I grew up as a fan of the Beatles. I listened to their music a lot as a kid, but didn’t start finding out more about them until I was in High School and met someone who was a huge fan. 1980, that was. The year John Lennon was shot dead in New York City. Inevitable, I think, that my interest would drift to his life and music.
Among many stories I remember reading about how he gave up his MBE in 1969 for various anti-war reasons and I remember idly thinking what would I do in the highly unlikely event I would be up for a gong. I vaguely thought I would not accept such a thing, or at least feel uneasy about it. I am uneasy about the ‘cash for honours’ scandals, and the amount of questionable gongs given to those later found to not really be deserving. But, the idea of such a thing ever actually happening was so remote it was only ever a passing thought. A mental exercise.
Well, a few weeks ago I came home to a letter marked On Her Majesty’s Service from the Cabinet Office saying that my services to law enforcement and diversity in the workplace would be recognised in the Queen’s 2016 Birthday Honours List and that I would receive a British Empire Medal.
My honest reaction — I had to sit down. Physically. Had to sit down. Re-read the letter several times to make sure I had understood it correctly. Process it. Then jump online to check out what a British Empire Medal was, and then remembered the brouhaha about the current Prime Minister, David Cameron, re-introducing it during 2012 for the Queen’s jubilee.
Empire. That was a thing. Eesh. For all how certain people jump up and down and applaud Empire... well, I was born and bred in a country that was part of that Empire. Uniquely, the English of 1788 decided that the human inhabitants of that land weren’t actually human and the country is still living with the consequences of that decision. Apart from that rather huge thing, Australia is one of the good stories ... if you happen to be white. Other people around the globe suffered in other ways, again with ramifications still felt. To paraphrase Alanis Morissette, is it ironic that those in the UK who applaud Empire the loudest are those who want to slam the door in the face of those who seek the protection of mother England from those countries that used to be the pink bits on the map?
So... yes. I did consider putting an ‘x’ in the box marked ‘no’ to answer the question whether I would accept the recognition.
The part of my citation about diversity in the workplace refers to the various times I served as Chair of the Sexual Orientation Network and Resource Group of the National Crime Agency (and the Serious Organised Crime Agency before that). I worked with a terrific bunch of people over the years - gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, heterosexual — to bring the unique value our different sets of experiences and perspectives to the organisation to combat serious and organised crime. There is a lot I can’t talk about, but I will say that it was — and continues to be — an immense privilege to have worked with so many remarkable people. Some of whom had some tough lives, others easier — some faced the risk of criminal charges in past careers just for being gay, while most felt the reality bite of Section 28. But the passion of each one — that’s what humbles me. This citation and medal is as much for them, or should be.
It’s incredible to think that in my lifetime (and I’m not that old!) and in the places I’ve lived I’ve gone from illegal to be gay (if you were a man, in the state of New South Wales in Australia, until 1984) to a UK where homosexuals have in law full equality and most protections afforded to most others.
But that's not the case in other countries of the Commonwealth, which are mostly the countries that used to be the British Empire. In my country of birth, Australia, marriage equality has yet to occur. In other countries it’s still a criminal offence to be gay. In a few of those countries, it’s an offence that carries the death penalty.
So, to be recognised — in effect — by the head of the Commonwealth for the work I and my colleagues have done, and continue to do, on behalf of homosexuals (and bisexuals, and asexuals) - well, that’s something. Seriously something.
I decided on that basis to accept it, with pride, and to use it to continue the fight for equality.
(Originally posted on my LinkedIn pages on 10 June 2016.)
Addendum: The murders of 49 people in Orlando over the weekend [of 11-12 June 2016] has saddened and shocked many around the world, myself included, not least because it was an all-too-quick and mind-numbing reminder of why the fight for equality is so important.
Update: Marriage equality was reached in Australia in December 2017.
Note: You may notice that I have not referred to trans people in this article. I have alway been an ally of trans people and welcomed the NCA’s active inclusion of trans and gender non-binary people in the agency. However, back in 2005 when the representative groups were forming within the Serious Organised Crime Agency, trans members of staff preferred the Gender Group to represent their interests, but they were also welcome members of the sexual orientation group that I chaired or co-chaired. Times change, and shortly after I received my BEM the membership voted to change its name and to actively represent trans and non-binary members of staff — both moves I fully support.