As an openly gay man living in one of the UK’s most liberal cities, it’s easy to be lulled into a belief that everything is as inclusive as it seems. As countless peers, co-workers, friends, and family reiterate, the world isn’t as bad as it used to be.
Seemingly dowsed in relief that proverbial temporal clichés portray a world where LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) people are seen as equal members of society, many members of the public, including many of those that do not identify as heterosexual, seem to disregard the UK government’s inexplicably ignorant view of the rights of LGBT people.
To an extent, the people who say the world has changed are right. There have been several seismic shifts towards that, albeit illusive, ideal of social equality. The HIV/AIDS diagnosis is not the death sentence it once was, nor does it carry the same stigma that would have been more potently prevalent several decades ago. The passing of equal marriage legislation in the UK and in several other western states has seen hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples granted the right to marry. Society’s shifting attitude towards LGBT acceptance in much of the West goes a long way to ensuring the community is not faced with the same ostracism it once was.
And yet, the granting of equal marriage is far from being solidified in the public discourse. Accounts of religious skepticism that lead to disputes over cake sales in the USA were early indicators of a predominantly Republican resistance to equal marriage that, over time, has blossomed to maturity in the form of an array of policy augmentations that remove the prohibition on federal contract holders to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and see funding for HIV/AIDS treatment cut and reallocated to conversion therapy programmes aimed at “fixing” sexuality.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to disown the events unfolding in Chechnya are particularly humorous in light of Russia’s strict anti-gay propaganda laws that make even the notion of LGBT equality both illegal and generally unspoken of in the mainstream media. Reports of gay men being rounded up and taken to torture camps in preparation for decimation by the Chechnyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov are mirrored by ISIL’s public execution of a gay man in Mosul last year - with the only discernible difference in the ideological standing towards LGBT people being ISIL’s intention of publicising the gay extermination and Kadyrov’s attempts to spin the events to be nothing more than rumours.
Many members of the public, including many of those that do not identify as heterosexual, seem to disregard the UK government’s inexplicably ignorant view of the rights of LGBT people.
Significantly less barbaric, yet no more acceptable, is Theresa May’s overwhelmingly negative record of voting against LGBT rights of adoption and marriage for the majority of her career. Tim Farron, who recently stepped down as the leader of the Liberal Democrats, recently came under scrutiny for being unable to objectively assert his acceptance for LGBT people; with many citing his religious stance as the cause. Even Labour’s manifesto for the 2017 general election has seen the pace of attempting to induce LGBT inclusivity worldwide slow. Where Ed Miliband’s 2015 campaign proposed the creation of a group whose sole aim would be to influence international law for the better of LGBT+ worldwide, Jeremy Corbyn’s 2017 manifesto was lacking. Albeit small PR mishaps for the Lib Dems and a rushed manifesto for Labour, the general media coverage of the political climate for LGBT rights in this election has been lacklustre at best.
Whether covert political discrimination or outright brutal execution, the attacks on LGBT liberties by those in power depicts the delicacy and fragility of the rights afforded to LGBT people even in the world that isn’t as bad as it used to be. Cases of physical brutality and mental degradation imposed on members of the LGBT community for doing nothing more than existing are, sadly, reflected in many aspects of day to day life in most of the world.
The National Union of Students’ (NUS) 2014 report “Beyond The Straight and Narrow” probed the lives of many young LGBT people in order to gauge their experiences in education in the UK. The report illustrates the lack of security that many young people face as a direct response to their sexual orientation - with four out of five transgender students feeling unsafe on their University campus and one in three being victims of bullying or harassment. Further, the report finds that lesbian, gay, and bisexual students are almost twice as likely to experience homelessness, to take out high-risk payday loans, and to be in large amounts of debt as their heterosexual counterparts. This report depicts that, even in its liberality, the UK still plays host to the lingering sense of inequality that resonates far more than it should with young LGBT people.
With the UK general election spawning a minority Conservative government likely to be propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party’s ten parliamentary seats, many are curious – and reluctantly so – to hear what kind of deal has been struck between the two parties in order to reach the number of seats required to govern. The DUP have a long standing history of creationist, anti-abortion, and anti-LGBT views that have largely played to the disadvantage of progressive legislation being implemented in Northern Ireland – with several attempts to legalise same-sex marriage blocked in recent years. Theresa May’s unique brand of slimy conservatism and the DUP’s sepia-toned, vintage perspective on human rights could, quite easily, cause major disruption to the lives of many women and LGBT people.
It is easy to imagine the potential of how such extreme conservatism could play out: a slow erosion of the values and liberties that have been fought for over the past fifty years, similar to what can be observed in the US; a malignant blockade between the legislative and the executive preventing further implementation of progressive, liberal laws; and the nightmarish vision of some DUP executive declaring the fate of gay politicians as sealed – locked out of democratically-derived power most likely because, even though the world isn’t what it used to be, two men walking in to Downing Street would not exemplify the ideals of the more conservative voters and their retrotopian vision of the 1960s – when nobody was gay or had HIV/AIDS.
One major problem that helps create such views is the lack of LGBT-inclusive education in the UK. Lack of any targeted education for LGBT people, and education for non-LGBT people that teaches of equality and equity, is fiercely overlooked as a strong social barrier between sexual minorities and the majority, and does little to combat ostracism at a young age. The experience endured by many who do not fit the sexual norm in primary and secondary schools is bleak at best. It seems unacknowledged by politicians that lack of inclusive education creates a foundation of partisan knowledge in children that, consciously or unconsciously, creates a bias that will always tend towards the social norm and away from the minority. While not inferring that all conservative views are derived from a lack of LGBT education, I argue that a more inclusive education from a young age could go a long way to helping dilute the views of those who wish to see the rights of LGBT people revoked.
A more inclusive education from a young age could go a long way to helping dilute the views of those who wish to see the rights of LGBT people revoked.
Moreover, the question has to be asked as to whether LGBT people are being properly represented in parliament. While the UK elected a record-breaking number of LGBT politicians on June 8, 2017, it is still viable to assume that little will change with the education system due to the lack of public attention. Politicians talk of societal meritocracy and its intrinsic benefits without acknowledging structural asymmetries that both hinder the potential of young LGBT people and undermine those who have managed to overcome their predisposition, and while we should definitely be championing those who do gain power, we should also be focusing on those who cannot. What about those who are LGBT and severely socio-economically disadvantaged? Is it enough to have representation in parliament without significant attention to the problems that many young LGBT people face?
Regardless, the momentum behind the push for LGBT equality seems frighteningly weak in 2017. It must take appreciation of the problem from both LGBT people and the wider UK populace in order to find an equitable and sustainable solution to liberal rights. While, yes, the world has made many significant movements in the right direction, we seem to be regressing to a state in which rights afforded one day can be revoked the next. It is no longer acceptable to have a government that refuses to speak out and act on the infringements of liberty perpetuated in many of our nation’s allies, and it seems fundamentally regressive to attempt to forge diplomatic ties with nations that still refuse to acknowledge the existence of its gay population.
The world is not what it used to be, but nor is it what it has the potential to be. Times have changed, but they haven’t changed enough. As long as an LGBT person’s fate is decided by anything other than pure autonomy, there is progress to be made. TMM