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Appeal for West Midlands LGBT colleagues to share their story

West Midlands Police are appealing for members of our LGBT policing family - past and present - to share their experiences to help fill gaps in their new museum’s history.

West Midlands recently awarded the contract to convert the old Lock-Up on Steelhouse into a museum to tell the force's story.

Heritage Manager Corinne Brazier says there’s not much information from former and current LGBT+ colleagues about how perceptions within the force have changed over time. Her appeal for information comes as LGBT+ History Month started this week. 

Ms Brazier said: “There has been a massive change in attitudes over the years and people are now more willing to speak about their experiences. We’d love to hear from people who worked with us in the past who couldn’t speak out then but are willing to now.

“It’s an area of history that we don’t have much knowledge about in the museum and we want to put that right.”

Former Sergeant and dog handler Jean Summers has already come forward to share her story and hopes she’ll inspire others to do the same. Now retired, Jean entered into a civil partnership with Sue, her long term partner, in March 2006 and they still live in Birmingham.

Ms Summers says she knew she was ‘different’ from an early age but had no-one to confide in about being gay. She enjoyed working with male colleagues but wasn’t interested in relationships with them.

She’d grown up in Balsall Heath and her uncle suggested the police so she walked to Tally Ho! and asked to join the cadets. She was one of six selected and her cadetship with Birmingham City Police started in January 1967. 

Ms Summer joined the regulars in 1968 and recalls that policewoman were a long way from being on equal standing with male officers. 

She said: “Duties were restricted. Policewomen often had to do roles like school crossing patrol and station telephonist. I remember the impractical uniform. Skirts were never particularly helpful with physical activities. The tiny wooden truncheon and handbag was a bit of a joke!”

Ms Summers remembers once arranging to swap duties with a male colleague at Edgbaston Cricket Ground so she could watch the match. She was enjoying it until she felt a heavy hand on her shoulder. She turned round to find the chief constable staring at her, annoyed! She was promptly sent back to traffic duties.

During her career Ms Summers tried to join the mounted section but there were no uniforms for women. She also tried to join the dog section but was told women couldn’t handle the powerful animals.

Eventually she qualified as a sergeant and was given some wire stripes to slide onto her uniform. These had been made for men and were large for her arms, so kept slipping down. 

In 1974, West Midlands Police was formed and serving Birmingham City police officers were asked to work outside of the city boundary. Jean’s dad had died and her mum was seriously ill which meant she was in and out of hospital. Ms Summers was left solely in charge of the family household and felt she’d no choice but to resign.  

She says: “I didn’t know what else to do. I’d no-one to talk to about my very real personal problems. I was terrified of colleagues finding out because being gay and in the police wasn’t spoken openly about at that time.

“I joined Birmingham City Ambulance Service. At the end of my first shift, I found a note on my clocking-in card. One of the other female ambulance drivers asked me out on a date.

“Some time later, we went to a gay club in Wolverhampton. To my amazement I bumped into several former colleagues. If only someone had talked to me!”

Ms Summers later went back to policing, joining Birmingham Parks Police in 1976, and finally becoming a dog handler, until it was disbanded in 1983.

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