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 are activists who 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.
Also read about 10 Jews who are inspirational LGBT activists.
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 said. “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 encumbered a huge difficulty. And certainly even more so in some quarters of the Jewish community,” said Sherwood.
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 churches a much more inclusive place,” Nash remarked.
“People want to find an LGBT-friendly place where they can be themselves. Where they can actually go with their partner and introduce their partner as their partner. They shouldn’t have 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 did come to the group. But they always feared that someone might see them. However, things have settled eventually,” 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. They manage a team of social workers who help families across Sussex. They also provide 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. This includes installing a rainbow-zebra crossing for the 2014 Pride in London and 48 LGBT crosswalk lights around Trafalgar Square. He also introduced a rainbow bus and taxi service in London.
“I was very lucky that I worked for a forward-thinking company like TfL,” Loukes said. “They actually supported my ideas. They probably thought I was a little bit crazy at the time. But then, at the same time they realised that we should be doing a little bit more in this space.”
Loukes did have his difficulties. The rainbow crosswalk turned into an 18-month project and forced him to go through many committees for approval. Approval got easier and easier with every new idea.
“I 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.
Written by: Delshad Master