I never asked to be a poster girl for BDSM. Some just have notoriety thrust upon them.
I’ve been asked to explain the campaign to help me, and any of us who find ourselves in the same position in future.
Long story short. I was sacked for taking two photos – available here ( under ‘latest pictures’, login required; they’re safe for work, the Fetlife site generally isn’t) – and for attending private BDSM clubs a long way off from work. No publicity. At all. Ever.
This is wrong. Obviously. Except to a neanderthal employer. A large, publicly funded employer, who should know better.
I was maliciously reported to the police with wild allegations about clubs I’d attended 18 months earlier.
Because I held a ‘sensitive’ job – along with many thousands of people like nurses, teachers, armed forces, police, care workers etc – my arrest was, quite rightly, reported to my employer.
I’m a social worker, and I think it was quite correct to investigate whether these allegations had any bearing on my work.
But let’s get real for a moment. I am an ‘ordinary’ person, been to a handful of clubs in my life, always taken great care to keep my work and private life separate just like a lot of people, and have done so successfully for 10 years until now. I have an exemplary work record and hoped I had a career for life.
Even my colleagues, police and NHS staff (who had no clue what I got up to in my own time) were prepared to pitch up at my Hearing and say BDSM did not affect my job, which I was good at. My lawyer said this was unusual and encouraging.
My Regulator has now formally said they don’t think my behaviour constitutes misconduct. This ruling (on the Backstory page) is brilliant, as we couldn’t find any similiar cases, so it can now be used as a reference for others.
But my antediluvian employer still sacked me. For the reasons above, which they claimed were ‘substantial’. So I am took them to an Employment Tribunal.
Luckily I had friends & family with some experience of employment issues, who fought my corner. Also luckily, one of the first things I’d done after being released from 5 hours in the cells was call Backlash, because when I was first arrested I had been advised by a duty solicitor that some of my photography could be classed as sadomasochistic; this actually turned out not to be the case at all.
So, as matters moved to more complex isues, Backlash put me in touch with various (vanilla) experts. Mostly lawyers, they helped enormously ‘pro bono’ ie for the public good. Eight in all, covering a number of specialities (Crime, Privacy, Media, Employment, HRA, Psyc etc) and enabled me to shoot down a lot of the original horrified miconceptions about our ‘cowboy & indian’ activities, as they were recently famously described in the High Court.
The real test was the Tribunal. I had to win this. Not just for my own sake but also because like the Regulator ruling it could set a precedent. A positive outcome means employers will think twice before they sack anyone else on similiar grounds, a negative outcome would mean they have something to point to and say ‘ha, we can do that’.
Backlash are publishing what they can after the case, to enable others to use similar arguments, as they have done before in an image test case.
But and this is a big But. It costs money, this legal representation at a Tribunal, so I had to ask people to please make a contribution to these costs, no matter how small.
Anything that can be done I want to do not just for my sake but for anyone else who finds themselves in a similar position. That’s why I continued fighting to try and set an example. Even though I knew that like in a rape case they would do everything they could to try and blacken my character.
Apparently there hasn’t been a test case like this since Laurence Pay (whom I’d like to thank for his help) eventually lost his case to keep his probation job after being outed in 2000.
Attitudes are changing fast – thank you E L James.
To everyone who has advised me, and to those friends that very quietly and confidentially supported me through all the processes, and to all those who have contributed, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can never repay your kindness.
In helping win this case we all won the right to say ‘I helped achieve that’.