EMMA PALMER IS THE DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT EQUITY, DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION AT UNLEASHED ORG
What is your background both personally and professionally?
I am a mixed-race Black gay woman. My father is Black Caribbean and from London and my mother is white, also from London. I grew up in Bermondsey against the backdrop of 80s Britain during a time when race and racism in the UK, and in particular where I lived in Bermondsey, was literally on your door-step in the form of The National Front (NF) and the British National Party (BNP). My mum was a single parent. I went to a multi-cultural school. I was about eight or nine when I remember stepping outside the front door once and seeing “NF” scrawled in graffiti on the wall on our balcony. That is why I say the racism was literally on your front door. It was all around you.
I am an Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging leader with a particular focus on LGBTQ+ inclusion and race equity. I have worked with businesses throughout the UK and elsewhere promoting inclusive workplace cultures through speaking, workshops, training, and consultancy. I began my career as a police officer for the Metropolitan Police Service where I spent eight years policing Lambeth, one of London’s busiest boroughs.
After leaving the police, I joined Stonewall, Europe’s largest LGBTQ+ organisation where I helped to develop and implement a suite of programmes and supported individual programme members with navigation in organisational structures. I apply an intersectional lens to my work with a robust track record of achievement, guiding strategic relations and partnership development initiatives within organisations such as the NHS and not-for-profit sports development charity, Chance to Shine, as their Diversity and Inclusion Manager. I began writing and developing their first ever EDI strategy. As well as working strategically, I use my own lived experience to drive social change and support people to understand equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging at all levels.
I am also on the Board of Trustees at Mosaic LGBTQ+ Young Person’s Trust and have been for two years. It is an absolute joy to collaborate alongside a team of people totally committed to our mission of supporting, educating, and inspiring LGBTQ+ young people. As a trustee I am responsible for helping shape and drive the strategic vision of the Trust through collaboration and inclusive leadership approaches.
You are the director of Community Engagement Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion AT Unleashed Org. What does that role involve – and how important is it?
The Director of Community Engagement plays an important role in helping Unleashed achieve their social and commercial objectives by leading, developing, and delivering on our Arena Network proposition to clients. The role is a critical part of the business, as a specialist in learning & development, talent management and diversity & inclusion. Actively engaging with The Arena community to diagnose and support their Talent, Diversity & Inclusion needs is an integral part of community building and growing a network of people from all walks of life including advocates, activists, allies, and leaders passionate about making the world a more inclusive place.
How prevalent do you consider racism to be in the LGBTQ+ community, and what actions can we take to eradicate it?
Racism, sadly, exists in all areas of society. History tells us that. But I think for anyone denying that it still exists or says, “It’s not as bad as it used to be,” were quickly reminded that is it is simply not the case when the stark events of 2020 took hold and suddenly Black Lives Matter was thrust into the spotlight.
When you look closely and break down the experiences of racism in different communities, there are several specific factors that affect those people in a number of ways. Research by Stonewall investigated the experiences of LGBTQ+ in their home and communities and found that half (51%) of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic people face discrimination within the LGBTQ+ community and then, if you go one step further, it found that the situation is particularly strong for Black LGBTQ+ people: 61% said they have experienced discrimination from other LGBTQ+ people. The report found that racist language and behaviour leaves already marginalised folk of the LGBTQ+ community feeling shut out and isolated. Testimonies and research into the experiences of people facing racism in the LGBTQ+ community does not lie, and I think the first action to help eradicate it is acknowledging that racism still exists and that it lives within the systems and structures of our society.
There must also be an acknowledgement that racism is not always overt. You cannot always see it. It is not always going to be the most explicit racist language leaving someone’s mouth. Racism exists in policy; it exists in the form of legal oppression, and it also presents itself in the everyday. Everyday racism, everyday micro-aggressions, which is thinly veiled racist language or racial profiling from people. Being LGBTQ+ does not exempt you from being racist or having personally held beliefs which uphold white supremacist ideals.
The LGBTQ+ community must do better at challenging racism whether that be within the workplace, social circles, or family. There are several ways this can be done and there is plenty of information out there on how to do it, but it takes work. Action. It is not easy, and mistakes will be made, but nothing changes or feels easier by remaining passive and ignoring the issue in the hope that it will go away.
Call out racism when you hear or see it. Call people in too. Sometimes you might find you are speaking to one person about something they did or said, other times you could be speaking to several people. If you are posting things online to demonstrate that you’re anti-racist, ask yourself if your actions align with what is in your post. Is your post performative or can you back up what you say because you are doing the work?
You can donate time or money to organisations that support queer, trans and intersex Black people and people of colour, such as the Black Trans Alliance and UK Black Pride. You can fundraise for them too.
Understand what racism actually is and the different types of racism. It can be both intentional and unintentional. But primarily, listening is key. Listen to the experiences that LGBTQ+ people of colour have faced not only now in the present day, but also historically. And as well as learning about the struggle, also learn about all of the amazing contributions that LGBTQ+ people of colour have made to the community. People like James Baldwin, bell hooks, Gertrude Pridgett “Ma” Rainey, Gladys Bentley, Marsha P. Johnson, and many others.
On a personal, and on a professional level, what achievements are you proudest of?
On a personal level I am most proud of overcoming some of the mental health challenges that I had after leaving the police. It was a tough time, and I found the transition from police officer to civilian life quite difficult. I felt a bit lost and was trying to find my place in the world again. It has been seven years since I left the job, and I am so proud of the journey that I have been on and the healing and growth through which I have worked. I also attribute this to some amazing people in my life that have accepted me for me and, without even knowing it, have supported me in stepping into my power.
Professionally, I am most proud of the work I do on a day-to-day basis. I know that I am standing on the shoulders of those who came before me and there will be people standing on the shoulders of mine and others like me in years to come. As hard as the work is sometimes, we are leaving an important legacy. It is hard to pinpoint one moment as there are several, but I am just proud to wake up every day and work in a space that at times is tough and exhausting, yes, but it allows me to be me. And it feels like home.
the lgbtq+ and bame communities have often adopted “anthems” to celebrate their communities and diversity. which are your favourite “anthems” in the lgbtq+ and bame cause?
I probably need to separate these out but one of my favourite Black anthems, as cheesy as it sounds, is Candy by Cameo. Any time you go to a Black event where there’s music and food, this is the anthem that is going to bring the community together, dancing that dance. You know the chorus, you know the words, and the whole thing is just a vibe. It is a feel-good feeling, and this song never fails to make me smile and feel proud to be part of the Black community.
One of my many LGBTQ+ anthems is Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy. I am a huge fan of 80s music anyway, and aside from having one of the most recognisable 80s sounds and a gorgeous melody, it discusses the oppression and mistreatment of closeted young gay men during the 1980s.
What is a typical day in the day of Emma Palmer?
Waking up, hitting the shower, that important first coffee, talking about some aspect of equity, diversity, and inclusion with one or more people, a 5K run and going to the gym. And not forgetting going down Instagram rabbit holes every now and then and sending my friends 10-minute voice notes! (I have been known to leave longer). I would say that is a typical day for me.
Ten years in the future – where would you like the LGBTQ+ community and our allies to be?
Despite the challenges still facing the LGBTQ+ community, there has been progress. However, there are still people struggling for acceptance and equity, and that is the trans community. I would like to see changes to the way trans people are treated, viewed, and talked about. I want the government to act faster and reform the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA), to enable trans and non-binary people to legally change their gender without having to jump through several hoops. Trans people have the right to dignity just like anybody else, but right now there are too many barriers that disproportionately discriminate against trans and non-binary people in terms of accessing healthcare and services.
At a time when identity politics and “culture wars” are the most hostile than they have ever been, I want to see more support from allies about the mistreatment trans people face and stand in solidarity. More empathy and compassion are needed for a community who just want to live their lives and be valued.