Why we all need allies


By Ian Gregg, Director of Asset Services

I grew up as a white, middle class, heterosexual male just south of Stockport. I attended a posh school, albeit on an assisted place scheme, so am well aware of the benefits and privileges, and limited discrimination, these diversity/socio-economic characteristics bring. This privilege led to me living quite a sheltered life and not really understanding diversity until I started on my career journey.

Despite these privileges, there have been times in my life when I have needed allies. The Stonewall Straight Allies training in 2017 helped me reflect on this as I thought of those people who have supported me when I needed it most – both personally and professionally. I reflected in the session on how Robin Lawler, the CEO of Northwards Housing, was a great ally to me when I was made redundant at Parkway Green Housing Trust.

In the late 1990s I started at Northern Counties in Manchester, based just a stone’s throw from Canal Street, which is still a hub for the LBGT+ community in Manchester. Here, I worked with two men who were in a relationship, the first gay couple I had worked with. Thankfully, they had experienced no negativity or discrimination at Northern Counties but sadly they spoke of examples outside of work where things had been very different.

A few years later, in the mid noughties, I was so disappointed at the negative reaction of the Equality and Diversity (E&D) Group at another organisation I was involved with. The white, middle class members of the group were outraged they had to tick this new box about sexuality – before they were able to talk about E&D without ever having to refer to the issues of homophobia and transphobia. And while things are certainly better now, we still need the support of organisations like Stonewall to drive this forward.

It was attitudes like this that motivated me to join the board of the Housing Diversity Network and to later on become its Chair. I wanted to do my bit to address the imbalance of privilege within the sector. the thing I’m most proud of from my time at HDN was driving the work to combine the Career Opportunities For Ethnic Minorities (COFEM) and Edge Forward support models into the HDN mentoring programme that so many of our colleagues both benefit from and support participate in helping others

When John Glenton, then co-chair of Riverside’s LGBT staff network, asked me a few years ago to become a straight ally I had no hesitation in saying yes. Though I wish that the world was as fair as I thought it was back in my youth, the reality is that it is not. This is why I am so proud to lead an organisation than enables our staff to be their true selves at work. Having staff who are happy, feel safe and know they will be supported at work despite their sexuality (or any other protected characteristic) will also mean that they can do their best for our customers to ensure they too can be happy and feel comfortable and safe to be their real selves.