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One of the most senior police officers serving in the Greater Manchester Police speaks with Vada about what it’s really like to be gay in the police today.
It was driving through Manchester’s city centre on a Friday night with colleagues, when Chief Inspector Lee Broadstock began to get uncomfortable. At the time, over twenty years ago, he wasn’t a chief inspector. In fact, during the week he worked as an accountant, and volunteered as a special constable, patrolling the streets of the city on a Friday and Saturday night. Broadstock’s colleagues, fellow special constables, were commenting on women they were driving past, and inviting him to rate them. Not only was he uncomfortable about “rating” people’s appearance, he had not yet told anybody that he was gay.
Growing up in Somerset, Broadstock says he had always dreamed of becoming a police officer. He recalls his earliest memory of his vocation of policing as when his primary school teacher asked the class to draw what they wanted to be when they were older. He drew a police officer. Some years later, during a trip to a gay bar in Bristol, Broadstock was outed to his parents. A family friend had seen him going into the bar, and by the time he got home to his mum and dad, they had thrown him out.
“I felt really ostracised by my friends, my mum and dad, the people I grew up with,” he recalls of that experience now, sitting on a video call with me, dressed in his police uniform. “I just got into the car and drove up to Manchester. I’ve been here ever since.” Broadstock tells me he chose Manchester, because he had attended Manchester Pride just weeks before being turfed out.
Despite his childhood dreams of becoming a police officer, Broadstock initially chose a different career path. He explains that looking at the police as an outsider made him worry that he would never be accepted as a gay man in the police force.
“People will remember the stories of James Anderton,” recalls Broadstock of the former chief constable, who was notoriously homophobic. “The police harassment was disproportionately targeted towards gay men and Greater Manchester had a reputation as an anti-gay force.”
He considered leaving his career in accounting to join the police, but wanted to see for himself if the profession really was as homophobic as some said it was. As a special constable, he volunteered his weekends off to serve the public of Greater Manchester. There was a “lad’s culture” as he describes it, but he did feel able to confide in another special constable that he was gay. The reaction, he says, was positive and resulted in him leaving his day job altogether and joining the police full time.
Today, Broadstock is one of the most senior police officers in the Greater Manchester Police. He is also the most senior openly gay police officer in the force, and one of the most senior in the country. I ask him about what motivated him to climb the ranks of the police. “I think what’s really pushed me a lot of times is that I’ve seen some really bad leaders who rose above me,” he explains. “I’ve always thought that I could do a better job than them as a leader, or I could be more inclusive than them.”
Has he ever felt his sexuality has held him back from getting promoted, I venture. “I think I’ve held myself back,” Broadstock replies. “I’ve held myself back, because of something that I’ve explored within myself recently, which is imposter syndrome. For a promotion, sometimes I’ve talked myself out of applying for a role, and I’ve had to have really good mentors and colleagues encouraging me to go for a role.”
Whilst he says that he has never experienced homophobia when applying for a promotion within policing, he does believe there are “hangovers” from the past. “I’ve had the accusation that I only got the job because I’ve got the rainbow card or the pink card.” Broadstock tells me he feels as though he has proved himself whenever applying for jobs. “I’ve always shown that I’ve got the operational competence to do the role. What I’ve got extra is that I’m also an inclusive person who stands for fairness and equality.”
Speaking of operational competence, Broadstock’s current role is an operational chief inspector for Tameside, a busy district in Greater Manchester. When I ask what the biggest challenges are for him in his role, he tells me it is the expectations of victims of crimes.
“I think people think policing is something that it’s not,” Broadstock replies, making reference to the influence of TV dramas. “We don’t have all this fancy technology to hand that you see on the TV shows. Some of the basic policing skills are still the fact that you have police officers that come to ask questions, make checks, do house to house, look at forensic evidence. There are certainly not the big CSI touchscreens that we move everything around on, and within half an hour we find out who is behind a crime.”
According to Broadstock, police officers are just as frustrated by the time it takes from a crime happening to prosecution, than those who are victims of crime. “An investigation can take weeks into months,” he explains. “Then we have to go to the Crown Prosecution Service to get a charge and that decision can take up to six months to a year.”
He continues, “What’s frustrating for police officers is when we get there straight away, we want to do the right thing. We want to help the victim. But because we need the evidence, it’s going to take some time. I think that’s a real challenge for us.”
There is an added layer of complexity, Broadstock argues, if you are LGBTQ+ and are a victim of crime. As a senior police officer, he is also tasked with responding to complaints from members of the public, some of whom have been victims of hate crimes. “We can’t always give that instant service that people want from us, and we don’t always explain the reasons why,” he says. “ I think if you’re LGBTQ+ what you tend to get is the added thought that the police aren’t coming to see me, because I’m LGBTQ+.”
Broadstock tells me that he has been involved in investigating complaints from LGBTQ+ victims of crime, who feel they have not been taken seriously, when in fact there was a lack of communication between the police and the victim. “A white, cis, heterosexual man isn’t thinking that the police aren’t giving me an update, because of who I am. But if you’re LGBTQ+, you instantly have those thoughts at the back of your head that the police is homophobic.”
He believes that this lack of communication can result in further misconceptions about the police and discrimination, as well as making LGBTQ+ people reluctant to report future crimes. “With us not communicating effectively, what we’re doing is further entrenching some of those views, to the point where people think there’s no point in telling the police, because they’re homophobic and never going to believe me anyway.”
Broadstock recognises that there is room for improvement when it comes to communication with people who have been a victim of crime, especially for LGBTQ+ people. “We don’t explain enough about what we’re doing to try to find people who have committed the crime,” he says. “We have a really rigid and robust hate crime system in place, whereby every day we look at any hate crimes that come in and we think, what can we do about it? Is it community tension? Can we check CCTV? What further support can we provide? We do all this in the background, but then never tell the victim.” By communicating more transparently with victims, Broadstock believes this will reassure victims that they are being listened to and that the police are acting on their concerns.
Another place where hate crime is rife, is social media. Admittedly, this is one of the biggest elements of policing that has changed in the two decades that he has been working as a police officer. “I think there’s been a rise in hate crime because of social media,” he adds. “I do also feel that as a society, we’re actually getting more fractured. There are a lot more hate fueled individuals who are happy to, unfortunately, express their views on social media.”
Broadstock is particularly concerned about the transphobia circulating on social media and within other parts of the media. He believes that this could be adding fuel to the fire of transphobia in wider society, resulting in an increase in transphobic hate crimes. “There isn’t a day that goes by without a negative news story about trans people,” he says. “And then that validates people’s views who might not have expressed them before.” Whilst he acknowledges that some people may argue their right to free speech, he also calls on people to respect one another.
Given the challenging context police officers now find themselves in during their daily work, I wonder what Broadstock would say to somebody thinking of joining the police. “I would say do it. If you’re thinking about it, because you want to help some of the most vulnerable people in society, then go for it.”
As somebody who had reservations before joining the police, Broadstock also says that he would have liked to have had an “out” police officer to speak with and to give him some reassurance. With that in mind, does he see himself as a role model? It’s a difficult question for him to answer. “Do I consider myself as a role model? I don’t,” he replies, “I think I’m quite a humble person. I just get on with being me.”
As a result of his visibility within the Greater Manchester Police, Broadstock tells me that he has mentored fellow LGBTQ+ police officers. “I am the most senior gay police officer in Greater Manchester, and one of the most senior of in all UK policing. It’s sad in one respect. But people will come to me and say that they want to get to my level in this organisation, because I’ve sort of broken down that that barrier for them.”
Broadstock does acknowledge that the experience of LGBTQ+ police officers from force to force may differ across the country, however, he seems hopeful. “Not everyone who will be reading this will live in Greater Manchester, Cheshire or Lancashire, but it’s great to see UK police is becoming more inclusive,” he adds. “I feel like that, because we can just be ourselves. We don’t have to be a caricature or hide who we are. If you just be yourself, then you can do whatever you want to achieve within policing.”
Chief Inspector Lee Broadstock is a Greater Manchester Police (GMP) officer who works in Tameside. He is also the Network Co-Chair for the National LGBT+ Police Network.