Recent scandals within Australia’s state police forces suggest that policy alone isn’t enough to stop LGBTQI discrimination in the workplace.
Yesterday’s report that the NSW Police stand accused of LGBTQI discrimination in the workplace supports the assertion that discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation is still being given oxygen within Australian organisations.
In light of the NSW Police’s discrimination scandal, it’s obvious that policies to prevent LGBTQI discrimination in the workplace aren’t stamping out covert harassment and a culture of homophobia that, much like workplace bullying, often finds expression in less obvious actions.
According to reports, four openly gay officers at the Newtown Local Area command were targeted in an undercover drug operation by senior members of the police force – ostensibly because of their sexual orientation.
The story came to light this week after they lodged an application with the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT). The application calls for an external review of the force’s decision to deny them access to a NSW Police investigation file, which they believe will show evidence of discriminatory motivation for their being investigated, covertly monitored and targeted for drug testing.
Their claim is reflective, they believe, of a “wider culture of homophobia at the Newtown Local Area Command,” which permeates through the organisational hierarchy. It’s a case that’s reminiscent of similar incidences of LGBTQI discrimination within Australian law enforcement.
A report published in 2015 by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission found that gay men are six times more likely than heterosexual men to be harassed within the Victorian Police Force.
It came after a former Victoria Police officer committed suicide last year. His family stated that severe bullying, harassment and homophobia within the police force was a contributing factor in his suicide. A subsequent investigation by the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission described the Victoria Police as “riddled with sexual discrimination and harassment.”
Despite robust legislation to protect against bullying, harassment and LGBTQI discrimination in the workplace, cases like this make it clear that there is not enough being done at a management level to lead by example.
“Some men … reported they experience hostility, bullying, and sexual harassment because of their actual or perceived homosexuality or because they do not fit the traditional male stereotype,” the Victorian report has stated, by way of explanation of Victoria Police’s unsafe workplace culture.
Some blame might also be attributable to the imbalance within human rights legislation in Australia, as suggested in State Sponsored Homophobia 2016, an international publication that highlights our nation’s standing in terms of gay rights and global laws covering sexual orientation. Although Australia is in the “upper echelon” of countries when it comes to gay rights, there are still several areas where Australia sits behind its peers.
That’s not to say there aren’t examples of organisations working to eliminate LGBTQI discrimination in the workplace. Earlier this year, Constable Mairead Devlin made news by transitioning from female to male while working at the police force in Brisbane. His story, in which he has praised the organisation for their support during his transition, has shone a kinder light on the state of diversity within Australia’s police force – and heralded new initiatives such as a gender diversity guide.
“The Force has a zero tolerance policy for homophobia and any action which could be deemed a breach of the Anti-Discrimination Act,” says a statement released by NSW Police in response to their own department’s scandal.
However, the incident brings to the fore the necessity of instituting cultural leadership from the top, and to ensure that Australian anti-discrimination practices are enacted in the office and on the beat – not just on paper.