Saturday 29th March 2014 will forever be a wonderful day in the history of our country; the day same-sex couples were finally able to marry each other. It’s a wonderful progression in the struggle for equal rights and I am proud to be from a country that now has such laws. However, while it’s absolutely fabulous, we need to keep in mind that we are not done yet.
Although pretty much having complete legal equality, there remains a huge amount of social inequality in this country. We often hear about the situation for LGBT people around the world in places such as Russia, Uganda and even America (supposedly a free land), but what we don’t hear about enough is what it’s like for LGBT people living in this country. There seems to be an assumption that everything is going to be ok now because we have marriage equality, but let’s remind ourselves that homophobia, transphobia and discrimination are still rife.
I have some real life examples to refer to here. I have personally been barred from a pub in my local town for being gay. The explanation given to me by the manager was that I am a “f**king disgusting queer”. I challenged the barring and kicked up a fuss. It resulted in me being allowed back into the bar but it is something I chose not to do on principle.
The same venue is now under different ownership and has changed its name, but discrimination still exists. I do a lot of work around LGBT community engagement with my local Council and am seen locally as the authority on anything gay (something I have never claimed to be), so I hear from a lot of people about their experiences of discrimination. Recently a gay couple were asked to leave the venue for kissing each other; something which is actually illegal. It has been brought to the attention of the Police but I am not aware that anything has been done about it.
It’s not just an issue with one venue though. When hosting the first Warwickshire Pride festival in the summer of 2013 there was an incident of homophobia when a man called some of the stall holders “f**king queers”. Not too bad, perhaps. But what is bad is that the homophobe then went online to the stall holder’s Facebook page and began to message homophobic abuse to people and threaten them. The criminal offence was again reported to the Police but nothing could be done because it did not come directly from the person who was the victim of the abuse.
A personal friend of mine has received transphobic abuse for a number of years and reported it to the Police on many occasions, even telling them some names of people who were being abusive. Nothing was done about the abuse and my friend continued to live in fear.
It’s situations like this that give LGBT people such little faith in the authorities actually doing something about Hate Crime.
Nationally we have political parties such as UKIP who appear to be anti-LGBT and say some really quite disgusting things about us. The scariest thing about that is the fact that these parties, particularly UKIP, are gaining a following. This will mostly be based on the apparent racist views of the party, but there will be people who agree with the anti-LGBT views too.
In schools homophobic bullying is still rife. I know this first hand as I work with young people and regularly engage with schools in the area, or at least attempt to. Most schools don’t want to hear about sexuality and gender identity issues. You mention the acronym LGBT to them and they go into panic mode as if it’s something they want to avoid discussing. It’s here that the problem lies. I don’t necessarily think it’s down to schools not wanting to tackle homophobic bullying. I’d say it’s more a case of schools not being equipped to tackle it. What’s needed is a big change in the curriculum when it comes toPSHE/RSE
(Personal, social, health and economic education) lessons. Schools must be required to discuss sexuality and gender identity with all students. And to do that I believe all teachers must attend diversity training that includes an LGBT section.
These are necessary things that must happen if there is to be social change in this country. By educating our youth I believe we will find our society becomes more open and discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity lessens.
The Police have a big responsibility too. Hate Crime is seen to be a priority but when homophobic or transphobic crimes are reported there seems to be little done about it. This results in a lack of trust in the Police and puts people off reporting the crimes. What we need is for the Police to better engage with LGBT people and offer some reassurance that reports of Hate Crime will be taken seriously and actually dealt with. The reporting process for Hate Crime itself also needs to be made easier and allow for a third party reporting the crime on someone else’s behalf if, for example, they are too scared to come forward.
I am soon having a meeting with my MP to discuss these issues in detail and ask for his assistance in bringing positive social change locally. It’s a big ask, but I’ll continue lobbying the powers that be until it is a safer and more open society for LGBT people.
I wish all the happiness in the world to any same-sex couple taking advantage of our new found freedom and choice to get married, but please do keep in mind that the battle is not over yet.