As Touchstone found out that we had risen to number 19 in Stonewall”s Top 100 employers (having entered the list at number 91 a year ago), it was also announced that CEO Alison Lowe had been named as Stonewall’s Senior Champion 2015 – recognising the role she’s played in promoting LGBT equality both in the organisation and in the community. The following piece by Laura Whateley appeared in The Times on 14th January 2015.
Senior champion’s message to homophobes: “Come with us on this, or you’re gone”
Ensuring equality in the workplace is personal for Alison Lowe, right, Stonewalls Senior Champion of the Year. Both of her children, Adam, aged 29, and Rosy, 27, are gay. “I can’t bear to think of an organisation that I have anything to do with treating my children, or anybody else’s, differently on the grounds of their sexual orientation”, she says.
Ten years ago, when Lowe became chief executive of Touchstone, a mental health charity in Leeds, there was a definite culture where although no one was homophobic out loud, it didn’t feel like a safe place to be gay.
“It was clear to me Touchstone was a very diverse organisation. About 60 percent of staff are from black or minority ethnic (BME) communities and some of them, where religion is a heavy feature, think they have to believe certain things about homosexuality. Some misunderstand what the Bible or the Koran says.”
Lowe’s first move was to sign Touchstone up for Stonewall’s diversity champions programme.
“I took a tough stance, I started off by saying to everyone that homophobia was not acceptable and engagement with the programme was non-negotiable. Come with us on this, or you’re gone. LGBT equality training was compulsory for all staff.”
She also introduced awareness of the link between feeling unable to come out or facing discrimination about your sexuality, and poor mental health, particularly in BME communities. “Staff realised that understanding equality means we are better at what we do. It became not just a business case in terms of equality for employees, but also equality for service users.”
Touchstone is now ranked 19 out of Stonewalls top 100 employers. Lowe has since used the “work, understanding, passion and commitment we generated internally” to champion LGBT rights at Leeds City Council, in her role as a councillor and chair of the Yorkshire and Humber regional employers committee, as well as a member of West Yorkshire Police and Crime panel.
“My children and everyone else’s children are entitled to enjoy the same opportunities and to make the same contribution to society”, she says.