Skip to main content

The Police Service’s Strategic Community Engagement Team (SCET) hosted a Reference, Engagement and Listening (REaL) Event at Newforge, Belfast on 28 February 2023 with representatives from the LGBTQ+ community from across Northern Ireland. 

The event centred on focus group discussions linked to each of the five pillars contained within the ‘Here for You’ Engagement Vision, namely attraction and recruitment, engagement, neighbourhood policing, procedural fairness and local accountability. 

The organisations in attendance were Mermaids NI Service, Belfast Pride, Stonewall, Rainbow Project, HERe NI, Out and About Hikers, Rainbow Refugees NI, Cara-Friend, Mid-Ulster Pride, LGBTQIA United Community and Transgender NI. The Chair of the Northern Ireland Policing Board’s Partnership Committee John Blair MLA and colleagues also joined the event to provide an overview of the role of the Board in relation to the procedural fairness pillar and the work of Policing and Community Safety Partnerships (PSCPs) around the local accountability pillar with ACC Singleton leading a plenary session allowing for feedback on all issues.

This summary document is intended to capture some of the important highlights and potential solutions discussed across the focus groups and plenary session. In broad terms, feedback from attendees at the event indicated that the five pillars contained within the ‘Here for You’ Vision are of particular relevance to the LGBTQ+ community. Each of the five pillars are explored further below spanning a range of interlinking themes and potential ways to improve trust and confidence, including:

  • The need for greater cultural competence across all levels of the organisation, particularly for those officers dealing with members of the community who have experienced hate crime;
  • The importance of methods through which the community can seek to hold the PSNI to account both at a strategic level and locally;
  • The community’s desire for Police to continue to participate in Pride events in a visible way. 

Attraction and Recruitment Pillar


There was recognition that the current challenging financial position for the organisation will result in some very stark choices around service delivery in the coming months; the Service will be able to undertake limited recruitment of new officers on lists from previous competitions during April to June 2023 but beyond this 
there is unlikely to be anything further for some time. This lack of recruitment presents the potential to impact negatively on LGBTQ+ representation levels across the organisation.

  • A common theme across the discussion groups covered the need to place a focus on the internal culture within the organisation with a view to ensuring the retention of LGBTQ+ officers/staff; the role of the LGBT Network in empowering LGBTQ+ officers/staff was highlighted as being an important part of this as “some serving officers/staff from the LGBTQ+ community feel excluded and not listened to”. There was also concern that the Service needs to do more to address this through greater training and cultural awareness at a senior level. 
  • Concerns were expressed around whether the Service would seek to withdraw from the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme with several representatives noting that this would have a “major effect” on the Service’s relationship with the community and do “irreparable damage”.

Actions and Potential Solutions

  • At a strategic level the Service is committed to Outcome 2 of the Northern Ireland Policing Plan around ‘We have Confidence in Policing’ which places a focus on representativeness through indicator 2.3 with measure 2.3.1 highlighting the need to improve this across all ranks, grades and departments by gender, community and socio-economic background. Reporting to the Policing Board currently centres around female officers/staff, Catholic officers/staff and socio-economic background compared to the population but the Service has requested a policy change to this to be reflected in the Annual Performance Plan for 2023-2024 allowing for reporting across a wider spectrum of Section 75 groups in recognition of the increasing diversity in society across Northern Ireland which policing needs to be conscious of when planning outreach linked to attraction and recruitment. 
  • Practical ways to improve trust and confidence within the community in an effort to increase the number of LGBTQ+ people within the Service for the longer-term as 3.26 per cent of Officers and 2.1 per cent of staff identified as LGB in February 2023. Building relationships at a local level, bespoke literature, events and attendance at places considered “safe spaces” for the community would all assist in advance of any future campaign. It is worth noting that the Census 2021 figures were published shortly after the REaL event which found that 31,600 people aged 16 or over in the region identified as LGB+. By location, 4.1 per cent in Belfast identified as LGB+ compared with 1.1 per cent in Mid-Ulster. The figures indicate that Northern Ireland has the lowest percentage of people in the UK who identify as LGB+ with suggestions at the event of being conscious that official figures may not “fully reflect” LGBTQ+ populations in Northern Ireland.
  • The Service internally launched a dedicated Executive Sponsor from the Service Executive Team for protected characteristics including race, disability, gender, LGBTQ+ and community background in 2022 with the aim of creating a collective leadership culture and a working environment where everyone feels valued and supported to play their role in delivering for communities. Assistant Chief Officer Aldrina Magwood now performs this role internally for LGBTQ+ and it may be worth considering further engagement with the ACO on this matter. 
  • The Service is currently conducting a cultural audit with a ‘Your Service, Your Voice’ organisation wide survey recently undertaken to help understand the experiences of those working within the Service today. The survey had a final response rate of over 45 per cent which is the highest of any employee survey undertaken in recent years with a series of workshops and 121 interviews also due to take place with staff and officers. SCET will be able to provide an update to attendees on the outcome of this work on themes relevant to the LGBTQ+ community later in 2023. 
  • The organisation will be moving away from using a range of separate diversity programmes and towards a focus on ensuring the Service’s commitment to creating an inclusive and diverse workplace through one overarching scheme. The Service has partnered with Diversity Mark NI on this. 

Engagement Pillar


  • There was a particular focus on Police involvement in Pride with concerns expressed around whether the organisation would permit officers to participate in uniform at events in 2023 given the need to balance this with similar requests from Officers for other public events. The attendees highlighted that there were two key issues at stake for the community, namely visibility and isolation. The wearing of the uniform shows that the Service is willing to be visible and engage with the LGBTQ+ community. They also contended that the positive implications of permitting Police participation outweighs the negative, adding that members of the LGBTQ+ community “face a daily battle simply to exist for who we are”.
  • Attendees also noted that the community faces a wider discourse in the mainstream media and society that is “toxic”, highlighting that it would send the “wrong message and add to the horrendous environment for LGBTQ+ people” if Police stepped back from participation in Pride. Questions were also raised around the way in which the Service Executive Team will approach any corporate decision on Police parade participation in uniform more broadly, including whether there will be any scope to provide for certain criteria which a parade must meet. The Belfast Pride Board of Trustees would welcome the opportunity to assist the Service around any decision 
    making in this space.
  •  A number of instances were referred to involving officers misgendering individuals and poor communication with victims, particularly in relation to hate crimes. There was a suggestion that the LGBTQ+ community experiences a difference in service between rural and urban areas with a sense in Belfast that they “won’t be taken seriously”. The lack of awareness of LGBTQ+ issues was repeatedly raised within the focus groups, particularly around the transgender community. There is a “fear of being misunderstood” within the Transgender community with instances of “dismissive behaviour” by Officers referenced which have served to undermine confidence across the entire community. In addition, particular concerns were raised around difficulties experienced by refugees and asylum seekers who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Potential Solutions and Actions

  • The Service Executive Team will only take a decision on whether officers are permitted to participate in Pride in uniform at events in 2023 once a request for consideration is received. However, the senior leadership is committed to engaging with those officers and staff who participate in Pride around what it means to them before any corporate decision is taken on the matter.
  • SCET to produce a podcast for internal usage across the organisation about promoting awareness around engagement with the transgender community with the Rainbow Project, Cara-Friend and Transgender NI. This was launched for International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) on 17 May. It is also worth noting that Police officers and staff working in the Public Protection Branch recently undertook CPD training through a number of sessions with Cara-Friend around LGBTQ+ awareness with a particular focus on issues impacting the community and terminology. 
  • The SCET to develop a specific cultural awareness session focusing on Pride ahead of the 2023 events for Area Commanders and District Commanders with the aim of providing the organisations involved in Pride with a better understanding of the Police Service plans for these as well as an opportunity for those in the Service to meet key representatives and facilitate communication in the coming months. This is due to take place on 22 June. This could also create the potential for a ‘debrief’ style session after Pride events to allow for community feedback on the policing style adopted. 
  • The SCET is currently feeding into the development of a broader support package through the Red Cross around education and cultural awareness aimed at refugees and asylum seekers. The team can provide Rainbow Refugees NI and others with the opportunity to provide input in relation to the content around the role of policing in NI as part of this work. 

Procedural Fairness Pillar


  • Feedback indicated the recent publicity locally and nationally around police misconduct has served to impact on confidence across the community. For example, the preliminary report from The Baroness Casey Review into the Metropolitan Police indicated that a range of issues, including overt acts of homophobia by serving officers and staff. Focus group discussions indicated that the Police Service also needs to be seen to be tackling these issues robustly as there is a view that this is a systemic issue right across the UK. 
  • A number of questions were raised around the Independent Advisory Group (IAG)model with attendees describing this as a useful forum in which to engage with the Police Service on issues impacting on the LGBTQ+ community. A range of concerns were expressed over the rationale around the organisation’s apparent move away from the use of IAGs as a method for engaging with the community on a regular basis. 

Potential Solutions and Actions

  • The Service’s IAG was established in 2020 with a Terms of Reference and a Role Description document developed alongside a code of conduct and guiding principles around confidentiality. The Terms of Reference and operating protocols highlighted that the IAG was an advisory body only, designed to provide consultative feedback and be a critical friend, rather than a decision making body. In addition, it was envisaged that membership would be drawn from diverse groups across communities in a way that would be compliant with the Section 75 protected characteristics. The first meeting was held in October 2020 on uniform and corporate identity; further IAG meetings were held during 2020 and 2021 on a number of issues, ranging from EU Exit and Police use of force to funerals linked to COVID-19 and recruitment. 
  • However, a number of issues were raised during that time around transparency, accountability, membership and sustainability due to low levels of engagement from external parties making it increasingly difficult to operate. At a national level it is also worth noting comments contained within the Baroness Casey Review around the Metropolitan Police Service’s use of IAGs which highlights the risk that they can “have the feeling of a tick-box exercise” with too great a focus on “one-way communication”. 
  • SCET to use develop further REaL events in conjunction with the LGBTQ+ community. The Service commits that these will take place at a strategic level every six months at a minimum. These will focus on a range of the issues and will be thematic with the potential to look beyond the five ‘Here for You’ pillars and examine specific issues impacting the LGBTQ+ community and other policy matters, significant incidents and police procedures where appropriate. This will provide a strategic forum for people from across the community to come together and have a positive influence on procedural issues across the Service.

Local Accountability Pillar


  • Feedback indicated a general consensus that the LGBTQ+ groups were unaware of the relevant District and Neighbourhood level Police contacts in their areas. There was a perception that the Service conducts a lot of engagement at a local level through social media with officers not always making themselves visible and accessible to the community in a way that promotes confidence. 
  • Attendees also reported a lack of awareness amongst the community around the work of PCSPs and the need for LGBTQ+ representation on these. There was also reference to the LGBT+ link officer scheme which was previously piloted in Belfast District with the potential disconnect between the Service’s experience of the scheme and the community expectations around what it would deliver. 

Potential Solutions and Actions

  • PCSP recruitment is due to take place in June 2023 with members of the community encouraged to register their interest via [email protected] and providing a name, email address and council area. More information here.
  • NPT officers in Belfast to be proactive around linking in with the Rainbow Project’s new drop-in centre which opened in Union Street on 28 April. In addition, Belfast has a busy LGBTQ+ nightlife scene with a range of bars and clubs in this area. Police to take the opportunity to engage and interact in a visible and accessible way where appropriate with community members to help improve trust and confidence.
  • SCET to plan for the roll out of REaL events at district level in order to consult and involve the views of the LGBTQ+ community on local issues involving District Commanders and other key personnel which will help to further build relationships and improve local accountability.
  • Contact details of the relevant District and Neighbourhood Teams across Northern Ireland can be found here.

Neighbourhood Policing Pillar


  • Neighbourhood Policing was recognised as being extremely important to the LGBTQ+ community and attendees were able to highlight some good initiatives that they had worked on with NPT within various Districts. However, the constant turnover of staff made relationship building very difficult and there was an emphasis put on the fact that good neighbourhood policing is often personality driven by individual officers. More broadly, the attitude of all groups towards neighbourhood policing was that it should be ring fenced as a vital service. In addition, the Hate Crime Advocacy Service was recognised as an important one which should be utilised more by NPT in signposting the community for support if required. 
  • The visible presence of NPT at events was also recognised as important as it helps to make them accessible to communities. A sense was also conveyed that prior to Covid-19, Neighbourhood Officers would have called into LGBTQ+ centres more regularly with a perception that this has declined in recent times. The attendance of non-uniformed NPT to locations housing asylum seekers was also suggested as a good way of engaging with a minority intersectional community. Training for Neighbourhood Officers on LGBTQ+ issues was also highlighted as a way to help improve confidence across those engaging with the community. 

Potential Solutions and Actions

  • Contact details of the relevant District and Neighbourhood Teams across Northern Ireland can be found here.
  • The difficult budgetary situation facing the organisation presents challenges in terms of developing further specific training in the short to medium term. However, the eight Neighbourhood Policing Hallmarks launched in 2022 also provide a benchmark for consistent service delivery across NI. A new Neighbourhood Policing Faculty is also in development through the Police College at Garnerville to be launched later in 2023 which will place an enhanced focus on training around this important specialism.
  • District Hate Crime Champions should engage more proactively with the Hate Crime Advocacy Service. The Advocacy Service has made clear its commitment to being willing to engage with NPTs to raise awareness of cultural issues within minority groups which may assist in the short term.


The Service welcomes the participation of organisations representing the LGBTQ+ community and the Northern Ireland Policing Board in the first REaL event held by the organisation. The Strategic Community Engagement Team conducted a post-event survey which received four responses. 100% of respondents rated the Format and Quality of Focus Group/Plenary Sessions as ‘excellent, very good or good’. 50% of respondents indicated that the LGBTQ+ community finds their current experience of engaging with the Police ‘difficult’ with 25% describing it as ‘easy’.100% of respondents described the ‘Here for You’ Engagement Vision Pillars as being relevant to the LGBTQ+ community and 75% felt that the event was useful for engaging with Police. 100% of respondents stated that they would attend a future REaL event on another topic.

The Strategic Community Engagement Team will endeavour to take forward a number of the points outlined in the potential solutions and actions sections linked to each pillar with further input from the community wherever possible. The team would appreciate any further feedback that participants have on this summary document. We forward to holding another event later in 2023 where organisations will have the opportunity to hold us to account around delivery on these points.