50.50: Feature

5 things the next Tory leader could do to help LGBTQ+ people

‘We need fair, equal access to healthcare, not a pointless war of words’

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Nandini Archer Maysa Pritilata
12 July 2022, 2.16pm

Pride, London 2022

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Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

With a new government set to be in post by the autumn, advocates say there is a chance for the UK to change direction in its backlash against LGBTQ+ rights.

The leadership race is under way, with candidates seeking MPs’ backing today, and those who do not find enough backers facing elimination tonight.

It has already been marred by a number of candidates making statements opposing trans rights and inclusion.

Non-profit organisation Trans Rescue has told openDemocracy that the UK is a country “in which the situation for trans people is steadily deteriorating, and from which we are seeing a significant uptick in enquiries from those wishing to leave”.

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All the same, it is among the groups and activists who believe change is possible, and say there are (at least) five concrete steps the UK’s next government could take to safeguard the lives and well-being of LGBTQ+ people both here and abroad.

1) Stop the backlash against LGBTQ+ rights 

Every person we spoke to said that, above all, they wanted to see an end to the weaponisation of LGBTQ+ identities.

“They have got to start by calling off the 'culture war' and stop using our lives and our safety as a political football,” said Sasha Misra, director of communications and campaigns at Stonewall.

A More in Common survey this year found that just 1% of Conservative voters listed “the debate about transgender people” as a priority issue facing the country today. Misra said leadership candidates should understand that these “distraction techniques” won’t translate into public or party approval.

“All it will achieve is to compromise the safety of LGBTIQ+ people, while risking cementing the Conservative Party’s legacy as the party that undid decades of progress on LGBTIQ+ rights,” she added.

Liz Barker, a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, told us: “There is a well organised, highly funded campaign, the aim of which is to overturn the advances in human rights achieved over the last 50 years.”

She pointed to how at least one of the Tory leadership hopefuls Liz Truss, had visited US Christian right organisations, such as the hardline anti-abortion, antir-trans Heritage Foundation, who were key in pushing for the overturning of abortion law there last month.

Barker said that, to put an end to these culture wars, the next Tory leader should “reflect on the harm Section 28 did to LGBT people, their families, and the Conservative Party”. Section 28 was a piece of legislation introduced by Margaret Thatcher's government that banned the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authority workers, which in practice meant teachers were not allowed to provide students with representative sex education.

jane fae, director of TransActual and chair of Trans Media Watch said: "To be honest, I think a lot of people would settle, simply, for being left alone,” laying particular blame on what she calls “the utter disgrace that is UK media”.

She calls for a return to Leveson – the public enquiry into the culture, ethics and practices of the press that recommended a new independent body to hold the press to account.

2) Fix the broken trans healthcare system

Kai O’Doherty, head of policy and research at the charity Mermaids – which supports trans kids, young people and families – said: “The next Tory government urgently needs to reframe trans healthcare as a public health issue in dire need of funding, specialist resources and expertise. 

“Years of government inaction has culminated in a crisis point for the UK’s gender-diverse community. Young people face two and a half years' wait for their first gender specialist appointment, there are vast disparities in the quality of care based on where and who we are, and accessing GP support is increasingly difficult.”

They concluded: “We need fair, equal access to healthcare, not a pointless war of words.” 

Of healthcare provision for trans people, fae of Trans Media Watch added: “Looking forward, the picture is even worse, with those entering the system today being told they face waits of ten to 12 years before a first appointment.

“So on the health front,” she said, “we need more resources, less gatekeeping, and better trained GPs.”

3) Stop deportations and end the burden of proof for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers

“The UK Home Office pretends to care about LGBTIQ+ people by covering their social media in rainbows,” said a spokesperson for activist group Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSM) – whose name is a reference to Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, who were active during the miners’ strikes in the 1980s.

“At the same time they continue to tear people from their families and communities through inhumane deportations.”

LGSM is particularly concerned about the plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. Queer advocates told openDemocracy earlier this year the country was not safe for LGBTQ+ people in particular. 

Yet nearly every candidate for the Tory leadership has stated their continued support for the “inhumane plan”, LGSM added.

Sonia Lenegan from the charity Rainbow Migration agreed.

“We know that deportations are harmful to LGBTIQ+ people,” she said. “It was only a couple of weeks ago that the Home Office returned a gay Nigerian to danger. 

“We know that the Rwandan agreement will put LGBTIQ+ people at risk, whether that is here in the UK or in Rwanda.”

She says it may discourage people from claiming asylum to begin with, leaving them outside the system, without status and vulnerable to exploitation. 

Migrant rights group Movement for Justice told us one of the biggest problems it comes across is the so-called burden of proof: that asylum seekers must somehow be able to demonstrate they are LGBTQ+.

“This means it’s up to you to prove you’re who you say you are and that your life is in danger,” said a spokesperson, “which creates a culture of disbelief where asylum seekers are treated as liars from the start.

“For LGBT asylum seekers whose claims rely on ‘proving’ their sexuality it is a particularly gross burden.

“That burden of proof should be reversed.”

4) Implement the LGBT Action Plan and introduce a comprehensive conversion therapy ban

Theresa May’s 2018 LGBT Action Plan promised to “deliver real and lasting change across society, from health and education to tackling discrimination and addressing the burning injustices that LGBT people face”. It included recommendations for a ban on so-called ‘conversion therapy’.

Proposals were based on a large national survey, which found that 5% of LGBTQ+ people had experienced conversion therapy.

When Boris Johnson’s government took over, his conversion therapy ban ultimately excluded trans people. openDemocracy revealed earlier in the year that groups linked to anti-trans lobbying, including the group LGB Alliance, had met with equalities minister Kemi Badenoch to argue against trans people’s inclusion.

Mallory Moore, director of Trans Safety Network, says the next government must introduce a comprehensive ban that includes all LGBTQ+ identities, and should “start reinvesting in resources for abuse survivors, as conversion practices are ultimately a form of abuse.”

Writer and activist Jeffrey Ingold added: “Over the last few years, the Tories have run roughshod over the LGBTIQ+ community, leaving a trail of broken legislative promises.”

5) Address the cost of living crisis for LGBTQ+ people 

A final point noted by a number of the activists and groups we spoke to was the disproportionate impact the impending cost of living crisis was going to have on LGBTQ+ people. 

Ibtisam Ahmed, policy and research manager at the LGBT Foundation, told openDemocracy: “Broader issues – like disability justice, economic and class rights – need to include LGBTIQ+ perspectives because we are all affected by these matters. I say this as a disabled queer immigrant of colour.”

Moore from Trans Safety Network explained: “Trans people are widely discriminated against in employment and educational settings and a large number of trans people live in some degree of poverty, meaning that many of us will be among those hardest hit by the cost of living crisis.”

A survey carried out by the charity Stonewall in 2017 found that two thirds of trans students reported being bullied for being LGBTQ+, while the Trades Union Congress reported last week that a fifth of workplaces do not have any policies to support LGBTQ+ staff.

The LGBTQ+ homelessness charity AKT (formerly the Albert Kennedy Trust) says 24% of homeless young people identify as LGBTQ+. The activists and groups we spoke to wanted meaningful economic support from the government and a genuine understanding of the disproportionate and specific issues faced by their communities. 

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