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Diary of a Heritage Manager – Diversity part two

Published on | #WeAre50, General

Earlier this week, I began talking about the very broad topic of diversity. Here’s part two, as diversity understandably has several very unique strands that all warrant a mention in their own right.


In the early 1970s it was something that wasn’t spoken about at all. Gay and lesbian officers went to great lengths to keep their sexuality a secret. Bearing in mind it was only in 1967 that homosexuality was legalised, the secretive culture continued for many years afterward. We heard from some of our retired colleagues who joined prior to 1967, that part of the medical included a physical examination of the individual’s back passage, to confirm they were not gay.

However, similar to other aspects of diversity like women leaving the force when they got married or fell pregnant, policing was no different to other industries and was an example of general societal behaviour at the time.

It is apparent though then when certain colleagues were unwillingly ‘outed’, their lives could be made very difficult by colleagues who disapproved. Even today, whilst your sexuality won’t affect your ability as a police officer, in the very close working environment of policing, for officers to feel they have to keep a big part of themselves a secret because they are scared to come out to colleagues, this may affect their ability to form close working relationships and truly feel that they belong within policing. This is evident in the many harrowing tales over the years recounted by gay and lesbian officers who either felt they could not truly be themselves, or had repercussions after they did come out.

On a positive note, West Midlands Police’s association for LGBT officers and staff (The Network) runs an ally scheme and officers and staff joined in droves to demonstrate their support for the LGBT community. As well as supporting colleagues, The Network also offers advice to the force about policing the LGBT community and assists in building relationships and trust between the two. Sergeant John Reeves has shared his story with the museum previously, about feeling comfortable enough being himself at work that he eventually came out to his parents, and genuinely feeling that he can be himself at work.

Another inspiring story came from PC Skye Morden, who came out to friends and family in 2018 as trans. Skye had been with the force for 19 years and currently works as a taser trainer. Despite facing a deluge of online hate and abuse, Skye says the support she received from colleagues and the force was incredible. She also says all the letters of support she received from parents who had children struggling with their own gender identity, gave her the strength to continue to ensure trans people have visibility in policing.


There are more people with disabilities in policing than there would have been back in 1974. Nowadays reasonable adjustments are made to accommodate people whereas before they would have really struggled, or never been able to get the role in the first place. For example, the use of coloured paper to accommodate Dyslexia.

Police issue glasses came out in the 1970s which made it possible for officers to stay within policing if their eyesight deteriorated.

Face masks with a see-through section around the mouth were obtained during COVID to accommodate deaf colleagues who relied on being able to lip-read.

In 2006 the Disability and Carer’s Network was created. Now called EnAble, this association supports staff and officers dealing with a disability and offers support in obtaining reasonable adjustments where possible. An offshoot of this network is the newly created Neurodiversity Network which supports people with all kinds of neurodiversity conditions such as ADHD, Autism and Asperger’s. As well as supporting officers and staff, they can also advise the force on dealing with members of the public with any of these conditions, to ensure the best possible outcome for victims and other members of the public who may have additional needs.


Nowadays people belonging to all different religions are welcomed into policing, and efforts are made to ensure they feel supported. For example, during Ramadan Muslim colleagues who are fasting are supported and accommodated when they need to break fast. Information is shared with non-Muslim colleagues to help them to understand what Ramadan is all about, sometimes leading to non-Muslim officers and staff joining in to support their colleagues.

Ever since the 1970s efforts have been made to support Sikh colleagues who wear a turban, to be able to wear a particular style of turban with a West Midlands Police badge on it, in place of a helmet. Special face masks were purchased during COVID for turban wearing officers to be able to use.

The breakdown of faiths and beliefs for officers and staff within the force currently includes 13 different religions and an ‘other’ category, as well as ‘no religion’ and ‘not answered’. Interestingly, almost the same number of people (34.7 per cent) stated ‘no religion’ as the most prominent faith of Christianity (36.4 per cent).

A variety of different staff associations exist within West Midlands Police supporting staff from different faith and religious groups, such as the Association of Muslim Police, the Christian Police Network, the Faith and Belief Network and the Sikh Police Association.

Equality Act 2010

Other restrictions that have existed through the years have been gradually phased out – for example the height limit that prevented a lot of people fulfilling their dreams of becoming police officers. This was voluntarily phased out in the 1990s, however the Equality Act 2010 is the main legislation which officially outlawed it and would make it hard to bring back in to policing. It’s still ok for other industries like films to have requirements for roles, but it’s virtually impossible to justify in policing. Whereas once you had to ask for permission to get married, the Act would prevent that. You cannot have policies requiring a particular group of people to carry out one specific role, such as pregnant women being posted to call handling or crime recording, and the Act makes a requirement for policing to monitor and publish the gender pay gap. This leads to a positive drive for fair promotions.

The fitness test is a mandatory requirement for new police officers and previously if you didn’t pass that would be it, you were not able to get into policing. Nowadays, recruitment work with health and fitness to develop a plan to help the individual to get to a position where they can hopefully pass in the near future. Many medical conditions can be supported with Occupational Health and external assistance, allowing more officers to be accepted in the first place that would have been turned down years ago. At one point, recruitment departments would look for any medical issue in the past that could have led to time off work or issues later in life, and that could see that person being turned down for a job. 

Colour blindness has long been a part of the medical procedure and testing for recruitment. Today we have Isihara plates which identify this. This is part of the student officer medical procedure, not for staff roles however. If identified as having colour blindness we will do some further clinical checks and then we need to assess the role they are coming into and whether an adjustment is required or whether they need to be deployed to an alternative team. For example, they cannot be deployed into Firearms with colour blindness, and there are other teams which have the same requirements. I have been told that at one point, many years ago, in the Birmingham Police a poppy was used to test for colour blindness – whereby the very obvious colours of the flower (petals and stem) were pointed at and the individual asked to identify them, which would see them pass the test!

Further reading:

Two excellent books greatly informed my awareness of the experiences of both ethnic minority officers, and officers from the LGBT community. These I would highly recommend:

Coming out of the Blue by Marc Burke, 1993

Kill the Black one First by Michael Fuller, 2019

In addition, A Fair Cop, by Corinne Brazier and Steve Rice, 2017 captures much of the research undertaken by the museum to commemorate 100 years of women in policing in the West Midlands, and tells the stories of many of those pioneers.

I would also recommend everyone watch Skye’s story, to hear more about her journey coming out as a trans women in policing: (1) PC Skye Morden’s story of life as a transgender officer with West Midlands Police – YouTube, 2022