News Article

Our rainbow celebration to mark IDAHOBiT day

Last Updated: 09 May 2016
To mark this day in 2015 GCHQ illuminated its iconic building with the colours of the rainbow. 

News article - 17 May 2015

17 May is International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. 

In 2014 we raised the rainbow flag on the GCHQ flagpole in Cheltenham for the first time to show all our staff that we value our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) colleagues and are a modern organisation that does not tolerate discrimination in any form.  In 2015 we wanted to make a bold statement to show the nation we serve how strongly we believe in this.

The rainbow flag is a symbol of the LGBT Rights movement, but also of diversity more widely.  We projected it onto our building to show the UK that GCHQ is a place that values diversity; we look for talent no matter what package it comes in.  We have an important role in keeping this country safe.  We need diverse teams to take on this challenge, because we know that diverse teams perform better.  We have developed an environment where individuals can be themselves in the workplace, because staff who can bring their all to work, can give their all to work.  We’ve built a diverse and inclusive workforce at GCHQ that reflects the nation that we seek to protect and we’re proud to show it!

What is IDAHOBiT

IDAHOBiT aims to raise awareness of issues around homophobia, transphobia and biphobia.  It also promotes a world of tolerance, respect and freedom regardless of people’s sexual orientation or gender identity.  It is marked on 17 May each year because on this day in 1990 the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases.  As much as it is a day against violence and oppression, it is also a day for freedom, diversity and acceptance.

The rainbow flag has been associated with the LGBT Rights movement since the 1970s.  

Our Journey

We’ve come a long way to get here.  The rainbow project is a public statement about our pride in our diverse workforce but also a testament to the journey that we have been on.  Up until the early 1990s, being openly gay was a bar to employment at GCHQ.  Attitudes in society and GCHQ have since changed; now diversity is not merely accepted at GCHQ, but is actively promoted in its workforce.

At Bletchley Park, Alan Turing’s efforts helped keep Britain safe in war time but he had to keep his sexuality a secret.  The legacy of Bletchley Park lives on in GCHQ, but today we value the talent of our diverse workforce and foster a culture of acceptance.

When we told Sir John Dermot Turing, the nephew of Alan Turing, about our rainbow plan, he said:  "I am delighted to see GCHQ celebrating its commitment to diversity by lighting its building in the rainbow colours.  My uncle, Alan Turing, made a crucial contribution to the safety of the nation when he worked for GCHQ’s forerunner Bletchley Park during the Second World War but due to society’s attitude at that time he was forced to hide his sexuality.  It is important that his successors at GCHQ today are free to be themselves and therefore bring their full potential and talents to such vital work."

GCHQ Today

Today, we are a modern intelligence and security organisation that continues to keep Britain safe.  These days our workforce reflects the diversity of the nation we serve. We support all of our staff to free their potential, share their skills and view point, regardless of their age, gender, sexuality or race.  We are proud to be an organisation that recognises the strength of our diverse workforce and does not tolerate discrimination in any form.

Robert Hannigan, Director GCHQ, said: "World-leading innovation in technology absolutely requires diversity.  That was true for GCHQ when Alan Turing tackled Enigma for us and it is just as true today.  I’m proud of our diverse and creative workforce."

Being LGBT at GCHQ

GCHQ supports its LGBT staff in many ways.  There is a Pride network which was formed in the mid-1990s following the lifting of the ban of employing homosexuals at GCHQ.  Its primary purpose is to support its membership and any other staff member on LGBT issues and also works with the department to help it achieve its diversity objectives.  Pride runs social and networking events and seeks out career development opportunities for its members, it works to raise awareness of LGBT issues with educational and training events for all staff, and collaborates with other networks across the Civil Service to maximise its impact.

Paul, a GCHQ Pride member said: "It’s great to work in a modern organisation that values people for their talent.  I love that I can be myself at GCHQ and work in an environment where the Turings of today can unleash their full potential. I know our Pride network fully supports this event; it sends a strong message that we uphold the values of the society that we preserve and protect.  I see what’s going on in the world and it really drives me; those who would do us harm do not share Britain’s values.  I can think of a number of intelligence agencies around the world that probably won’t be marking IDAHOBiT."

GCHQ also has a good relationship with Stonewall who we work with in several ways to make GCHQ a world class employer of LGBT staff.  In 2011 we decided to take part in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index which ranks organisations representing over 18 million employees against a wide set of criteria related to LGBT equality and diversity.  We’ve moved up since our first ranking five years ago and are currently placed just outside the top 100 organisations nationwide.  We are using the lessons we learn from the process to drive change and this will hopefully see us reach the top 100 soon!

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Idahot 2015 rainbow