Hal Arnold-ForsterPolicy and Research Analyst
With the 50th anniversary of Pride this year, we examine the current outlook for the LGBT+ community in the UK and the rights and liberties which need advancing moving forward.
There is a lazy and dangerous assumption among many that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia exist on a curve. This curve is thought to slope downwards, with these scourges being eased out of society by the gradual but irresistible shift towards a more inclusive society. Here, there is some inevitable progressive march forward that, bar the odd bigoted individual or two, washes over society and cures it of its ills.
Unfortunately, progress is not inevitable. This is as true now as it has been in the past. The repeal of Section 28, the equalisation of the age of consent or the introduction of equal marriage were all the result of the tireless efforts of LGBT+ rights campaigners – who knew all too well that a respectful and inclusive society was not guaranteed to them.
More recently, the repeal of Roe v. Wade in the United States provides a stark reminder that progress in equality is not guaranteed, as is the protection of existing rights.
Those who have been paying attention in the UK will be aware that discrimination, hate and prejudice against the LGBT+ community have been on the rise in recent years – a trend only exacerbated by the pandemic. Reported hate crimes against the transgender community have increased by 120% between 2016/17-2020/21 and hate crimes due to sexual orientation increased by 99.9% in the same period, per Home Office figures.
The 50th anniversary of Pride in the UK came at something of a crossroads for the LGBT+ community. Many in the sector have suggested that we are starting to backslide, with the UK falling from 1st in 2015 to 14th in ILGA Europe’s rankings of LGBT+ rights in European countries.
Broken promises: conversion therapy
When governments fail to stand strong on their commitments to advance minority rights, it is often the case that powerful oppositions move into this space to spread hate and division. In recent years such pledges include the abandoned promise of Theresa May’s government to reform the Gender Recognition Act, the scrapped LGBT Action Plan of 2018, and most recently the Government’s failure to pursue a ban on conversion therapy that is inclusive of the transgender community.
The progress that we have seen, and the lack of progress that we are now starting to see, were the topic of Chamber’s special edition of Levelling Up the Conversation: 50 Years of Pride. The event featured contributions from:
- Mike Freer MP, former Minister for Equalities
- Baroness Thornton, Shadow Spokesperson for Equalities and Women’s Issuees
- Peter Gibson MP, Vice Chair of the APPG on Global LGBT+ Rights
- Nancy Kelley, CEO of Stonewall
- Jay Stewart, CEO and Co-Founder of Gendered Intelligence
- Chandni Sembhi, Senior Producer at PinkNews (Chair)
Given the extent to which it has dominated the agenda of LGBT+ issues, it is no surprise that the Conversion Therapy ban was a key topic of conversation – with all panelists agreeing that a trans-inclusive ban was essential. This wasn’t a surprise, as according to the Government’s own research, trans people are much more likely to be offered or undergo conversion therapy targeted at changing their gender identity.
Mike Freer MP, who was Minister for Equalities at the time of the discussion said: “It is not secret that I wanted the bill to be entirely inclusive… it is my hope and remains my hope that the bill completes its passage fully inclusive.”
Just nine days after the panel discussion, Freer resigned as Minister for Equalities, saying: “we are moving away from the One Nation Conservative party I joined, not least in creating an atmosphere of hostility for LGBT+ people and I regret I can no longer defend policies I fundamentally disagree with.”
Mr. Freer was replaced by Amanda Solloway as Minister, however with a new Prime Minister to be announced on 5th September, she will not be in the post for long. At the time of writing, only Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss remain in the race to be the next Prime Minister – both of whom back trans-inclusive conversion therapy bans, so there is certainly some cause for cautious optimism. However, after four years of Conservative promises of a conversion therapy ban, it is easy to understand why the LGBT+ sector will not want to get ahead of themselves.
Transphobia in the UK
Given the exclusion of the trans community from the conversion therapy ban, and the use of transgender people as a wedge issue, transphobia in UK political and media discourse was another key topic of conversation for the panel.
Speaking to the hostility towards the trans community in the political sphere, Peter Gibson MP noted that: “I have talked about trans issues to loads of my colleagues who perhaps have different views to me. A lot of prejudice comes from a lack of knowledge, a lack of understanding and a lack of exposure, not meeting trans people and not knowing their stories. Having trans people actually come to parliament and tell their stories will help to break down some of these barriers.”
As was the case 50 years ago for the LGB community, fear continues to dominate the conversation around the transgender community. Jay Stewart insisted that the key to remedying this “is around education and taking the deep polarisation out of the ‘debate’. Shifting away from such a black and white approach, and leaning into the nuances of the conversation will be centrally important to creating a safe and accepting society for the trans community.”
Looking ahead to the next 10 years for the LGBT+ community, the panel agreed that developing a healthcare system that was fully inclusive of the community had to be a priority. Conversations in this area tend to focus on trans healthcare, particularly given the ongoing Cass Review and discussions around the waiting lists for Gender Identity Clinics. It is likely that this will continue to be true, as the recent Women’s Health Strategy published by the Department for Health and Social Care contained no mention of trans women, ignoring the recommendations of the NHS LGBT+ Programme team.
The panel also stressed however that the entire LGBT+ community continue to face a series of barriers in accessing healthcare. In order to meet the Government’s target of eliminating new HIV transmissions in England by 2030, Nancy Kelley stressed the importance of opt-out testing to ensure truly equitable access to testing. Further to this, according to a 2018 report from Stonewall, 14% of LGBT+ people have avoided treatment due to fear of discrimination, while 23% of LGBT+ people reported that they had witnessed anti-LGBT+ remarks by healthcare staff.
However, healthcare is also an area in which there is a lot of promise. Recently, the Government pledged to equalise access to IVF treatment for lesbians, bisexual women and trans people across England, in a huge win for LGBT+ families. Prior to this, some same-sex female couples were forced to pay up to £25,000 on private treatment before they were able to access treatment on the NHS. It marks the long overdue step of acknowledging infertility to be both a medical and a social issue.
Once again, this huge step towards LGBT+ equality was the result of the tireless efforts of dedicated campaigners. Stonewall’s #IVFforAll campaign as well as the legal challenges of fertility equality activists Megan and Whitney Bacon-Evans were centrally important in bringing about this change. Starting a family will no longer be prohibitively expensive for many LGBT+ families, and more couples will be able to live the lives they want to live.
But this, as ever, was never guaranteed. With many Government promises to the LGBT+ community reneged on in recent years, this marks a significant victory.
There is rarely if ever stagnation on minority rights. When the Government breaks promises like these, rights do not stand to still. It fuels the fire of those who wish to roll back minority rights, and creates a space for them to move into. Simply put, if we are not actively moving forward, we often move back.
For further insight into LGBT+ policy and the key challenges today, see Curia’s LGBT+ Commission for more information.
Photo credit: BBC