Lea Smith Co-Chair of ParliOUT
Naked Politics Guest Blogger
In March 2017 I took a leap to become co-chair of the award-winning LGBT+ Parliamentary Workplace Equality Network, ParliOUT. Initially, I planned to be in the position for 6 months as a trial. Fast forward to the present and I have been the figurehead and a leader for the network for coming up to a year and a half, I’ve come out as non-binary and achieved more than I could have ever imagined in the first few years of my parliamentary career.
It’s ParliOUT’s aim to make the UK Parliament inclusive for all sexualities and gender identities, allowing all staff to be their true authentic selves at work.
We’ve done a lot of work towards more inclusive policy, the visibility of role models and initiatives to show support of the LGBT+ community through the illumination of the Palace of Westminster during London Pride weekend, a rainbow lanyard campaign, social events and many more!
What does ParliOUT mean to me?
Starting at Parliament back in 2014 was an intimidating experience. I hadn’t come to terms with my gender identity back then and I felt that being open about my sexuality wasn’t a good idea in such a huge political institution.
I found out about ParliOUT through an induction session on my first few days and snuck a pamphlet in my bag. I joined the membership but didn’t get involved because I feared the risk of being outed as bisexual.
A few months in and I felt quite isolated, I hadn’t made much of a connection with my co-workers. Then I saw an advertisement from ParliOUT about the Stonewall Young Leaders Programme. “F**k it!” I thought and applied.
The programme taught me that I could be my most authentic self at work and inadvertently be a role model for others. I came out at work and was all the better for it. From there, I got more involved and eventually became co-chair. With the support of my committee I came out as non-binary and changed my name.
Without ParliOUT, I would not be where I am today, I would not be as proud as I am to be LGBT+. I really hope that I have had the same impact on others as they have had on me.
Support from Parliament
ParliOUT is not the only Workplace Equality Network within the UK Parliament. Other networks focus on protected characteristics like disability, gender, BAME, culture and religion and social economics. We work closely with Parligender, the gender network to address issues involving trans equality through project advisory boards to suggest gender neutral facilities and education initiatives to train staff and passholders.
We’ve received support from both The Speaker, John Bercow and The Lord Speaker Lord Fowler. UK Parliament’s Diversity and Inclusion Team and senior staff is also a huge help in our drive for inclusion.
We launched rainbow lanyards (a strap worn round the neck to hold a staff member’s pass) last year, a campaign was incredibly popular. 600 Rainbow lanyards are now in circulation and are worn by staff, members and peers as a visible symbol of support of the LGBT+ community. This has even impacted me as I felt more comfortable coming out to others if they have one of these lanyards.
I’m sure at this point it’s almost become a fashion fixture for the staff.The demand is insane and such an easy win allowed us to make a huge impact and raise money for charitable organisations.
Obviously, it’s not easy working around a politically charged environment when you are a parliamentary employee and politically neutral.
Parliament is full of MPs and Lords with wildly differing opinions and they are not always pro-LGBT+. With the impending review of the Equality Act 2010, actions evolving around anti-trans opinions have been noticeable throughout the community. It is a struggle to justify a network for LGBT+ inclusion when events of an anti-trans nature are being held in parliament too.
I have hopes that the political environment will sway in our favour, there is more than a handfull of MPs and Peers that are fighting for law changes and protections for all trans people.
I am standing down as co-chair after London Pride this year. Members of my committee and champions offered their condolences, however I feel as if it’s my time to step down to allow some new talent and points of view to take lead of the drive for LGBT+ inclusion within the UK Parliament. I am looking to use the skills I have accumulated from this position to start climbing the career ladder in my day job. My gay job can take a back seat for a while.
I hope to see my committee, my family, drive further that I could ever imagine.