LGBT History Month is not just about being proud of our past – it is about carrying the torch for the future, writes Jack May
We have come an extraordinarily long way in the expansion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community’s rights and acceptance; the sacrifices and efforts of those who came before us are vital and must be remembered and respected; we must never forget – as Chechnya, Bermuda and others show today – that rights are never totally secure and must be continually defended against intra- and international onslaught.
One thing LGBT History Month does allow us to do, however, is be proud of our political achievements – the advancements that have been made in the face of consistent, small-minded, spiteful opposition – and even when it has not always been the most politically advantageous thing to do.
It is with that in mind that we must remember and broadcast Labour’s achievements on LGBT rights as widely and as forcefully as we can.
Many of the key members of the Homosexual Law Reform Society, which lobbied for the implementation of John Wolfenden’s report’s recommendations to decriminalise homosexuality, were Labour members and politicians; the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 was passed under a Labour government; Tony Blair’s government equalised the age of consent within its first term; the Civil Partnership Act gave same-sex couples equivalent rights to married heterosexual couples in 2004; the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, which recognised same-sex couples as legal parents of children born via donated sperm, eggs or embryos, was passed under Gordon Brown’s premiership; legislation in 2000 allowed LGBT people to serve openly in the armed forces; the third term of the New Labour government saw the Army, Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force allowed to march in gay pride parades in uniform; the legal right to change gender was granted in 2004; the employment equality regulations of 2003 protected LGBT people against unfair treatment in the workplace; the Sexual Orientation Regulations of 2007 outlawed discrimination in provision of goods and services based on sexuality; and, of course, after a long struggle, Section 28 was repealed in 2003. Stop me if you must – I could go on.
Simultaneously, it is a reflective time, and one where we can be honest about our failings. New Labour’s 13 years of majority government did many wonderful things (re-read the last paragraph), but they failed to introduce same-sex marriage – even as countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain managed to, LGBT-inclusive, compulsory sex and relationships education was something that government failed to include in its extensive school reforms, and progress on trans awareness and rights for trans people continues to lag reprehensibly behind.
Crucially, a month of looking back on the past must necessarily involve looking ahead to the future, both in holding to account those with their hands on the levers of power, and in being clear about what we would do to advance rights and inclusion if we had that power.
The Conservatives must be called out for their shameful political games when it comes to LGBT people. Though David Cameron formally apologised for the party’s actions on Section 28, their heavily trumpeted introduction of gay marriage must be exposed for what it is – a crude piece of legislation designed for PR branding as much for genuine social progress. While the partial introduction of same-sex marriage must of course be welcomed, it should not be forgotten that Northern Ireland was left out and the fact that the state church was totally barred from performing such ceremonies was a foolish mistake. While it may be the case that individual priests should be free to refuse to officiate same-sex marriages on the grounds of religious freedom, banning the entire institution from performing them was a sledgehammer approach to policy. Labour must pledge to go further.
Crucially, too, our history tells us that LGBT people need more than just legal rights – we need the political support and social change to back them up and push them further. Many of the legislative hurdles have been crossed, and while Labour’s platform must include comprehensive plans to break down the final barriers (including making life easier for transgender people, and removing the Church of England bar on same-sex weddings), the fight now is on inclusion and support.
The fact that homeless people are disproportionately LGBT cannot be right, and the fact that trans people are vastly more likely to commit suicide – and LGBT people more generally are vastly more likely to have debilitating mental health conditions – cannot abide. Labour must look to these battles to keep bearing the torch as the party on the side of LGBT people.
Jack May is a Progress columnist, writer and editor. He tweets at @JackO_May
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