in Gay Pride parades around the UK.

And the most senior openly gay officer, Brian Paddick, has risen through the ranks of the Met Police to Deputy Assistant Commissioner, despite the perception he was at times treated unfairly.

Now the force is getting plaudits from gay campaign groups for introducing a change to the anonymous equal opportunities section of the police application form.

The language and terminology evident in the canteen among senior officers [11 years ago] would not be tolerated today
PC Andy Hewlett
From Friday, police recruits will be asked to tick a box to indicate if they are heterosexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian or if they would prefer not to say. The data will help to monitor sexual orientation of staff.

So has the battle for acceptance among gay officers been won?

PC Andy Hewlett of Lambeth Police in London has received awards for his pioneering work in promoting an understanding of gay issues in the force. He was also one of the first officers to disclose his HIV status.

"There has definitely been a culture change since I joined 11 years ago. The language and terminology evident in the canteen among senior officers would not be tolerated today," he says.


PC Hewlett spends two hours with every new police officer and council warden in the borough to discuss and challenge stereotypes around lesbians, gays and HIV.

He said there has also been progress in the way homophobic crime is dealt with.

This experience is not typical and can differ between forces across the UK, he says. For example, some refused to allow uniformed officers to take part in Gay Pride events.

But other forces are trying to learn. Tayside has invited retired police constable Vic Codling to teach its HR department about being more inclusive.

Mardi Gras in London
Trust is being rebuilt within the gay community
This is a turnaround for Mr Codling, who claims he would have been sacked if he had come out when he joined Durham Constabulary in 1971.

Once a sergeant asked Mr Codling's chief officer to fail him on an advanced driving course because he was a "poof".

Mr Codling eventually told employers he was gay while working in London in 1991, 20 years after joining up.

"There's been a dramatic improvement but it's still not right. There are still forces where no-one is openly gay," he says.

"And there are still a number of examples of prejudice. Officers have had their property damaged by colleagues because it is suspected or known they are gay.

"And they are unlikely to report it if they are not out."


On the positive side Mr Codling, who liaises on behalf of the Gay Police Association with police chiefs, said officers are increasingly accepted by colleagues because they do a good job.

"The force is more tolerant now than it was, but it has yet to reach the next level - acceptance - which is to value what gay officers bring to the service."

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick
Brian Paddick is the most senior openly gay officer
Whether progress made within the force is fully recognised by the gay community is unclear.

Andy Forrest, communications officer of Stonewall, the gay rights campaign group, says the new recruiting form is "another step to support staff and improve services for gay and lesbian people".

"Things have improved so much from the days when people were too scared to report a homophobic incident."

That perception hugely damaged relations between the gay community and the police. It also meant no accurate figures were available for this type of hate crime.

Last week, the Metropolitan Police reported a 15% rise in the number of homophobic attacks in London, which Stonewall believes is an indication of an increased confidence to report offences.

PC Hewlett believes the trust has yet to be won back. "I talk a lot to gay groups and their perceptions are still 10 years behind what the police is actually doing," he says. "It's going to take a long time to overcome this."

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