The Fight For LGBT+ Equality: why we are still far from being an inclusive nation

As a human race we are diverse. In 2016, the UK had an estimated population of 65.6 million yet there is still no accurate measure for the proportion of people self-identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT+).

The Office for National Statistics opened a consultation earlier this year to ask if questions about gender and sexual identity should be included in the next Census in 2021 – which is not saying they will be.

“Many people would claim that being LGBT+ in this day and age is easier than it ever has been,” says Tom Carr, UK Safeguarding Lead at the World Youth Organisation, “but with the resurgence of right-wing politics, many people see this as a reason to attack or outcast LGBT+ people.”

So, for anyone who asks ‘why don’t we have a straight Pride?’, here are a few reasons why the fight for equality in the LGBT+ community is far from over. Homosexuality has only been decriminalised in the UK for 50 years; one in four people across the world say those in same-sex relationships ‘should be charged as criminals’; being gay is still illegal in 72 countries, and punishable by death in six, and only 25 countries allow same-sex marriage.

Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are still prevalent in the UK, and earlier this year LGBT+ charity Stonewall released shocking new statistics surrounding anti-LGBT incidents. The research highlighted a 78% increase in hate crime against lesbian, gay and bisexual people over the past four years, rising from 9% in 2013 to 16% in 2017.

Even more worrying is that 33% of LGB 18-24 year olds have experienced hate crime in the past 12 months, climbing to 56% for trans youth. Talking about Stonewall’s research, PC Andy Sudbury, Coordinator for the Derbyshire LGBT+ Network, says: “It’s shocking that hate crime figures are still as high as they are. However, on a professional level, it is refreshing that victims feel that they can trust the police enough to report these crimes and incidents.”

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Karen Cooke, Organisational Development Manager and Chair of Enfys, the LGBT+ Staff Network at Cardiff University, echoes the positive step forward but adds caution. “I do believe we have created an environment where victims are encouraged to report, though we must not become complacent, we must continue to work together effectively.”

While changes are happening in the fight for equality for the LGBT+ community, Tom believes there is still a lot more that could be done – starting with education. “Issues need to be tackled early by effectively providing education and including LGBT issues in the school curriculum.”

Education from an early age has been widely discussed inside and out of LGBT+ circles. Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which stated that local authorities “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship,” was eventually repealed on 18 November 2003.

Since then, the Terrence Higgins Trust’s SRE (sex and relationships education) campaign has achieved a major step forward. Faced with research showing that 97% of young people aged 16-24 think SRE should be LGBT inclusive, the government has committed to ensure SRE, including LGBT, is delivered in all schools in England by 2019.

“Education at an early age helps to highlight to young people the differences in others,” adds Andy. “Young children have an innocent view on same-sex relationships, but by the time they get to secondary school, where they learn about this, they have already formed opinions learned from their families and the media, which aren’t always positive and it is more difficult to change negative opinions.”

But it isn’t just education that can help in the fight for equality. Karen argues for a “multi-agency approach, which is led by organisations like Stonewall. Even more powerfully, it needs to be led in partnership with our straight allies at all levels, across all sectors, be that government, the police, local councils, private sector organisations and the education sector.”

One of the biggest changes in the last five years has been corporate involvement in Pride events held across the UK each year. London Pride 2017 had sponsorship deals with corporate heavyweights including PlayStation, Tesco, Barclays and Starbucks, to name a few. Though this visible involvement comes at a cost for some members in the LGBT+ community.

Stonewall ‘LGBT in Britain: Hate Crime and Discrimination’

  1. 21% of LGBT people have experienced a hate crime in the past 12 months after due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  2. 81% of LGBT+ people didn’t report their hate crime to police.
  3. 41% of trans people have experienced abuse because of their gender identity in the past 12 months.
  4. One third of BME people have been a victim of hate crime based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in the past year compared to 20% of white LGBT+ people.
  5. 1 in 6 LGBT+ people have been discriminated while visiting a café, bar, restaurant or nightclub in the past year.

Source: YouGov poll of over 5,000 LGBT+ people www.stonewall.org.uk/sites/default/files/lgbt_in_britain_hate_crime.pdf

“I feel like the original purpose of Pride has been forgotten and instead, has been replaced by a drink-fuelled street party,” says Tom. “Corporate sponsors are needed to provide financial security to hold these events, but it is up to the LGBT+ community to remember why Pride is held.”

Karen also believes this, saying she remembers attending London Pride in the 90s and “feeling that we were really making a political statement. I think if we can get some of that back across the UK it would remind people that the fight isn’t yet over.”

On the other hand, Andy argues that “having huge companies associated with Pride can only be a good thing. These events help to promote LGBT+ awareness and inclusivity. Even now, when our LGBT+ communities have more rights than ever, there is still ignorance and a lack of understanding, often resulting in hate crime and inequality. A number of LGBT+ people live in isolation, and an event like this gives them a place in society and a voice.”

It’s clear that small battles are being won in the fight for equality but there is still a huge amount to achieve – media representations, marriage laws and tackling mental health in the LGBT+ community. But as Tom succinctly ends on: “We’re all a little bit stubborn, so we’ll continue to wear our rainbow laces with pride!”

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