Megan Key is the Equalities Manager for the Midlands Division of the National Probation Service, a Napo member and volunteer for the charity Diversity Role Models. She is a finalist in the Probation Champion of the Year Awards, a nominee in the National Diversity Awards 2015 and will be representing Napo at the TUC LGBT conference in June. Here, she is in conversation with the Napo Midlands branch Equalities Officer, Angela Thompson.
Megan: Thanks Angela, I am so pleased about the nomination, it’s a real privilege. I am in the Equality and Diversity category and I now know one of my colleagues put me forward for my work to raise awareness around transgender issues. I’ve worked for Probation for ten years and in 2012 I took a big steps to ‘transition’ to live as my true self, so I am a woman who also happens to be transgender (also referred to as ‘trans’). At the time, SWM Probation had no previous experience of helping someone transitioning from one gender to another, so I was the guinea pig! I was terrified I’d lose my job or people would hate me, but it actually turned out to be a life affirming experience and I am very proud of the way the Trust handled it. Since then, I have shared my experience nationally in newsletters, in presentations and outside of Probation, using it as a template to help others navigate the transition process. I contribute to policy discussions around transgender issues and respond to queries from probation colleagues managing trans offenders. Society is moving towards greater acceptance of trans people and whilst there are still very real challenges, we are seeing more people taking steps to transition.
Angela: It sounds like a really positive experience for you, so did you find colleagues supportive and how did Napo help with the process?
Megan: It’s a good question. I had really good support throughout the planning stages, which was over a couple of years, from the Trust Head of Equality, the Directors and HR Manager. This continued after I ‘came out’ and was crucial to me being able to stay at work, manage my anxieties and attend all the medical appointments that come with the transition process. I felt really isolated at the time, because I didn’t want colleagues in the local teams to know, as I was worried about their reactions, particularly when I had periods of feeling suicidal. And, being honest, I didn’t want to approach NAPO for support because I couldn’t be sure they would know how to help me. There was no Union literature about trans people that was readily available and so I assumed no one had specific training. I still don’t think this is in place, and I am sure there are other members who would be more confident in making the transition if they felt supported. Maybe something that we could look in to addressing?
Angela: Certainly. I think there are always learning points and your experience shows where Equalities Officers in Napo can be vital in supporting colleagues through difficult issues. I am available to help members with a range of equalities matters.
Megan: Can you tell me more about what you do?
Angela: I can support members across the Protected Characteristics and have undertaken training on areas that I don’t have personal experience of such as LGBT issues. I contribute to national discussions, for example, with Women in Napo to ensure the challenges members face are raised as priorities to address with our employers. And of course, I can work with you to resolve things at the lowest level, reducing stress for those concerned.
Megan: That’s right Angela. As an Equalities Manager my focus is firmly on ensuring we, as an organisation, provide an inclusive working environment where people can thrive and individuality is respected and celebrated. Of course, diversity and equality is pertinent to everything we do and we are always developing our strategy and working hard to identify and close gaps in our approach. Working with Unions is fundamental to help me understand and resolve challenges faced by colleagues in our Division. I’d add that providing an inclusive space at work it the responsibility of all of us, and I would encourage members to celebrate local diversity in their communities and address ignorance where they find it. If you can engage Napo members from an equalities perspective that can only be a good thing.
Angela: How do we continue to celebrate diversity and promote inclusivity in our workplaces?
Megan: There are a range of strategies we can all utilise, some are already in place and others will be available in the coming months. We have already discussed the importance of communication through contributions to NPS newsletters, talking to yourself as Napo Equalities rep and ongoing dialogue between ourselves. There are some local existing support networks and nationally, NOMS is working with existing Staff Associations to devise new groups that will incorporate our Prison colleagues. I would advise colleagues to check these out, I am sure they will provide great support, providing people make the effort to contribute. From an organisational perspective, in the Midlands, we have a divisional Equalities plan with governance provided by the Midlands Equalities Team and I am in the process of forming a Diversity Champion Network, giving each LDU Cluster the opportunity to focus on local initiatives and feedback challenges that I can help to resolve. I really believe this is the beginning of exciting times for the Equalities agenda.
Angela: Do you think that the equalities agenda has slipped off the radar during the changes in the Transforming Rehabilitation process?
Megan: Well, personally speaking, I think that the Equalities agenda is still alive and kicking in the NPS. We have secured Equalities Managers in each of the six divisions in England and a counterpart in NOMS Wales, and we are working with our colleagues at NOMS on a national plan as well as translating that in to tangible, deliverable local objectives. There are still challenges around the framework because the NPS is still a relatively new organisation and structures and process are evolving, but we are focussed on managing that change. Colleagues on the ground are dealing with significant change which brings with it lots of information, so its my job and, I guess, your as NAPO Equalities Officer, to ensure we keep communicating and engaging staff. I send out a bi-monthly newsletter across the Midlands to keep people up to date and am always grateful for contributions from colleagues on local initiatives and issues.
Angela: Tell me more about the TUC LGBT conference and your involvement with that?
Megan: Sure. Since I came out as a trans woman I have got more involved with trans issues, both through educating others and, to a lesser extent, politically. Although it feels like that transgender community is making progress now there are more visible role models such as Laverne Cox (US actress in Orange Is The New Black) and boxing promoter Kellie Maloney alongside more sympathetic press coverage (for example, the recent disclosure by Caitlyn Jenner on Olympian US television of her personal transition) it is still a fact that trans people are twice as likely to be unemployed or homeless, up to 40 times more likely to commit suicide and over 90% report harassment of some kind during their daily lives. Some of the issues we face are similar to those from the LGB community and I am determined to contribute to addressing that.
The TUC LGBT conference brings LGBT union members and our allies together in solidarity to tackle discrimination both here in the UK and around the world. NAPO is tabling a motion to support the human rights organisation Transgender Europe (TGEU) who are seeking to end oppressive practices in 34 European countries that prevent trans individuals from changing their name and registered gender without undergoing invasive and abusive requirements such as sterilisation, having to divorce and being diagnosed as suffering with a mental illness. This means that trans people have documents such as driving licences and passports that do not match their gender identity. As a trans woman myself, it would be unthinkable to have a passport with a male name and gender marker. In fact, 73% of trans people in the EU think that better legal gender recognition laws would allow them to live more comfortably.
Angela: It’s clear there are some real challenges still to be faced by the trans community and its positive that we can highlight that through Napo. Thanks for taking part in this interview, good luck in the Awards!