McNulty, Ann, Richardson, Diane and Monro, Surya (2009) Mind the Gap: putting sexualities equalities policy into practice in local government settings. In: Social Policy Association Conference: Policy Futures - Learning from the Past?, 29th June - 1st July 2009, Edinburgh, UK. (Unpublished)

The presentation outlines themes emerging from an ESRC-funded exploration of the impact of recent UK policy changes on the field of sexualities equalities work. The two and a half year research project involves cross-cultural comparison of the Welsh, Northern Irish and English situations, in the context of ‘interesting times’ in local government, driven by the current modernisation agenda.

The project has involved Action Learning Sets, each of which provides an opportunity for professionals working in the area of equality and diversity to share action-planning and exchange peer support and encouragement in a time-limited group. Action Learning Sets have been successfully completed in Wales and the North East of England, and will be underway in Northern Ireland and the South of England by early summer 2009. In addition, in-depth interviews have been completed in two case study areas, and will have been conducted in two further areas by summer 2009.

The requirement that every council produce a policy in relation to protecting people from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is forward-looking. An emerging theme, expressed in interviews and Action Learning Sets by people with responsibility for implementing policy in local government settings, is the tension between looking forward and moving the agenda on, and the backward pull (on the part of some) of discriminatory views and resistance to change.

Interim findings suggest that initiatives aiming to implement sexualities equalities policy are spread unevenly across authorities, despite an overarching national legislative and policy shift. In areas where positions of resistance are held by some politicians and/or constituents, policy officers and practitioners can feel nervous and potentially disempowered. Even where the principle of equality in relation to sexualities is soundly embedded in local policy, it may not always be easy to effect change.

The project builds on existing research and the findings will contribute to ongoing policy debates concerning sexuality, citizenship and local democracy, and also to the development of commissioning frameworks for local strategic partnerships.

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