In this feature Sue Pascoe details her views on LGBT+ rights and today’s issues on inclusivity and the protection of human rights for all individuals.
I’m a life long, traditional One-Nation Conservative, a practicing Christian, a loving parent, a business person and I happen to be a women with a trans past. I’ve been on an incredible life journey full of self-discovery. Today, I live a spiritual and authentic life where I believe in personal freedom and equality of opportunity for all where human rights are for everyone – no matter who you are or whom you love!
This article is a reflection on the last 24 hours in my life over the 9/10th August 2022.
It started with a question from a friend about how I look after my mental health with the current attacks on trans people in the media and sections of the Conservative Party. I responded sharing about the lovely positives in my life within the community in which I live and with my family – plus the charitable and business work I do. I explained how I’m treated very well with respect and dignity by other individual Conservative members and how I think positively engaging with others leads to changes in attitudes towards acceptance. My own credo is to quieten the little critic on my shoulder, focus all my attention on the here-and-now and take the next ‘right step’ in each moment of now, and I don’t go far wrong. It means I fully feel the joy, happiness and yes sometimes despair of daily living, as I found as the day unfolded.
Joy came in the form of receiving flowers from my family which are now glowing beautifully in the sunshine and reading the fantastic statement from the British government to accompany Budapest Pride.
A key paragraph in the statement which matches my British values said:
“International human rights law is grounded on the broad premise that all individuals have the same rights and freedoms without discrimination. We reject and condemn all acts of violence, harassment, stigmatisation and discrimination committed against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics and support the fight against hate speech, violence, and discrimination targeting LGBTQI+ individuals and communities in all regions of the world.”
Later I watched the programme by Tom Daley, our fantastic Olympic diver – who happens to be a gay man with a lovely son Robbie, born via a surrogate in 2018 with his husband – entitled ‘Illegal to be me’. The programme followed LGBT+ athletes unable to either come out safely or live their lives to the full in some parts of the Commonwealth because of draconian anti-LGBT legislation from colonial days -including imprisonment and even the death penalty and stoning. The stories were heartbreaking but the programme centered on Tom’s journey to bring LGBT+ representatives from around the Commonwealth to march with him with the Commonwealth touch, plus six large Progress Pride flags, in the opening ceremony in Birmingham.
When he and his colleagues walked into the stadium with pride and the whole crowd cheered in support, I cried with hope for a better world built on love and mutual understanding and that everyone will be able to feel the joy of being allowed just ‘to be me’.
Tom, his colleagues and the reaction of the crowd in the Inclusive city of Birmingham supported by our inclusive Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, are so inspirational and fully in tune with our modern society, young and old from all parts of our amazing country and the Commonwealth.
My day turned then to despair as I read Suella Braverman’s, the current Attorney General, ‘comment’ article in the Daily Telegraph – released online at exactly the same time as Tom’s broadcast, entitled “Schools should know the law on trans rights” with the overarching description of “Our compassion for children should never blind us to the harm it is possible to do to them by misplaced affirmation”.
As I read the article, which was a mischaracterisation of equalities law and safeguarding principles, encouraging schools to discriminate and indeed victimise trans children and young people, by claiming that their correct pronouns shouldn’t be used by teachers and that they shouldn’t to be able to wear uniforms matching their gender identity. My heart sank as I remembered the harm done by my party to gay, lesbian and bi people growing up through the hated days of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 – which prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality”, repealed in 2003. It took decades to repair the damage, needing an apology from David Cameron and Theresa May trying to eradicate the image of the party being the ‘nasty party’.
Sadly, trust and confidence in the Party, from the LGBT+ community and younger people who have grown up fully accepting LGBT+ people, is once again at a low ebb. In the YouGov poll completed 28/29 July 2022, only 14% of 16-24 year olds indicated they would vote for the party and only 20% of 25-49 year olds. These sort of numbers are not sustainable for the Conservatives.
The next day I listened to Suella’s speech at the Policy Exchange. This went much wider than just trans people and took a big swipe at all our human rights, conflating many issues around deporting criminals, whilst arguing effectively for our rights to be taken away from all of us, or significantly diluted. Then the de facto attempt again to mislead teachers and parents about the laws over gender reassignment was hard to bear. The arguments she put forward where the same as those put forward by the Authentic Equality Alliance, in their attempt to get a judicial review against the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) concerning single sex spaces which the judge at the time described as ‘absurd’ and no judicial review took place. She made claims about ‘biological sex’ when there is no mention whatsoever of ‘biological sex’ in the Equality Act. It is clear, however, that you can’t discriminate against someone because of their ‘perceived sex’ as made clear on the EHRC’s website.
The one saving grace was she confirmed that she had no wish to amend the Equality Act itself, just clarify what she considered as it’s proper implementation in practice. The problem with that is her interpretation is incorrect and the Act has been in place since 2010, it is well tested in the courts and schools and teachers do have good understanding of their obligations – as does Ofsted, the Department of Education and the EHRC.
The EHRC in its Technical Guidance for Schools in England in 2014 described how it is against the Equality Act to discriminate on the grounds of gender reassignment, described as:
“Gender reassignment is a personal process (rather than a medical process) that involves a person moving away from his or her birth sex to his or her preferred gender and thus expressing that gender in a way that differs from, or is inconsistent with, the physical sex with which he or she was born. This personal process may include undergoing medical procedures or, as is more likely for school pupils, it may simply include choosing to dress in a different way as part of the personal process of change.”
The Department of Education, in its Education blog in relation to gender identity said:
“All schools should provide an inclusive environment that allows every pupil to fulfil their potential, whatever their identity or background. Fundamentally we trust schools to know how best to support their pupils. We do not tell them what they should do but we do offer a range of supportive measures to help tackle discrimination. For example, we are investing in projects to help bring an end to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying. Government guidance is clear that schools must tackle discrimination of any sort and this includes where it is because of gender reassignment or sexual orientation.”
Further the statutory guidance for schools and colleges, which becomes active on 1st September 2022, entitled “Keeping children safe in education” says in relation to “Children who are lesbian, gay, bi, or trans”:
“The fact that a child or a young person may be LGBT is not in itself an inherent risk factor for harm. However, children who are LGBT can be targeted by other children. In some cases, a child who is perceived by other children to be LGBT (whether they are or not) can be just as vulnerable as children who identify as LGBT.
Risks can be compounded where children who are LGBT lack a trusted adult with whom they can be open. It is therefore vital that staff endeavour to reduce the additional barriers faced, and provide a safe space for them to speak out or share their concerns with members of staff.
LGBT inclusion is part of the statutory Relationships Education, Relationship and Sex Education and Health Education curriculum and there is a range of support available to help schools counter homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and abuse.”
I have great confidence in James Cleverly, our new Secretary of State for Education, to review any additional new guidelines on this subject for schools with sensitivity and common sense, as I have sat with him on a Conservative Party committee about better engagement with minorities in our party and the country.
My final words are for my party and both of the leadership candidates. Suella Braverman is wrong when she says LGBT+ rights are in some way taking away everyone’s human rights by stealth. She is wrong in saying that creating a hostile environment for trans children and young people in schools and education establishments is a priority for people in the country – it most certainly is not. When people have a cost of living crisis, pandemic-fuelled hospital backlogs, a war in Ukraine and not to forget housing for younger people it just makes any politician or party look completely out of touch with reality.
The Australian Liberal Party (their conservative party) divorced itself from reality in the last election ‘down under’ by majoring on trans rights and softening on climate change commitments and they were swept out of power by Labor. Is that what my party or the new Prime Minister wants?
I think not. So I would advise strongly that human rights are for everyone – no matter who you are or whom you love!