Thursday, June 25, 2015

We Can Work It, Out

By Danny Lopez, 
Her Majesty’s Consul General & Director General, 
UK Trade & Investment USA

This weekend, for the third year running, I’m proud to be a part of the only foreign government organization participating in NYC Pride. My staff at the British Consulate General and Ambassador Matthew Rycroft’s team at the UK Mission to the United Nations will join some two million people on Sunday’s march, celebrating how far we’ve come in the fight for LGBT rights while remaining conscious of how much further we have to go. This year, our Embassy Network is marching in Pride in eight cities across the US; Ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott led the British Embassy’s efforts in Capital Pride just a couple of weeks ago. And I’m pleased to say, in my dual capacity as Her Majesty’s Consul General and the Director General for UK Trade & Investment USA, that our LGBT-friendly policies in the UK are backed up by a business community that is embracing diversity like never before.

The UK has been named the most progressive country in Europe for LGBT rights five years in a row, and this year the International Lesbian and Gay Association’s Rainbow Map scored us at 86%, a 4% increase on last year. Our success – which of course is still a work in progress – can be attributed to many factors: political, cultural and commercial. I’m delighted to say that business, which has perhaps historically lagged, has recently been making giant leaps forward. This year saw the publication of the first-ever Out at Work & Telegraph Top 50 LGBT Executives in Business list, launched in the House of Commons. Antonio Simoes, CEO of HSBC UK, was at number one, and the list also featured top executives from tech companies, the media, banks, universities, local government, fashion, telecommunications, and the armed forces. A list of the UK’s most LGBT-friendly employers included healthcare trusts, government departments, banks, charities, energy companies, accountancy firms, and all three branches of the armed forces. The financial industry’s “Out on the Street” initiative stresses the importance of diversity as good business practice. The inaugural LGBT Leaders conference in February, organized by and aimed at students, brought together forty major LGBT figures and allies to demonstrate that business leaders and politicians need never again lead closeted lives. As Lord Browne, the former CEO of BP, says in his fascinating study, The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out is Good Business, leadership must come from the top, so it’s particularly pleasing to see so many executives stepping out and stepping up.

There are a million reasons why diversity in the workplace is an unimpeachable good, even aside from the obvious ethical ones. Two recent books – the former congressman Barney Frank’s memoir, Frank, and Lord Browne’s The Glass Closet – have demonstrated brilliantly the success and reach of LGBT people before and after coming out in the workplace. But despite the professional successes Frank had after coming out in 1987, and Lord Browne’s continued prominence since coming out and leaving BP in 2007, both conclude that the greatest benefit of all is psychological. Leading an open life is usually congruent with a happy life. And happy workers are better workers. They’re more productive, better motivated.

We’ve had laws in place in the UK for over a decade to ensure that LGBT workers can be open in the workplace without fear of reprisal or discrimination. This was an essential first step. Rights, of course, must always be supported by law – and I’m proud that the UK has done so much to support our LGBT citizens. Prime Minister David Cameron led the charge on introducing the same-sex marriage laws, which came into effect last year, and has often spoken of how LGBT culture can “enrich our society.” Since the passage of the same-sex marriage laws, my Foreign & Commonwealth Office colleagues have used new powers to perform same-sex marriages in diplomatic posts around the world. Last December it became possible to convert a civil partnership into marriage and to change one’s legal gender without dissolving an existing marriage. Our government produced the world’s first transgender equality plan, which aims to tackle hate crime and help businesses and public services to better serve our transgender citizens. We also allocated £2 million to prevent and eradicate homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools. This weekend, the Cabinet Office in London will be flying Gilbert Baker’s famous rainbow flag to celebrate Pride in our nation’s capital.

But the figures aren’t good enough. According to The Glass Closet, one in three UK employees remain closeted at work. In the US, it’s 41%. Staying closeted is as much a right as anything else, of course, but other statistics bear out the fact that many feel uncomfortable coming out for fear of being held back professionally.

Still, in both our great nations, the work we’re doing to improve equality for all our citizens – both politically and in our business cultures – is clearly making an impact. You will certainly see it in the faces of my colleagues and friends in the march on Sunday. We just need to recognise how much further we have to go. My hope for next year, at least, is that we won’t be the only foreign government at NYC Pride.

We’d love to welcome members of the NGLCC-NY to join the British Consulate General and the UK Mission to the United Nations for Sunday’s march.

E-mail us at for information on how to participate (our line-up starts at 12pm).

To learn more about the author, Danny Lopez, please click here. 

Posted by Sean Franklin,
Senior Associate, Media Communications Committee, NGLCCNY
Director of Client Services, L7zGroup

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