The Scottish LGBTI Police Association traces its roots back to 1990 and the founding of the independent Lesbian and Gay Police Association (LAGPA). Indeed, within the UK, we are the only independent police staff association with a direct link to LAGPA (which became the Gay Police Association or GPA). This is our story:
The experiences of gay/bisexual men and women within the UK police service throughout the 1980's is well documented in the 1993 book, "Coming Out Of The Blue" by Marc Burke who served as a police officer from 1982-1986 before following an academic career. Whilst tackling issues that go beyond just the experiences of LGB officers, the book encapsulates the lived experiences of LGB police officers and staff at that time.
What "Coming Out Of The Blue" records, via personal testimony, is a culture within the police service that held on to traditions of the past and found it difficult to adjust and adapt to the present. That didn't just apply to the rank and file or senior officers but also the statutory staff associations.
When a small group of LGB police officers decided that it was time to challenge 'the system' and create an independent association for the benefit of LGB police officers and staff, the response from the official staff associations didn't support this move, indeed the Met Federation Chair, Michael Bennett, became quite outspoken against the creation of LAGPA considering it divisive but also, which he maintained on SKY news, a precedent for 'perversion'.
Of course it would be entirely wrong to suggest that everything was bad or that every LGB officer had a negative experience. The police service has always consisted of people, just like society in general, with views and opinions that reflect the time, some more liberal and moderate than others. However the police service suffered from a lack of diversity and acceptance of difference. This impacted on other minority groups too, with LGB individuals feeling isolated and invisible in the workplace. The experience of those who did come out as LGB was often negative. It was within that context that LAGPA/GPA was founded.
Although the original founders came from the Metropolitan Police Service in London, an article published in Police Review (the most widely read magazine for police service personnel at the time) in January 1991 'outed' the Association to the wider police family. Although the Police Review article was sympathetic to the fledgling organisation, many tabloid newspapers followed up with their own take. All this publicity (both the good and the bad) resulted in the new Association rapidly expand its membership with police personnel joining from all across the British Isles.
In the early years, LAGPA was a means for LGB police service personnel to meet and discuss their issues and experiences in a safe environment. Offering peer support through networking or one-on-one has always been at the core of what the Association does and continues to do. During the 1990's very few people had access to the internet or email so the Association used to place coded ads in the 'gay press' to arrange events and meetings.
A pivotal moment for the police service came in 1999 following the Judicial Inquiry, led by Sir William MacPherson, into the tragic murder of a young Black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, in which Sir William concluded (in his report) "institutional racism affects the MPS, and police services elsewhere." Police Forces the length and breadth of the British Isles began to review their diversity policies, training, recruitment and importantly their engagement with organisations such as the GPA.
It would take yet another hate crime in London, the nail bomb attack on the Admiral Duncan pub, also in 1999, which would lead to prominence for the GPA which organised LGB officers from across the UK to come to Soho, London's largest gay area, to act as community liaison officers in what was still then a fractious relationship between the LGBT community and the police.
In 2003, following a campaign organised by the GPA, the Association took part, for the very first time in uniform, a Pride Parade (see above picture). GPA members from Scotland were refused permission however in part due to the positive impact that the 2003 event had and continued pressure from the GPA, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) gave permission for GPA members from Scotland to take part in the 2004 London Pride parade.
2005 was another significant milestone. In order to celebrate 15 years of the GPA, a European wide LGBT police conference was held in London. It was also a milestone for Scotland as the Association rebranded itself as the "Gay Police Association in Scotland", adopting the SEMPER VIGILO badge with the thistle in rainbow colours. The National Executive Committee also created a permanent position on the NEC for a "Scotland Officer".
With a new set up for Scotland and a re-branding, the GPA began to rapidly expand in Scotland. With support from ACPOS and the Scottish Government, the Scotland Officer became a full time post in 2006 and each Force had its own GPA Force Coordinator. GPA Scotland had also created its own independent website with a members discussion forum long before social media took off. Monthly member drop-in events were started in Edinburgh and Glasgow and a new GPA Scotland newsletter produced.
In 2006, the GPA Annual Dinner and Awards was held for the first time in Scotland. The recipient for the top award - recognising an individual or organisation who have made an outstanding contribution to the progression of LGBT equality issues inside and outside the police service - went to Lothian and Borders Police Chief Constable, Paddy Tompkins.
In 2009, the GPA organised the first uniformed police participation at a Scottish Pride parade. Approximately 100 police officers and staff from across the UK came to Edinburgh in order to participate. A crowning moment for the GPA in Scotland which would also mark the last UK-wide GPA participation in a Pride parade. Increasingly by this time, particularly in England, regional police forces were organising their own participation in their local Pride events.
In 2013, policing in Scotland was changed structurally with the creation of a national police service. As a result, GPA Scotland created its own 'branch' of the GPA with its own committee and constitution. Whilst things were continuing to go well for the Association in Scotland, south of the border was a different story. Government funding had stopped and the NEC membership had plummeted to single figures. In February 2014, the GPA held an Emergency General Meeting in Preston, England and voted to disband.
The Scottish 'GPA Branch' thus became GPA Scotland, continuing as an independent police staff association just as the GPA had always been since its was formed in 1990. England, Wales and Northern Ireland decided against forming a staff association, instead created a representative body (or federation) consisting of representatives from local internal networks.
At the Annual General Meeting of GPA Scotland in 2016, an entire review of the Association was conducted. It was overwhelmingly agreed that the Association should continue as an independent membership based police staff association. We are proud of our heritage as incapsulated in this article, but recognise that times have changed since the formation of our Association back in 1990. The legacy will always be continued but we do so with new vision and vigour that will take us well beyond 2018.