Riverside celebrates LGBT History Month

Lyn Bowker, Equality and Diversity Manager

I am proud to work at Riverside, where we are celebrating retaining our place in Stonewall’s top 100 league table for the fourth year running.

We are delighted that we moved up nine places to number 60, which is testament to the hard work and commitment of the staff who help us to remain an LGBT friendly organisation. But we’re not resting on our laurels – work has already started on our submission for 2018.

The good news couldn’t have come at a better time for us as we prepare to celebrate LGBT History Month. This month is all about increasing the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and celebrating their history, lives and experiences.

At Riverside, LGBT people are encouraged to achieve their potential, so they can contribute to society and lead fulfilled lives. We want to raise awareness on matters affecting this community, including making safe spaces for all LGBT communities.

We have recently developed a Gender Reassignment Policy, including guidelines for staff who are transitioning in the workplace, and we are currently considering creating gender neutral toilets at our larger offices.

Thankfully, the world has come a long way since the days of the pink triangle, which was used in Nazi concentration camps to identify male prisoners sent there because of their homosexuality. These prisoners were forced to wear a downward pointing triangle on their jacket, the colour of which was to categorise them by ‘kind’. Pink and yellow triangles could be combined if a prisoner was deemed to be gay and Jewish.

While the number of gay men incarcerated in the concentration camps is hard to account for, an estimate of the number of men convicted for homosexuality between 1933 and 1944 is between 50,000 and 63,000.

The pink triangle, originally intended as a badge of shame, has since been reclaimed as an international symbol of gay pride and the gay rights movement and is second in popularity only to the rainbow flag.

After the camps were liberated at the end of World War II, many of the pink triangle prisoners were simply re-imprisoned. One openly gay man, Heinz Dormer, served a total of 20 years, first in a concentration camp and then in jail.

In 1995, after a decade of campaigning, a pink triangle plaque was installed at the Dachau Memorial Museum to commemorate the suffering of gay men and women. The German government also issued an official apology to the gay community in 2002.

In the UK, until 1985 there was an unofficial ban on placing pink triangle wreaths at the Cenotaph and such wreaths were removed shortly after being placed.

It is hard to believe that these incidents took place only 78 years ago, in the lifetime of many LGBT people who are here today. Thankfully, LGBT History Month enables us to openly and proudly celebrate the lives and achievements of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, who have made our lives richer and to look back at just how far we’ve come in such a relatively short space of time.