Meet the LGBT activists who were just honoured by Queen Elizabeth
A Jewish lesbian who is working to welcome members of the LGBT community into the synagogue. A social worker who is fighting for LGBT inclusion in Christian churches. And a London transportation official who is responsible for the LGBT crossing lights in Trafalgar Square. What do they all have in common? They were recently honoured by Queen Elizabeth for their work within the queer community.
Five honoured activists gathered at Admiralty House in London last week for an event that is part of a current initiative to make the honours system more inclusive and improve the number of nominations received for people who identify as LGBT.
2017 Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) honouree Peggy Sherwood, recognised for her work with the Jewish LGBT community, said she feels both proud and humbled to have received this honour and believes that it is a step forward for the community.
“It sent a message,” Sherwood told PinkNews. “I was being honoured as a Jew, I was being honoured as a lesbian, but I was being honoured as a Jewish lesbian and that was, for me, the ultimate.”
Sherwood was president of the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group (JGLG) for 15 years. Her work there included increasing the membership of women to make the number of women involved equal to the number of men, inviting speakers and arranging educational and social opportunities, and building up relationships with other religious LGBT communities, including Christians, Muslims, and Quakers.
“For some of them, coming out to their families is very difficult, and it is very difficult certainly in some quarters of the Jewish community,” Sherwood told PinkNews.
Sherwood said she feels both proud and humbled to have received the royal honour, and believes that it is a step forward for the Jewish LGBT community.
Sherwood and her wife Alison Rees, who accompanied her to the event, are both still involved in working with the Jewish LGBT community at Finchley Progressive Synagogue to help members feel comfortable and accepted in their faith.
“You can grow up feeling very alone when you’re in a niche within a niche, a minority within a minority,” said Rees.
Another honouree recognised for his work with religious members of the LGBT community is 2016 MBE recipient Nigel Nash, who has been the convenor and chair of the Brighton and Hove LGCM (Lesbian and Gay Christians) for over 20 years and has worked with One Body One Faith, a Christian LGBT organisation, with the goal of challenging homophobia within the Christian faith.
“One Body One Faith is an organisation which works with the LGBT community helping to make the churches a much more inclusive place,” Nash told PinkNews. “People want to find an LGBT-friendly place where they can be themselves and can actually go with their partner and introduce their partner as their partner without trying to pretend they’re something else.”
Nash has recently been running the organisation’s Brighton Sexuality, Gender, and Faith monthly group for Christians who want to openly express their sexuality.
“Some people have come and they were even afraid to be coming to the group because someone might see them, but they’re OK now,” said Nash with a smile.
Nash was also honoured for his work as a service manager for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) since 2008 and his voluntary service to the LGBT community.
At CAFCASS, Nash advises the Family Courts on the wellbeing of children, manages a team of social workers who help families across Sussex, and provides support for some of the most vulnerable children, including those who identify as trans.
“It’s about how to help everyone work better with LGBT young people,” he said. “Especially by raising awareness of trans youth.”
2017 British Empire Medal (BEM) honour recipient Martyn Loukes, chair of transport for OUTbound, London’s LGBT staff network, is also raising awareness of, and providing visible support for, the LGBT community by working to make London transportation more transparently supportive of LGBT rights.
Loukes is responsible for a wide variety of projects around the city, including installing a rainbow-zebra crossing for the 2014 Pride in London and 48 LGBT crosswalk lights around Trafalgar Square and introducing a rainbow bus and taxi service in London.
“I was very lucky that I worked for a forward-thinking company like TfL,” Loukes told PinkNews. “They actually supported my ideas. They probably thought I was a little bit crazy at the time, but at the same time they realised that we should be doing a little bit more in this space.”
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Loukes did have his difficulties. The rainbow crosswalk turned into an 18-month project and forced him to go through many committees for approval. Yet he said that with every new idea, getting ideas approved became an easier task.
“It was pulling hair at times,” he said. “It really was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do to convince people in the workplace. But each project I was more aware of where the problems were going to be.”
The other honour recipients who attended this week’s event were MBE Neil McDonald, honoured for their work with the Home Office’s LGBT issues, and MBE Monty Moncrieff, who has provided support for LGBT people as Chief Executive of London Friend.