Monday, December 31, 2012

An Optimistic View of 2013


Well, here we go again.

One year ends. Another begins.

We've had the media retrospectives. Different views on what were the highs and lows of 2012.

Next come the media predictions. Different columnists compete with one another to pass their opinions off as something more.

Part of all our lives becomes labelled 'history'. A new range of possibilities opens ahead.


People working in Equality and Diversity could be forgiven for regarding the year ahead with concerns.

Every act, every announcement, by this coalition government suggests a desire to roll back progress for protected groups … to shut down the routes for people to pursue their own rights … to nullify the protections provided by the law … to portray good practice as "red tape".

Cause for optimism

Instead of focussing on those negatives, however, I wanted to offer some positive thoughts...

In my lifetime some young girls who became pregnant were pushed out of sight into mental hospitals. Fortunately that no longer happens.

In my lifetime some orphaned children were shipped off to Australia to get them off the state's hands. Fortunately that no longer happens.

In my lifetime it used to be an absolute social taboo for people to live together outside of wedlock ("in sin" as they used to say). Fortunately that no longer happens.

In my lifetime, casual racism was accepted and was a staple of some kinds of humour. Fortunately, although we have not eliminated this, we have made major progress towards making it unacceptable.

In my lifetime societal racism held sway in South Africa and the Southern states of the United states. Both have been swept away.

In my lifetime, casual sexism was the norm and a staple of some kinds of humour. Fortunately, although we have not eliminated this, we have made major progress towards equality and respect.

In my lifetime homosexuality was a criminal offence. Fortunately that ended and, in the subsequent 45 years, we have made substantial progress towards LGBT equality. Same sex relationships have moved from being illegal to being invisible to being scorned and derided. Now they are increasingly accepted as a reality, though not yet a fully equal one.

In my lifetime trans people have advanced from an invisibly small minority, completely defined by medicine, to a proud, visible and vocal equality movement making almost daily progress towards equality and respect.

In my lifetime women have been excluded from senior positions in the Church of England. That remains the fact but it is beginning to look as though the days of the Church itself may be numbered.

In my lifetime sexual predation was something children and adolescents had to often bear in silence, especially where the Catholic priesthood was concerned. Progressively, the extent of that dreadful abuse of power has been exposed. It isn't over, but now it can be reported and there is a clear message to abusers.

In hope

I mention these things not to suggest that we are running out of things to do. Far from it.

I mention them on the brink of a new year to remind people of the changes that can happen in one lifetime, which is the only interval most folks can meaningfully comprehend.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Shahnaz Ali Receives an OBE

Shahnaz Ali

My colleague Shahnaz Ali, the Director of Equality, Inclusion and Human Rights at NHS North West, has been awarded a much-deserved OBE in this year's Queen's New Years Honours list … for services to Equality and Diversity.

Shahnaz, who came to NHS North West in December 2007, has a long history of change leadership in Local Government and Health.

The full list of honours is available here [PDF].

Local Government and Health

Before coming to the North West Shahnaz was Senior Director of Local Authority and Wider Partnerships for South Yorkshire Strategic Health Authority and, before that, both Director of Education and Workforce Expansion and Director of Workforce Diversity for the South Yorkshire Workforce Development Confederation.

Previously, she was Director of HR Development for Community Health Sheffield NHS Trust and a Principal Health Officer for the London Borough of Newham.

Overall, she has had more than 25 years' experience of working in both statutory and voluntary sectors at local, regional and national levels.

Voluntary Sector

Shahnaz has also held many related voluntary sector board positions … becoming most recently a member of the board of the Lesbian and Gay Foundation in Manchester.

Her previous appointments include:

  • Regional Advisory Board member -Council for Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations (CEMVO)
  • Non-exec Director - Sheffield Futures
  • Founder member of the Black Community AIDS Team ( BCAT)
  • Chair and Founder of the Federation of Black Housing Organisations
  • Member of the Executive Committee for Newham Asian Womens Refuge
  • Management Committee member Leeds Federated Housing Association
  • Management Committee member Leeds Black Womens Refuge NCAB Executive Committee
  • Representative for BME staff NALGO. National Executive Committee

Strategic Leadership

On coming to NHS North West Shahnaz put into effect a strategic approach for driving up equality which I've written about previously.

I've had the great pleasure of working in partnership with Shahnaz, putting the ideas into effect as her programme manager. The outcomes include many 'firsts', including the creation of the most effective performance measurement approach for equality outcomes (EPIT); the development of the first national competency framework for professionalising equality leadership; the largest open access evidence database for informed policy making (HELP); a groundbreaking sustainable approach to professional stakeholder engagement; tools for developing GP care quality (Pride in Practice); and (most recently) a national framework for ensuring that the process of Medical Revalidation is operated fairly ('A Fair Route to Revalidation').

I recently made a film summarising these achievements and many more.

Brave activism

Shahnaz also has a notable history as an Asian rights activist when young … an involvement which I documented in this in-depth interview last year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

And Then It Was Gone


Earlier this year I wrote about the plan by the BBC to axe their only specialist LGBT programme on the entire network.

LGBT Citizen Manchester represented the end of a more-or-less-continuous line of 17 years of LGBT-oriented programmes on BBC Manchester. Not the biggest show, by any means, but fulfilling an important niche.

Anyway, the show ended with immense dignity on Monday 17th December.

I was honoured to be the show's last live studio guest.

And I was able to have virtually the last word, as the clock ticked towards the 10pm junction.

An awful mistake

I said that the BBC was making an awful mistake… that controllers would wake up sometime soon and realise the void they had created.

The BBC's acting Director General, Tim Davie, sent the show a message, congratulating the presenters Ashley Byrne, Claire Mooney and Andrew Edwards on a superb run.

Afterwards, we drank wine from a plastic cup and headed out into the cold night air at Media City.

RIP LGBT Citizen Manchester


Paris Lees on Health Equalities


On 3rd December 2012 we invited journalist and magazine editor Paris Lees to deliver a speech at an event we were staging in Manchester.

The theme of the conference was about how to take equalities work forwards in the newly restructured NHS after March 2013.

When I briefed our speakers before the event I gave them a very liberal brief about how to approach the topic. I explained to them the purpose of the conference, the existing knowledge of the audience, and the contextual issues they might wish to take into account. Beyond that I gave them carte blanche to approach the topic in the way they felt most comfortable.

From the heart

Often, when you put activists and campaigners on a stage, you get a political speech … and that would have been fine, as we wanted our speakers to challenge the audience to think about stakeholders needs and viewpoints and how to address them in the future.

Paris took a different line though. She made it a personal address to the audience. She told NHS managers about the experiences of her family and her own personal fears about an NHS which might treat her badly when she was at her most vulnerable.

It was a most effective speech. And you can hear it in full here.

Peter Tatchell on Health Equalities


On 3rd December 2012 we invited Human Rights Campaigner Peter Tatchell to deliver a keynote speech at an event we were staging in Manchester.

The theme of the conference was about how to take equalities work forwards in the newly restructured NHS after March 2013.

Peter went straight to the heart of the issue, identifying equal access to health … and the equality of outcomes in healthcare … as fundamentals. This is what we've been preaching for years … and the concern is about progress on these issues stalling or rolling backwards with a completely new management of priorities.

Having talked about that as an issue affecting all protected groups, Peter went on to focus on health inequalities for LGBT people.

Negotiating safer sex

Perhaps the most challenging part of his speech concerned how we teach young people about sex and, in particular, how to negotiate safe sex with prospective partners … an issue affecting everyone and not just LGBT people.

A few days ago I was beginning to recount Peter's words on a radio show and was almost immediately stopped by the presenter. Apparently, talking about how to ensure youngsters avoid sexually transmitted diseases is considered a fit subject for broadcast at the sort of times when young people might be listening. This somewhat underlines where this debate stands.

The full speech

There are no such restrictions on this blog, however. Below you can hear the whole of what Peter had to say. The introduction is by me.

Question Time Debate Tackles Legacy and Continuity Concerns


On Monday 3rd December NHS North West hosted a major conference at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.

The purpose of the day was to hear from stakeholder speakers and invite discussion among NHS Equality Leads about how best to assure the continuing legacy of equalities work in the NHS after March 2013, when the e⁞xisting SHAs and PCTs are disbanded and many existing managers become redundant or move to other roles.

Question Time

One of the highlights of the day was an hour-long 'Question Time' style debate, chaired by Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Topics were supplied by the audience, who deposited their questions in boxes situated around the venue during the morning session. Questions were grouped by the chair, so that the panel of local NHS and Stakeholder leaders could consider similar questions together.

The panellists were: Shahnaz Ali, Priscilla Nkwenti, Julie Wall, Paul Martin, Evelyn Asante Mensah

The debate was recorded and, to make it easy to listen, we've split the full recording into five segments covering each of the topic areas raised.

Further recordings from the event are also available here

Introductions and question one

Question two

Question three

Question four

Question five

Six Years In Six Minutes

On Monday 3rd December my colleagues and I hosted a major conference at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. The purpose of the day was to hear from stakeholder speakers and invite discussion among NHS Equality Leads about how best to assure the continuing legacy of equalities work in the NHS after March 2013, when the existing Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts are disbanded and many existing managers become redundant or move to other roles.

The day needed a curtain-raiser in order to set the scene. Rather than inflict a Powerpoint presentation on the audience, I undertook to try and tell the story of where we had come from in a short video. The result is "Six Years in Six Minutes"

A Picture Really Is Worth a Thousand Words

Equality Illustration

They say a picture's worth a thousand words.

And this is a really good example.

Over the years I've repeatedly tried to explain a fundamental point about achieving equality...

The challenge is those people who mistakenly think that equality legislation means you have to do exactly the same thing for everyone … that to spend time eliminating barriers for one group (disabled people, for instance) isn't allowed because that's somehow 'unequal'.

This is rubbish, of course. But the image on the left sums up their worldview: "One person can only have a box to stand on if they all do". The result isn't equal at all.

The reality is that equality work is about recognising that people all start from different places and that the only sort of equality that matters is to achieve the same outcome for everyone, regardless. "To each according to their need", as they say.

The picture on the right shows the outcome-based approach in action. Everyone can see the game.

The image has been doing the rounds of social media recently. I make no claims to having thought of it. But I think it's a really good one to adopt and share.

Happy Christmas