The policing bible could not be clearer: ‘Police officers must not take any active part in politics. This is intended to prevent you from placing yourself in a position where your impartiality may be questioned.’ But has anyone told the British Transport Police?
The BTP’s officers were out in force at Brighton’s Pride festival at the weekend*, holding up a ‘Police with Pride’ flag. Officers were also using the festivities as a recruiting opportunity.
‘We want you to apply to be part of a modern, diverse and inclusive police force,’ said BTP superintendent David Rams. As well as encouraging diversity, the BTP was clear about who they don’t want signing up: people who might be offended by the police taking an active role at Pride. In a statement, the BTP said:
‘Inclusion isn’t political, and we’ll always celebrate being as diverse as the communities we protect. If you’re offended by this, please don’t apply to work for us – thanks’BTP / Twitter
While the BTP might insist there’s nothing political about this statement, the reality is rather different. The force was using an ‘intersectional flag’ at Pride which is trans inclusive; but many lesbian and gay people do not think this flag represents them. Whether these people are right or wrong to think that way, there is no dispute that trans rights are a matter of fierce debate. This means the police – who, remember, have a duty not to wade into politics – must tread carefully on such subjects. Instead they are telling people who might be offended to get lost.
So much for impartiality. If the BTP really insists on neglecting the day job, perhaps its officers might talk to women’s groups who have had their meetings disturbed by noisy demonstrators waving that flag? The job of the BTP is to police, not take sides in a political dispute. Nor is it to solicit job applications from people of a particular political persuasion.
Maya Forstater, who won an employment tribunal after she was discriminated against because of her opinions regarding transgenderism, spoke for many when she asked the BTP:
‘Can you please confirm that people with gender critical beliefs are welcome in the force, and will be protected from belief discrimination and harassment at work?’Maya Forstater / Twitter
Having won an important victory, Forstater knows what she is talking about. For those not familiar with the terminology, gender critical beliefs mean little more than the facts we all used to take for granted: that human beings all have a sex, and we are male or female as a result of our biology. But they are facts that might upset – and maybe even offend – some of the people who wave the flag used by the BTP.
The response from the BTP was underwhelming to say the least. Without apologising, they insisted that:
‘The tweet was is no way intended to imply that BTP would discriminate against people who hold gender-critical beliefs, which we recognise are capable of being protected under the Equality Act 2010.’BTP / Twitter
Yet the damage has been done. We all know that the Equality Act offers certain protections – whatever ‘capable of being protected’ might mean – but what does the BTP think about people for whom that flag generates offence or upset? Are they welcome in the BTP?
The BTP has dug itself into a hole. It is August, so perhaps the grown-ups are all on holiday. But wherever the BTP’s chief constable Lucy D’Orsi is, she must speak out and ensure that, in future, the BTP sticks to policing and stays out of the gender debate.
Debbie Hayton is a teacher and journalist.