At the launch of the ILGA website

At the launch of the ILGA website

Happy St David’s Day – and, to those in India, Happy Holi!

What a week.

Monday: in Goa, wearing flip-flops, SPF40 and a big hat.

Wednesday: back in London, clad in corporate attire, feeling extremely chilly – and attending a big corporate LGBT bash at British Telecom’s offices near St Paul’s.

The event, chaired by the rather fabulous Michelle Bridgman (a nose at her website confirmed what I suspected on the day – she’s done a lot of stand up comedy: “Are there any straight people here? We’ll start a support group for you if so …”) was to promote LGBT History Month, which is celebrated in the UK each February, and it was also the launch of the new ILGA  website.

ILGA is the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex Association which was born in 1978 out of a grass roots movement aimed at, as the co-Secretary General Renato Sabbadini explained, creating global change and awareness of the issues facing the LGBT community. They campaign on the two main pillars of homophobia – law and culture – and Renato hopes that their new interactive website will support their work.

As recently as 2007, homosexuality was de-criminalised in India (where BT has several major call centres), but that still leaves eighty countries in which it remains a criminal act, and a shocking FIVE in which it is punishable by death. And, to their huge credit, BT partners with ILGA and provides them with hosting and technology solutions, such as the new ILGA website; click on the link and take a look.

It’s a new tool, (accessible in French, Spanish and Portuguese as well as English) which informs people of their rights and their risks when travelling – and as such serves as a wonderful (and timely) resource for both employers and individuals. Last year, for example, I took a call from a US based gay colleague who was considering taking an overseas assignment in Singapore and who wanted to obtain the name and contact details of the co-worker who ran that office’s LGBT network. In Singapore, the punishment for being gay is life imprisonment and so of course our (then) mutual employer didn’t have a gay network; I would have found it very useful with my global diversity hat on to be able to direct my co-workers to such a site, and to ensure that my colleagues in the global mobility team were both aware of it as a resource and also had a nodding acquaintance with the issues facing our LGBT colleagues outside countries such as the US and UK.

One of the senior BT developers who worked on the site asked us to imagine how it might feel to be a gay or lesbian member of staff who wasn’t “out” to their manager and who was asked by their employer to go to a country on assignment or on a business trip where their sexuality could put them at risk – how do you, as a gay employee, have that conversation if you don’t have the information to hand which informs both you and your employer of exactly what you could be facing? And how can a manager make appropriate resourcing and deployment issues about their staff without having an up to date awareness of the risks (both potential and actual) in the countries in which the company has a presence?

Thus, on ILGA’s home page you can see a map of the world, into which you can drill via a variety of datasets (for example, female to female relationships, or age of consent laws) and then see how the map changes colour based on the legal status of that situation: so we can see that it’s illegal to be a lesbian in Algeria and Pakistan for example, legal in many other countries and “legal only in some areas” in Nigeria. You can also click on (or search for) a specific country of interest and see what the story is with regard to the law there; I clicked on India where I read about the legal background, anti-discrimination laws, asylum and immigration issues and social climate. There’s also an interactive section, aimed at mimicking the social networking component of sites such as Trip Advisor, where users are encouraged to post their stories of life in and/or visits to various countries, to enable others to gauge the mood and “gay friendliness” (or otherwise) of hotels, bars, restaurants and the country and people in general.

I was hugely impressed by both the site as a resource and also by BT’s support for ILGA. Although a lot of corporate support in the diversity space often is about chucking money at a cause or a group (and thank goodness for that), I think it does BT great credit that they’ve done so much more than that in this instance – they’ve put their massive technical and intellectual expertise to work to support this great cause and provided a genuinely useful tool which could really make a difference to both their own staff and to LGBT people worldwide. The site is so easy to use that I was readily able to demo it to a friend after the event and we were amazed at the wealth of information available; it’s clearly been an enormous project and hopefully will have an even more significant impact both as an information source but also as a risk awareness and a consciousness raising tool.

Loving your work, British Telecom.

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