At the meeting of the town council “Finance & Governance” committee last month, one of the documents before us for perusal was our existing “equal opportunities policy”. On inspecting this, I noted that the words contained referred to “staff” – but no more. Our LibDem mayor, Cllr John Robini, suggested that this policy should also apply to councillors, and I responded that it should go even further: it needs to apply to all our residents, in everything that we do.
During the local election campaign, I noted publicly that although Haslemere is widely thought of as a comfortable, middle-class English town, and that is undeniably accurate in general, it certainly does not apply to all our residents. I am well aware from my work delivering medicines for our local pharmacy, that we have many elderly people in our community, some of whom have mobility problems, are lonely, or on limited incomes. We have others too, not only the elderly, who have problems with mobility or have other disabilities. We have young people who have grown up here, but cannot afford the high housing costs. We have a small but visible community of black and minority ethnic groups. On Hindhead Road there is a significant community at an Islamic study centre, and my own immediate neighbours are a Syrian refugee family. While campaigning for the local and EU elections, I also noticed a surprising number of Eastern European names on the electoral register. Inevitably, there is also a significant proportion of LGBGT people – just as there are, everywhere.
I do not suppose that any of our existing policies or practices deliberately discriminate against any of these groups, but in practice, it is all too easy to take decisions that benefit people “like us”, and inadvertently do not include others or take account of their unique needs. We need consciously to consider all members of our community in our deliberations. I was therefore pleased when my proposal was eagerly accepted by the Finance and Governance committee. The revised policy, submitted to the full town council for its meeting this week, now includes the statement:
It is the aim of the Council to ensure that no one with whom the Council interacts receives less favourable facilities or treatment (either directly or indirectly) on grounds of age, disability, gender / gender reassignment, marriage / civil partnership, pregnancy / maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation (the protected characteristics).
This was accepted unanimously, without need for discussion. Haslemere is now stated its clear intention to be a fully inclusive town.
As an openly gay man, it is LGBT inclusion that most directly affects me personally, but it was not this in particular that motivated my proposal. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that after Guildford raised the rainbow flag in June, I made a passing suggestion on Twitter about possibly doing the same next year. Cllr Odell immediately replied that we are the “proud owners” of such a flag, and our town clerk soon after approached me to discuss this. We now have agreement that Haslemere will hoist the rainbow flag for Surrey Pride day this year, August 10th. No doubt, we will make further arrangements for 2020 and future years.