Sunday, 9 April 2017

LGBT+ Conservative Policies....More Progressive Than Right Wing Voters Expect?

Is it possible to be trans and politically Conservative? It's a question that I've grappled with for quite a while. Almost everyone who reads my blog knows that I voted for a Conservative MP at the last general election but also voted for Labour councillors. Some have asked me how on earth can it be the case that someone can vote for two parties at once at the same sitting. Well that's in the nature of being a political independent. The fact was that in May 2015 I thought that my local council had enacted amazing policies for residents but that I didn't have confidence in the national leadership to enact policy changes. David Cameron seemed like a dependable chap and I trusted him to finally try and defeat the narrow minded far right conservativism practiced by the likes of Philip Davies, Jacob Rees-Mogg et al once and for all over Europe. Unfortunately that strategy didn't pan out as intended. The EU referendum promised by Cameron delivered the result Remainers on the centre didn't want. My local MP Karl McCartney showed himself to be not just an arch-Brexiteer who'd sacrifice our ties with the EU on a whim but also rather far-right wing when it comes to social and environmental policies. I had to really bite my finger when Xing the box because of his stance on same-sex marriage particularly. You see Lincoln has been a bellwether swing seat since the 1974 General Election when a young Margaret Beckett was elected for the first time. Most constituents here are politically independent and like to make as informed a decision as possible rather than be swayed by sentiment alone. Since I started writing the blog and talking to people in Lincoln, I've realised that there's always more we can do as individuals to inform ourselves politically...to the point where now I couldn't countenance putting my X next to a Conservative candidate who so openly backs Brexit and draconian social policies. You live and learn.

Anyways in the interests of fairness (since I've written about the Lib Dem and Green LGBT+ policy platforms....don't worry Labour, you're next) I should cover the Conservative LGBT+ platform too. So here it goes:
  • Conservatives remain steadfast in their commitment to allowing same-sex marriage to take place in the UK (although they haven't been 100% clear on their position regarding SSM in Northern Ireland; I am 100% supporting the Yes Equality campaign. DUP should not be allowed to block the implementation of SSM anymore).
  • Conservatives state their "Plan For Britain" is helping to increase job opportunities for LGBT+ people in the UK by taking the steps needed to grow the economy, including increasing funding for apprenticeships through the Apprenticeship Levy and introducing T-Levels alongside A-Levels for those LGBT+ students who want to gain skills in hairdressing, construction etc.  
  • Conservatives argue that the £8bn extra for the NHS will help LGBT+ people, despite the fact there's no indication whether any portion of that spending is going on funding for Gender Identity Clinics to help reduce astronomical waiting times for initial assessments.
  • Conservatives have helped to deliver the Alan Turing Law, contained within the Policing and Crime Act 2017 which has pardoned 50,000 gay men since its implementation, including Oscar Wilde. Those who had consensual sex and were wrongly arrested now have their criminal records deleted.
  • Conservatives have toughened laws on hate crime, pointing out that murderers of trans people will now automatically receive a life sentence.
  • Conservatives pledged to invest £2.8m in schools to help them tackle homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in September 2016. A further £0.6m has now been allocated according to Lord Nash (2nd Feb 2017) with the Government partnering with 6 organisations including Stonewall to deliver training. Lord Nash anticipates the training will start to be delivered in 2017 (http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2017-02-02/HL5200).
  • Conservatives launched a "Sports Charter" to help the UK "stamp out homophobia and transphobia in sport" in June 2011. (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/85484/sports-charter.pdf) Key sporting organisations including the FA, Rugby Football League and Rugby Football Union were founding signatories but work still has to be done on getting grassroots organisations fully compliant with equality legislation, including clarifying the laws on participation and gender-neutral facilities.  
  • Conservatives launched a study pilot for 40,000 men who have sex with men (under the age of 45) to be vaccinated against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Findings from the trial are expected to be released in November. However, the Welsh Government has now decided to offer HPV vaccine for all gay and bi men under 45 who attend GUM sexual health clinics.
  • Conservatives recently announced measures to help improve HIV care, which includes ring-fencing of the public health budget until 2019 and a review to help improve commissioning of HIV services.
  • Conservatives have stated previously that they have stopped the deportation of asylum seekers fleeing homophobic persecution (although this is rightly disputed by numerous charities) but deportation stoppages should be fully extended and include those fleeing persecution on the basis of gender identity. Facilities at detention centres need to include gender-neutral bathrooms where appropriate and staff must have mandatory training on gender identity issues so they can help fully support non-binary, gender-fluid and genderqueer asylum seekers.
  • LGBT+ Conservatives and members of the LGBTTory organisation continue to state their intention to lobby their MPs to help overturn the Spousal Veto in the Gender Recognition Act.....Karl McCartney, hope you pay attention to your LGBT+ colleagues but not holding my breath.
  • Nicky Morgan, former Women and Equalities Minister introduced a 10 minute private members' Bill last month which has called on MPs to protect trans businesspeople from having their former name disclosed by the Registrar of Companies; the bill is an attempt to close the loophole existing between the Companies Act 2006 and the Gender Recognition Act 2004 so that names of Directors of companies can be withheld because disclosure is not in the public interest.
As you can see, the policy platform is relatively compact (others would say ideologically constrained). The Alan Turing Law is certainly welcome and there are gay and lesbian activists who still continue give the Tories credit for passing the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2014 (despite the fact the Lib Dems took the lead originally on this). However, far more needs to be debated LGBT+ rights wise within the Tory party. For example, what is the Conservative policy on Intersex rights? Are they committed to stopping intersex children from being mutilated by doctors who "choose" their sex for them for non-medical reasons. Are the Conservatives committed to ending transphobic conversion therapies? Are the Conservatives interested in amending the Gender Recognition Act to make it possible for non-binary, gender-fluid and genderqueer people to legally amend their gender without needing a "Gender dysphoria" diagnosis? Are the Conservatives going to introduce the X legal gender marker on passports as Stonewall has advised and the Lib Dems have taken on as part of their main party platform? Are the Conservatives committed to a review of the Equality Act 2010 so that all gender identities and sexualities are considered protected characteristics, including intersex as a separate protected characteristic? Are the Conservatives committed to introducing LGBTQIA+ age appropriate Sex and Relationships Education, with lessons on gender identity and sexuality included as a main part of the National Curriculum and to be delivered without fail in faith schools to help continue to foster a culture of openness and tolerance? Are the Conservatives going to allocate specific funding to help improve waiting times at GICs by increasing the number of GICs, recruiting more sexologists and specialist nurses and allowing those who do not want to be medically diagnosed to self-define their gender? Will Jeremy Hunt open a review into how NHS England treats trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer and intersex patients? Judging from what I've read, I really can't figure those answers out at the moment....and I can imagine my local MP joining that "well known" champion of equality Philip Davies in saying "Nope" to many of those questions I've just asked. So much for the Conservatives being the party of equality and inclusion, eh!

Notwithstanding legitimate questions about the future direction of party policy, especially with Brexit having taken over much discussion time, I couldn't imagine how difficult at times it must be to be a self-confessed open Tory and openly LGBT+. When political views do become polarised, it's easy to be subjected to stereotypes. However, there are LGB Tories who have been making a difference policy wise and culturally. They include:
  • Stuart Andrew MP for Pudsey, Horsforth and Aireborough who is the Vice-Chair of the All Parliamentary Group on HIV & AIDS, a backbench group of MPs who try and come up with solutions to help the 100,000 people living with HIV. The APPG recently released the "HIV Puzzle" report which has called for appropriate commissioning of HIV prevention and testing in every local authority to prevent  new cases and to give more clarity on NHS England's responsibility for commissioning PrEP and the upcoming 2017-18 trial. Read more here: http://appghivaids.org.uk/node/206
  • Ruth Davidson MSP for Edinburgh Central and leader of the Scottish Conservatives. She is pro-faith schools, being a member of the Church of Scotland and is also pro-same-sex marriage. She's worked as a news journalist, presenter and a documentary film maker.
  • Justine Greening MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields is Minister for Women and Equalities alongside her position as Secretary of State for Education. She is Anglican and in a happy same-sex relationship.
  • John Cope, a fellow Yellowbelly and a senior policy advisor is the current Vice Chairman for Policy. He is the director of the Education Policy Institute and is passionate about increasing Conservative presence at national Pride events.
Yet there are also trans activists who are proudly Tory and have made somewhat of a difference to social conservatives' understanding of gender identity. Trans activists like Zoe Kirk-Robinson have helped to raise awareness of the unnecessary bureaucracy surrounding the Spousal Veto and has given testimony to the Ministry of Justice and drafted a bill on it during her time as Vice Chairman for Policy for LGBT+ Conservatives (2014-15). Zoe has been a councillor for Westhoughton North and Chew Moor since May 2015 and co-founded T-Vox which is a vital trans* and intersex support network used by trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer and intersex people around the world. If you ever need to talk to someone, you can here: http://t-vox.org/.

So if you like the policy platform that's been offered by the Conservatives or you're a Conservative activist who is gender non-conforming or considering coming out, LGBT+ Conservatives might be the organisation for you. You can join them here: https://www.lgbtconservatives.org.uk/join-us.