Archive for August, 2011

Queen of the QUANGOs and other paths to revolution!

August 6, 2011

Queen of the QUANGOs and other paths to revolution!
When I found myself having a second panic attack in the ladies toilets at Walthamstow Town hall, I knew it was time to leave. For 16 years I had been a high-profile equality officer in local government, working closely with elected members and the community to ensure the Council provided services to meet the needs of users. As such, it was my job sometimes therefore to deliver unpleasant messages to the Council’s elected leadership. When the then leader of the Council chose to shoot the messenger, I decided that enough was enough!
Everyone always thinks they can do equality better than the professionals. In my 16 year career in local government, I’d been abolished several times and so it was not hard to manoeuvre myself out of a job with a small amount of money to keep me going. At the time of leaving, becoming a non-executive director was far from my thoughts. I started up a coaching and training consultancy and slowly began to make a modest name for myself. Ken Livingstone has had a huge influence upon my career choices. Way back in 1984, just as I was emerging from Art school and set on a life of activism, art and penury, I was lured into the Grater London Council to work as an outreach worker to disabled people’s groups. Paid to help the crips to revolt? Yes, it was a fantastic job. When abolition came 18 months later, I was hooked on a salary and I went for another job instead of returning to the front line of the struggle.
When Ken became Mayor of London in 2000, he was looking for someone who could champion disability rights in a transport context. Well, I knew all about accessible transport, having been arrested several times for being chained to a bus! I applied for the Transport for London board and was appointed to champion equality, particularly disability. It was not long before I got a taste for this non-executive lark and began to apply for more.
In 2002 I’d been advising the Metropolitan Police on LGBT issues for two years. When a vacancy for an independent member came up with the Metropolitan Police Authority, I applied and was appointed. With two substantial non-executive positions, I needn’t do anything else to pay the rent, well for a couple of years at least. But however, as all non-exec positions are necessarily, part time and time limited, it was important for me to keep other irons in the fire. From the initial intention to run a training and consultancy business, I diversified to add a number of none-executive positions to my portfolio of activity.
Since those early days, I’ve advised government on disability issues through serving on the body that set up Equality 2025, as a member of Equality 2025 itself, then as an external member for the Department of work and Pensions Disability Equality Delivery Board (the internal body that advises ministers on disability issues). I did two terms with the Transport for London board and am on my third term with the Metropolitan Police Authority (and about to be abolished again!).
I was thrilled to be appointed as the first Chair of Inclusion London, the new London-wide community interest company whose role is to be the voice of deaf and disabled people in London, to support London’s deaf and disabled people’s organisations to survive and thrive and to promote an enterprise culture amongst deaf and disabled people. This is a paid position. It means that I can give it sufficient time without being distracted by needing to be paid for all that I do. Equally important to me though unpaid, is the role I have had for the last 7 years as a trustee and sometime vice chair of the Consortium of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community and Voluntary Organisations. This is a national third tier infrastructure body trying to build the strength of the LGB&T communities. I’ve had to oversee a range of key tasks from appointing two Chief Executives, to helping to provide the strategic direction to shape the organisation’s future, learning skills of immense use in other non-executive positions.
So how do I get these positions? All of mine have been in public service and the vast majority have been openly advertised and use the Office of the Commission for Public Appointments (OCPA) guidelines. All of them have involved making an application and going through a recruitment process, very much like what one would go through to get a job.
The fact that all my work has been in the public sector is significant. Yes, in some way it’s a choice, but also, I have found that there are a number of barriers to people from the public sector breaking into the private sector non-executive world, not the least of which is that many private sector non executive positions are often not advertised. But that’s another story … Then there is the tricky question of access to work support. Non-executives are not employees, even though we may pay tax and NI,
Access to work is not easy to get. I have managed to get support around computers (I am visually impaired) but on the whole the support I’ve needed to do my work as a non-executive has been provided by the organisation I am providing that non executive role to. They have bought me equipment, paid taxi costs, provided p.a. support and provided information in an accessible format. If they hadn’t done this, I could not have done the job. Organisations who want diversity on their board will provide the support but sometimes a bit of a delicate negotiation has to take place. So what is my future as a non-executive? The Con-Dem government made a bonfire of QUANGOs. Others have however been created in their place. The world of the non-executive has become rather dog-eat-dog! But I like what I do and for the time being, I will continue to apply for non executive positions. I like the inside outside role that I play in institutions that affect people’s lives. It’s a fabulous place from which to drive institutional change, and institutional change you know can lead to (psst, say it quietly) revolution!


5 steps to where?

August 3, 2011

Here’s a piece I performed with the Drill Hall Darlings, London’s lesbian story telling troup, last weekend.
5 steps to where?
The city is rainbowed with revellers. I march through the crowd searching for the safe space. Where the fuck is it! Ah here are a handful of disabled comrades, but they’re hidden behind a load of tall blokes with footballs. Great! The cripples have been tucked away out of sight. We’re obviously not photogenic enough. Maybe we’re spoiling the image of “gay”? ON a cool and cloudy evening on the last day of April, the pub is busy. Everyone is looking forward to the weekend.
With a punch as hard as a hurricane, the air roars. The explosion tears out windows and doors, It shatters glass, and drives the filthy nails into the flesh of anyone standing in its path. Three people die that night. A rainbow tide snakes jauntily through the streets. Spectators on the pavement erupt into enthusiastic cheering and applause. They clap sympathetically as the motley crew of crips limps and rolls past. Cameras click.
In the centre of a non-descript piece of pavement, candles, flowers and other offerings encircle a humble London tree. A knot of silent people stand, heads bowed inremembernce. One week ago in this very place, a young man was kicked to death by those who hated him because he was gay. No matter how difficult it is to be here, no matter how inaccessible London Pride is to me as a disabled dyke, nothing and no one will stop me marching. I march for myself, to assert my right to be here, in solidarity with those who are afraid to be here and in remembrance of those who will never be here again.
An ugly metallic voice punctures the air, his “message mangled, inaudible despite the megaphone. Flanked by suspiciously camp looking police, the man from Christian Voice spouts his bilious bigotry. AS one, the parade hisses and boos him, drowning out his evil message.
And I think, he means me! He means all of us! He means every lesbian, gay man, bisexual and Tran’s person in the world!
From insults to genocide, there are but five steps. From name calling to suicide, not much more than a breath. 5 steps, or a breath, just five steps, just a breath. So tell me, what price freedom of speech?