By Oonagh Monaghan
Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Change takes a long time, but it does happen and that fight for change also needs people behind it to fight for what is right and fair and to end discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. What we need to avoid, is for the change to be a negative and regressive pulling back of hard fought-for rights.
The fight for justice is ongoing and organisations such as Stonewall are integral to social justice and LGBTQ+ rights. Find out more about the history of Stonewall at https://www.stonewall.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/our-history
Recently, the value of Stonewall as a charity has been questioned by the government and in the media. There is substantial pushback against other crucial LGBTQ+ related policies such as banning conversion therapy and the Gender Recognition Act. Stonewall are the leading UK charity advocating for the best interests of all LGBTQ+ people so it is imperative that organisations across the UK support and work with them.
Universities and other institutions within the Higher Education sector can be members of the Stonewall’s Diversity Champions scheme or make a submission to the Workplace Equality Index which is benchmarking tool for employers to measure their progress on LGBT+ inclusion. If this protection is removed there is a potential to create an environment where gender prejudice and transphobic language is justified under the guise of academic freedom.
Summary of the ban conversion therapy consultation
The UK Government has published a consultation to find out what people think about this harmful practice. Their own research shows that LGBTQIA+ people who are subjected to conversion therapy are at higher risk of severe mental health problems including depression, anxiety, and suicide. 7% of LGBT people have been subjected or offered conversion therapy and this is higher for trans and asexual people. Currently the government definition of conversion therapy does not cover suppressing as well as changing sexual orientation or gender identity. There is also a lack of clarity about whether the proposals will protect everyone at risk or how conversion therapy in religious settings will be effectively banned. The proposals are also unclear about gender transition services and it is essential that the law should be explicit that gender transition services, healthcare and legitimate gender exploration therapy are not forms of conversion therapy. More information about the consultation can be found here: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/ban-conversion-therapy
Summary of Gender Recognition Act
The government has been stalling on the Gender Recognition Act for some time. Nancy Kelley, Chief Executive of Stonewall said that ‘the UK Government has fallen far short on its promise to reform the Gender Recognition Act and has missed a key opportunity to progress LGBT equality’.
Established in 2004, the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) came into effect in 2005 and gives trans people the right to change their legal sex on a birth certificate. However, the process to do so has been described as “invasive, dehumanising, and lengthy” according to charity EachOther UK, with applicants being treated as though they have a mental illness. Further details at https://eachother.org.uk/reforming-the-gender-recognition-act/
Most recently the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Caroline Nokes MP, issued a statement which read: “The GRA is crying out for modernisation, and the Government has spectacularly missed this opportunity. The Government’s failure to implement even these changes – made clear in its constitution – suggest its lack of willingness to engage.”
Nokes recommended that the diagnosis of gender dysphoria should be removed by 2023, an action plan of removing the “spousal vito” should be implemented within the next 12 weeks, and that the requirement that trans people need to have lived in their “acquired gender” for two years should be scrapped.
In 2021, the Library Blog post for LGBTQ+ History Month, 2021 focused on LGBTQ+ health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The issues related to COVID are ongoing and at the University of Lincoln, Dr Michael Toze has provided a final update on the project on ‘COVID-19 & Older LGBT+ people’. The Project team have also published journal articles with links on their project Blog.
However, where people think that COVID is affecting some areas of healthcare, particularly mental healthcare for LGBTQ+ people, there are other problems at play in trans healthcare. In 2015-16 the Women and Equalities Parliamentary Select Committee conducted a review of trans healthcare and found that ‘the NHS is letting down trans people, with too much evidence of an approach that can be said to be discriminatory and in breach of the Equality Act’.
Since then, any resolution to the issues identified have not been actioned effectively enough to solve the substantial problems that exist. In fact, there has been a decline in timely healthcare in both adult and children’s gender services. For adults, there are still many barriers to gender-affirming healthcare, particularly lack of access to specialised services. Children referred at age 13 are unlikely to be seen at one of the two Gender Identity Clinics for at least three years due to the long waiting list and many are just referred to adult services because they are too old by the time they are seen. This means that they are unable to receive healthcare which is crucial to good mental health and wellbeing.
In fact, the Good Law Project has filed a claim for Judicial Review against NHS England over its long-standing delays to trans healthcare for both adults and children. Read more at Update: We’ve filed for judicial review in our trans healthcare case – Good Law Project. The case also includes an Expert witness statement from the University of Lincoln’s Dr Michael Toze.
LGBTQ+ History Month is more than rainbows and performative displays of solidarity. It is about celebrating successes and acknowledging the discrimination and barriers that have happened in the past whilst realising that the fight for equality is far from over. It’s about reminding ourselves of injustices that are happening around the world as well as self-reflection on our position in relation to LGBTQ+ rights in the UK. Those that are not directly part of the LGBTQ+ community – it’s about you too. It’s about recognising your privilege and being an active ally.
Also have a look at this guide ‘Allyship to trans, non-binary & gender variant people‘ for tips on being a good ally, understanding gender and use of pronouns.