My first meeting was at the office of the Police Commissioner for Northumbria Police, Vera Baird QC. I have been invited to join the Police’s LGBT Advisory Panel and this was my first time. Northumbria Police had been at Northern Pride, carrying out a survey. Two of the questions were about whether people trusted the police and whether people would report a crime – any crime.
We had a long discussion about why trust in the police was low in the LGBT community and how it could be improved. We talked about our community’s history with the police and how the law prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in the provision of goods and services only came into being in 2010.
Sitting in the Police Commissioner’s office was a far cry from the days when I used to go on protest marches against Section 28 and would see the police arresting people as we listened to speeches, or when the police helicopter would swoop down at night, searchlight blazing into the local park, to see who could be caught there.
The second meeting I had was with an Evangelical Christian who earnestly wants to listen to the stories of LGBT people to better understand our lives, and at the same time is struggling to balance this with a firm belief in the authority of scripture. For me, this encounter was like Ananias meeting Saul. I was very apprehensive about whether this person was actually going to listen, or whether I was going to have to argue for my right to exist as a loved child of God. He did listen and we have agreed to continue our dialogue.
In both these meetings, I have had to face my own prejudices and my own unwillingness to accept that times are changing. Both meetings had their awkward moments, as well-meaning folk chose inappropriate vocabulary or showed a lack of understanding. However, there was no malice or intent to harm, just a genuine desire to understand and find common ground. Other people and organisations are changing. Am I prepared to change too? Are we?