Our record on LGBT rights is one of the things that makes me proudest to have served in the last Labour government. The change we delivered during our 13 years in government was rapid and far-reaching and it helped shift society’s view of LGBT people in a way that was unimaginable just a few decades earlier.
Civil partnerships, equal rights to start a family, an end to the Tories’ pernicious Section 28 – all these made a real difference to the lives of LGBT people. They made Britain a better and a fairer place and they only happened because Labour stood up to prejudice when many, including David Cameron and the Tory party, were defending it.
But while we have won lots of legislative battles, now we have got to win the battle for hearts and minds. Homophobia still blights the lives of too many, and nowhere is this clearer than in our schools. Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying is a serious issue. Teachers hear it and pupils endure it, but too often it goes unchallenged, making school a daily misery for children who are already very vulnerable.
The legacy of Section 28 means many teachers just are not equipped to tackle this problem, particularly if they were trained at a time when offering support to a gay pupil could put them on the wrong side of the law.
The harm that this bullying and isolation does to our young people is heartbreaking. Nearly a quarter of young LGBT people and half of young trans people have attempted suicide. And the effect of prejudice and discrimination continues well into later life. The LGBT community has higher levels of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and self-harm than the rest of the population.
The next Labour government will transform access to mental health for the next generation. As part of our wider plan for parity of esteem with physical health, we will promote mental health services for young people who have been bullied because of their sexuality.
We will also ensure that all teachers are equipped to deal with homophobic bullying and can link children up with support. Our plans for age-appropriate sex and relationships education in all state-funded schools will also build positive and inclusive school environments that allow all children to flourish.
The manifesto that we released yesterday will help us complete our journey to LGBT equality at home and fight persecution abroad. With our five promises to the LGBT community, we will strengthen the law on homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crime and commission a review of the law around gender identity, because we need to see much more progress on trans rights. We will also step up to our global responsibility to promote LGBT rights abroad, including by appointing an international envoy for LGBT rights.
The progress that we have made in recent decades has been immense. We need that same ambition going forward to make the rights we have won a reality for every single LGBT person.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
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