CEA’s LGBT Charter Mark Journey – Going for Gold!
Where we started…
CEA first embarked on its LGBT Youth Scotland Charter Mark journey in 2013 when the organization was still known as Falkirk & District Women’s Aid (since 1976) and was working towards its LGBT Youth Scotland Bronze Charter Mark Award. At that time, the organization had recently restructured, incorporated a 3-stage trauma recovery model and was proactively looking at ways in which it could ensure that support for those experiencing the trauma of domestic abuse was reaching women, children and young people within the local LGBT+ community.
Having achieved the Bronze Award, the organization evolved again, moved premises and rebranded as Committed to Ending Abuse (CEA) in 2015 with the aim of supporting male survivors of domestic abuse. Furthermore, we recognized that our services should be reaching out to people of all genders and sexual orientations, and we soon were able to provide this support, achieving our LGBT Youth Scotland Silver Charter Mark award in 2016.
However, the organization and its dedicated staff realized that there were improvements still to be made in how visible we were as a fully inclusive domestic abuse service. Like many organizations, we faced the challenges of continuing to provide a high-quality service during the COVID-19 pandemic and met those challenges with flexibility, tenacity and hard work.
The obvious next step was to continue with our LGBT Youth Scotland Charter Mark journey so that we could get the message out to the public and partner agencies about how we welcome anyone regardless of age, sex, disability, beliefs, ethnicity, faith, gender, sexual orientation and race. Thus, in February 2022 CEA began working towards the Gold Charter Mark award.
Lesson One – Honest reflection
One of the strengths that our team continued to learn about and build upon was the value of honest reflection. We knew we possessed the ability to gauge with honesty and integrity, where were as an organization in terms of the support that we were providing.
In February 2022 and over the last year, we have spoken informally, regularly at team and LGBT Champion Group meetings about the work that was to be done in order to ensure that we are doing everything we can to fully support those in the local LGBT+ community impacted by domestic abuse. We saw ourselves as a fully inclusive service but we quickly recognized that there was more to be done to make this obvious and more visible.
A major step that we knew we had to take was to fully upgrade our website and the whole staff team was involved in the new website design.
The new website went live in June 2022 and a specific section was aimed towards people within the LGBT+ community, exploring the specific types of domestic abuse they may face and offering support. This was implemented in order to make it clear that the organization would do everything it could to welcome, provide information and support LGBT+ service users. The learning from honest reflection did not end here, however. We consulted with LGBT+ people about the content of the new website and reflected on the feedback received. We also assessed the new website against all nine protected characteristics under the Equalities Act (2010) and agreed that we knew that we supported all survivors of domestic abuse but there were still some gaps to address.
The feedback, although overwhelmingly positive, noted areas for improvement that we will be taking forward in 2023 such as highlighting more the support on offer for transgender clients and those with disabilities.
Lesson Two – The Power of Collaboration
Working together constructively as a staff team, with LGBT+ service users, partner agencies and members of the local LGBT+ community has shown us just how much can be achieved by listening, sharing ideas and putting those ideas into practice.
All of our team at CEA have recognized that the most enjoyable parts of the journey have been not only been when we have met together internally, but also when we have been running events and engaging with the local LGBT+ community.
A highlight for CEA was the visit to our office from members of our local LGBT Youth Scotland group, FK1nclude, in November 2022. We shared some of the work that we do in relation to domestic abuse and our staff learned so much about the experiences of the young people who visited including some of the barriers that they have faced when trying to access support as members of the LGBT+ community. One of our staff members said:
“The most valuable and insightful experience for me was our evening with the LGBT Youth Group. It was really eye-opening to hear about the experiences and hurdles that they have faced in their lives…”
With this learning, our team were able to think more about what our service can do to support this group and other LGBT+ people. The group also provided us with some great ideas about improving the layout of our office space in terms of accessibility for disabled people and we look forward very much to meeting with them again in 2023. Similarly, our prison-based team at HMPYOI Polmont ran an event to mark International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on 17 May 2022. Not only was there some amazing artwork created by LGBT+ young people in custody, but their feedback on the event was just as powerful. Many said that they felt supported and validated as LGBT+ people, some for the first time. The event also opened up constructive conversations amongst the wider staff community there about CEA use of pronouns in email signatures and our prison team already have a date in their diary for similar events in 2023!
Lesson Three – Moving on with Confidence
At the start of the Gold Charter Mark Journey, all CEA staff took part in comprehensive training from LGBT Youth Scotland and a number of us said that we lacked confidence in the correct use of pronouns with LGBT+ people. Afraid to make mistakes at the beginning of the journey, many of the staff team now feel far more confident about simply asking about pronouns and apologizing when we make an honest error. Collectively, we feel more confident in our understanding of the impact of domestic abuse for LGBT+ people and, listening to all those who have assisted with consultations, participated in events and chatted to us along the way, has provided us with the self-assurance to ask and keep asking about what we can do to improve our services. One of our staff team has summed this up when saying:
“I feel that I can now confidently say I am an Ally and understand the importance of this role, what it means and the difference that can be made.”