DIVA spoke to the new Chair of Stonewall about her experiences in the army and how it shaped her campaigning today
BY ELLA GAUCI
Cat Dixon grew up in the 80s in Hull – a period where being LGBTQIA was full of challenges. She witnessed the onset of Section 28, a series of laws across Britain that prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities. She lived through the HIV and AIDS epidemic. And she was a Captain in the Royal Corp of Signals in the army at a time when it was illegal to do so if you were gay.
Being in the army, she learned quickly that she was not safe to disclose her sexuality to anyone. She watched fellow members be dishonourably discharged, given sexual criminal offences even if they were in consensual relationships, lose their medals, and be imprisoned. If it was suspected that you were queer, you could face daily investigations and scrutiny.
However, when a fellow officer informed on her, she was left with no choice but to leave the army after being threatened with Court Martial. “In a way, I was one of the lucky ones,” she explains to DIVA. “It was incredibly stressful and traumatic to have that hanging over you.”
After she left the army, she knew that she wanted to be part of the wave of change that was campaigning for the ban to be removed. In the 90s she marched in Pride with the organisation Rank Outsiders in her full uniform to protest the continued ban on LGBTQIA people in the army. Eventually, in 2000, the ban was overturned. Stonewall, the LGBTQIA charity, was part of making that change.
Today, Cat Dixon now sits as the Chair of Stonewall and has received a formal apology from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak about the treatment she faced in the army. “Looking back on it you realise how toxic and awful some of that stuff was,” she laments. “You just couldn’t be your authentic self. You had to hide a massive part of who you were. You had to be mindful of everything you said in fear of outing yourself. There’s a massive amount of energy that goes into that.”
After joining the board of Stonewall in 2017, Cat has been part of the huge strides Stonewall has made for LGBTQIA rights. Proud moments include the Rainbow Laces campaign which helped to raise awareness for the importance of LGBTQIA inclusion in sports. Now as the Chair of Stonewall, she is set on making sure that Stonewall continues its legacy as being at the forefront for change.
“There’s a number of areas that we want to focus on. I want to make sure that Stonewall is the strong influential organisation that can really make a difference in people’s lives,” Cat says. “That to me means that we have to be at the heart of that national conversation.”
The Stonewall Back On Track campaign hopes to drastically improve the rights of LGBTQIA people in the UK. One of the key areas Stonewall is focused on is making sure that LGBTQIA people feel safe, and Cat is especially determined to make hate crimes an aggravated offence.
Another key part of the Back On Track campaign is to make sure that all LGBTQIA people have access to the healthcare they need. From young trans people to queer elders to couples accessing IVF, Stonewall wants to make sure that people have readily accessible, safe, and supportive healthcare.
This year Stonewall has been at the heart of the conversation surrounding the government’s delay in banning conversion “therapy”. “It’s hugely disappointing that the government said five years ago that they were going to ban it and they still haven’t. It’s just abuse trying to cure us from who we are, and there shouldn’t be any loopholes in that,” Cat says.
Another initiative that Cat is particularly proud of is the Diversity Champions programme. With one in five LGBTQIA job searchers feeling discriminated against due to their identity, Stonewall is pushing for more inclusive work environments. For Cat, after having to leave the army due to her sexuality, this is so important for the next generation.
“When I came out at 18, I just assumed that I would never be married. A lot of the narrative at the time suggested that if you were gay you would live a lonely life,” she laments.
With the work of Stonewall, Cat hopes that future generations of LGBTQIA people don’t have to face the same level of discrimination that she did.
Cat is currently serving as Chief Executive Officer of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. She is a solicitor and mediator and has served on numerous Boards, and she even holds the world record for the fastest circumnavigation of the world on a tandem which she set in 2020.
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