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Fighting for social justice and a fairer society

As part of Pride Month, our regional engagement lead Kate discusses her experiences as a gay woman and how she draws upon these experiences as a social worker and in her role at Social Work England.

Fighting for social justice and a fairer society

6/26/2020 3:16:59 PM

The persistent question ‘Why do people in the LGBTQ+ community need to be ‘proud’?’ has an easy answer: because while we continue to live in a world where people are taunted, humiliated, degraded, attacked, abused and murdered for being who they are (however they identify), it is necessary for individuals, groups, organisations and governments to challenge all prejudice, discrimination and hate crimes against this marginalised group. Social workers put the need to challenge in this way at the forefront of what they do every day. They are the social justice warriors, with the superpowers of compassion, empathy, human rights knowledge and legal know-how.

People decide to be social workers for many reasons. In my experience, there does seem to be a recognisable strand among the profession – which is to fight for social justice and a fairer society. To stand up for those who are not seen, heard, or understood, or who can sometimes be those that society least values, the forgotten. This must be the most vital attribute necessary in order to make a difference in this extraordinary profession. The vast majority of social workers have already tried other jobs and have quite a bit of life experience before training in social work. The desire to use their learning and necessary resilience created from their own difficult times is often what drives them to do the job that allows the privilege of helping others to help themselves. It’s humbling and rewarding.

When I trained to be a social worker, I remember the penny-drop moment about using the adversity and discrimination I had experienced as the reason to do the most important job in the world. And make no mistake, I really do mean the most important job. There’s no coincidence around why social work attracts a disproportionately high number of people from my own community – but there’s also no coincidence, or research that I am aware of either, about why there appears to be an absence of recognised ‘T’ and ‘+’ social workers in the mix. To me, the greatest challenge facing us currently with regards to this community, is the embracing of all the letters and symbols in ‘LGBTQ+’, to uphold trans rights and to remove all barriers preventing fair access to all things for all people.

My interview at Social Work England was unforgettable. A room of smiling faces and open minds. I answered questions with honesty and remember speaking candidly about my own experience of gay hate crime driving my passion to be a social worker to reduce and eradicate the same experiences for others. How consciously moving to Brighton was mainly about being able to walk down a road holding my lover’s hand and be less fearful of attack, looks of disgust, or of being made to feel plain uncomfortable. I knew instantly from the reactions I received, that in this new organisation, I could work hard and be myself and flourish. Be my best self.

But it wasn’t that many years ago that I would ever have been able to be that honest in an interview. Diversity in a workforce is what gives it its strength. Whether that’s about gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, (dis)ability or class. Social Work England knows this and is also only too aware that like many other organisations, it has ongoing learning of its own and more work to do, to become the truly diverse employer it strives to be. As a member of its LGBTQ+ forum, I am proud to be part of this dynamic and passionate set of determined individuals who are committed to making a difference and role modelling for other organisations.

Using my life-long experience as a gay woman who has brooked homophobia, hate crime, multi-layered omni-present discrimination, excruciating social inequality and all the undulating complexity these issues carry with them, is a huge part of what I have drawn upon to be a social worker, and now a regional engagement lead for Social Work England. I continue to use it in this role so that I can listen, advocate, and challenge in the vital engagement work that the profession’s own regulator must do to stay true to its commitments. I never stop drawing upon it – adversity can, after all, result in ‘practice wisdom’.

Social Work England wants to be a voice for the profession – to hold up a mirror to social work – the best profession in the world. In so doing, it must be authentic, and it must shine a light on all forms of discrimination. We can’t be tokenistic – we must be true, and proud of who we are, what we do, and why we do it.