From the Public Agenda section in The Times:
In an attempt to improve inclusiveness, the police are to ask all officers and civilian staff in England and Wales to declare their sexual orientation by the end of 2004. They will be sent questionnaires in which they can say whether they are heterosexual or gay ***, or decline to give a preference.
*** Yes, I’m wondering about bisexuals and transsexuals as well. Not to mention my concerns about well-intentioned but misguided attempts to codify sexual preferences into rigid, immutable categories. But let’s not even get into all of that for now; we’ll be here all day.
The cynic in me is first to pipe up. Surely this is nothing but shallow window-dressing, merely designed to re-assure those troublesome gay lobbyists that Something Is Being Done. After all, how difficult can it be to knock up a questionnaire and feed the results into a spreadsheet? Talk about following the path of least resistance.
Where my inner cynic leads, so my inner Irrepressibly Chirpy Little Pollyanna is sure to follow. For is it not also perfectly conceivable that the results of this survey might usefully reveal a significant under-representation of gays in the police, thus furnishing a powerful justification for introducing more pro-active recruitment drives, and more challenging anti-discrimination initiatives? (My inner Pollyanna can be quite the jargon-spewing tub-thumper when she wants to be. You dismiss her at your peril.)
Sadly, my inner Pollyanna is in sore danger of blinding herself to a major potential flaw with the whole initiative. Namely, that the recipients of the questionnaire are still at liberty to “decline to give a preference”. This threatens to skew the results in two directions. Firstly: many closeted officers will surely balk at answering truthfully. (After all, what’s in it for them to fess up?) Secondly: those rather more antediluvian elements in the force who are bound to view the questionnaire as intrusive PC nonsense (sic) are liable to refuse an answer on principle – and one cannot help but suspect that their number might be significant. In these ways, the survey is in danger of being rendered utterly meaningless.
But what are the alternatives? Making the question mandatory? Or proceeding from the perfectly justifiable assumption that yes, gays and lesbians are under-represented in the police force, so let’s get on with doing something useful to redress the situation, rather than fannying about with silly pieces of paper that are only liable to needlessly scare some and irk others?
My inner Pollyanna will get back to you on that one.