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Britain’s intelligence agency, MI5, has come top in the Stonewall Top 100 Employers list, despite maintaining a ban on recruiting gay people as recently as 1991.

The Independent reports that MI5 agency has more than 70 gay men and women working in areas including counter-terrorism, a dedicated LGBT social network and an annual conference for gay staff together with Britain’s two other intelligence organisations, MI6 and GCHQ.

In spite of the ban on recruiting gay people being lifted, it was not until 2008 that MI5 began taking advice on how to be more inclusive from Stonewall, the charity which campaigns for the equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in the UK. They first appeared on the list four years ago.

The Stonewall Top 100 Employers list ranks more than 400 companies, based on the Stonewall Equality Index, which reviews employment policy, culture and the views of staff, from how comfortable they feel disclosing their gender identity at work to whether they have visible LGBT role models.

The MI5 chief, Andrew Parker, said: “Diversity is vital for MI5, not just because it’s right that we represent the communities we serve but because we rely on the skills of the most talented people whoever they are, wherever they may be.

“This accolade from Stonewall is a great acknowledgement of the continued progress we have made over recent years in ensuring we draw on the widest possible pool of talent in our vital work.”

Ruth Hunt, the Stonewall chief executive, said: “MI5 have made fantastic strides in creating an inclusive workplace. This is an amazing achievement and demonstrates just how seriously diversity and inclusion is taken.”

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