Sunday, 4 June 2017

Exploring the GE2017 Manifestos: LGBTQIA+ Rights

One of the key election areas that really matters to me is that of improving LGBTQIA+ rights in the UK. Too often, when we consider the positive or negative impact on policies on LGBT people, we forget that non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer, agender, intersex and asexual rights lag far behind those of LGBT people. I'm looking for a progressive, positive, inclusive approach from the mainstream parties towards improving rights across the board, and I feel that the manifesto pledges fall a bit short in achieving this. I guess this might be because I'm a massive fan of the Greens approach to LGBTQIA+ rights and their manifesto is truly radical and bold (you can view my analysis of the Green LGBTQIA+ manifesto here: http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/a-bold-wide-ranging-lgbtqia-manifesto.html).

Nonetheless, there are policies and pledges that are worth exploring and analysing:

Labour:
  • Teachers would be given specific training on how to deal with homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools.
  • New Sex and Relationships Education guidance would be issued that would be LGBT inclusive (but no mention of queer,intersex and asexual lesson plan guidance).
  • Labour would make LGBT hate crime an "aggravated offence".
  • Labour would ensure that mental health service cuts would be reversed to help LGBT service users (no idea how they'd improve accessibility to those services).
  • Labour pledges to ensure that frontline healthcare professionals receive ongoing training so that they can better understand and meet the needs of LGBT service users (what about intersex service users?). 
  • Labour will allow the PrEP trial to be concluded in England (and ensure it is concluded ASAP) and then roll out the treatment to all high-risk groups in the hope that it reduces HIV infection rates.
  • Labour would amend the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004 and the Equality Act (EA) 2010 by changing the protected characteristic from "Gender Reassignment Surgery" to "Gender Identity" and remove outdated terminology such as "transsexual" (some trans people refer to themselves as transsexual to separate themselves from the transgender label because they want to be recognised differently because they specifically choose to medically transition).
  • Labour would appoint "dedicated global ambassadors" for LGBT rights.
Lib Dems:
  • The Lib Dems would review SRE in schools, with lessons on consent and LGBT+ relationships (no idea yet as to whether intersex and asexual issues would be discussed in SRE lessons).
  • Companies with 250+ employees would be mandated to publish data on LGBT+ employees.
  • There would be a push to extend the use of name-blind recruitment processes in the public sector and try and get private sector businesses to adopt the practice.
  • The Lib Dems would ask the Advisory Committee on Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs to review the Blood Donation rules for men who have sex with men.
  • The Lib Dems would introduce an "X option on passports, identity documents and official forms" for non-binary, gender-fluid and agender people and campaign to extend the X option across the board, including private sector documents (e.g. utility bills).
  • The EA protected characteristic would change (like Labour) and the GA would be "streamlined", so that people can change their legal gender without "unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles".
  • The Lib Dems specifically vow to remove the spousal veto from the GA "and abolish any remaining marriage inequalities in areas such as pensions, hospital visitation rights (e.g. whether a trans person would be treated in a ward which corresponds to their acquired gender) and custody of children in the event of bereavement". 
  • The Lib Dems will oppose any attempt to "water down" the Human Rights Act 1998 or remove us from the European Convention on Human Rights. 
  • The Lib Dems would ensure that trans prisoners are put in prisons that reflect their acquired gender identity. 
  • The Lib Dems would offer asylum to LGBT+ people fleeing persecution, possible imprisonment, torture or execution on the basis of their gender identification or sexuality and stop them from being deported back to those countries in the future. Detention limits would be put at 28 days and processing times for asylum applications would be speeded up. 
  • LGBT+ mental health services would receive guaranteed funding under a Lib Dem government.
  • PrEP would be made available on the NHS in England as it is already available in Scotland.
  • The Lib Dems want to introduce all-LGBT+ parliamentary shortlists in the future.
  • The Lib Dems commit to increase efforts to try and "decriminalise homosexuality around the world and advance the cause of LGBT+ rights".
Conservatives:
  • The Conservatives have pledged to tackling hate crime that is committed on the basis of "transgender identity" (I'd have written gender identity and expression).
  • The Conservatives would not remove the UK from the ECHR for the duration of the next Parliament and would not make any legislative changes to the HRA (which enshrined the ECHR into UK Law) until the Brexit process has been concluded.
Thoughts: 

At first glance, it's abundantly clear that Labour and the Lib Dems believe that LGBT+ rights do need to be improved in the UK and they are not ashamed to discuss policies to achieve this directly in their manifestos. I have tweeted and chatted to LGBT people who identify as right-wing though who argue that LGBT+ rights have already improved in the UK and that it's better to focus on policies to improve rights more generally. That being said, most I have tweeted are more concerned about getting the Brexit deal concluded than improving the rights of people in the LGBT+ community who may face barriers different from themselves (e.g. if a trans domestic violence survivor is finding it difficult to access domestic violence and abuse services because there are no LGBT+ services in their local area). What is in the Conservative manifesto is very basic; as a minimum I'd expect a commitment to tackling trans hate crime and not destroying the HRA. What many on the Brexit loving right do not always understand is that being a signatory of the ECHR and being able to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights allowed LGBT+ rights to develop across the UK, including allowing openly gay people to service with pride in our wonderful Armed Forces and legalising homosexuality in Northern Ireland (shame same-sex marriage isn't legal yet!)

The manifesto pledges by Labour and the Lib Dems do seem similar, especially in relation to providing SRE guidance for schools, ensuring that LGBT+ mental services are fully funded and providing PrEP on the NHS in England ASAP. The Conservatives have made a commitment to increase mental health funding, with an extra £1bn pledged by 2020/21 and they did mention the need to have mental health first aid training in schools that could help LGBT+ students directly (the Lib Dems and Labour both agree with this policy and mention it directly in their own manifestos). There's also a pledge from both Labour and the Lib Dems to tackle LGBT homelessness. The Albert Kennedy Trust carried out a study  that up to a 1/4 of LGBT young people are homeless in the UK (http://www.akt.org.uk/webtop/modules/_repository/documents/AlbertKennedy_researchreport_FINALinteractive.pdf) and removing the Housing Benefit for 18-21 year olds is going to have a negative impact on them if local councils try to deny access to the benefit to them (although the Conservatives have promised that Housing Benefit would remain available to those who "desperately need" it).  

I'm pleased to see Labour specifically commit to provide funding for training for teachers on how to deal with homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying. It's alright to allow equality organisations such as Stonewall to bring in diversity champions to talk about HBT bullying to students but teachers need to be able to have strategies in place to confront and challenge the bullies and hopefully change their mind towards acceptance and that takes more than a day visit to achieve. The information that needs to be disseminated to teachers is more technical and complex than the information relayed to secondary school students.

An amazing commitment made by the Lib Dems is to specifically help LGBT+ asylum seekers by offering them a guaranteed place of safety in the UK. If a person is fleeing for their life because they fear they could be murdered because they are openly trans, then I believe we as an open and tolerant country should allow them to come here and be able to live a life that's more secure. We should never deport a trans person who would still be at risk of persecution and we should do everything we can to help them adjust to life in the UK. For the Lib Dems, this means allowing "working age" asylum seekers to look for work if they've waited for more than 6 months for their application to be processed, rather than expecting them to have to subsist on benefits. Giving asylum seekers a chance to gain employment to support themselves in the UK is a positive step forward. 

There is of course the issue of closing LGBT+ venues across the UK that some feel needs to be addressed. According to The Gay UK, 100 gay bars alone have closed in London alone since 2000. Now, I'm not sure whether incentives can be put in place to increase the number of gay bars in the UK so that LGBT people have more safe places to go, but Labour have pledged to "set up a national review of local pubs" that's to get to the bottom of why so many have closed and create a taskforce to look into proposing sustainability measures to stop the declining trend. Of course, it may just be the case that because LGBT people are becoming more accepted by mainstream society, they can go into pubs and bars that aren't LGBT focussed without fear of harassment, bullying or being violently attacked. As activists have pointed out, there is still a long way to go to make the UK streets truly safe for LGBT people and also the fact that LGBT venues allow people to meet and discuss and date. 

Whilst the Conservatives mentioned LGBT rights 0 times in the manifesto (let alone queer, intersex and asexual rights) PM May did take part in a Q&A with PinkNews to answer questions put to her by LGBT readers (http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/05/18/qa-prime-minister-theresa-may-answers-all-your-lgbt-questions-ahead-of-the-general-election/) and in the interests of fairness it's important to highlight the pledges PM May herself made during the interview, including:
  • Providing LGBT+ guidance to make SRE lessons inclusive (despite the fact that the Tories voted down an amendment to legislation that would have made LGBT+ inclusive SRE mandatory in all schools and I believe it should be)
  • Not forcing Northern Ireland to make same-sex marriage legal (because she says it is a devolved issue yet she know full well the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) oppose same-sex marriage and vetoed it whilst in government)
  • Raising the issue of LGBT+ rights with the Russian government (I've not heard the Tories being vocal on this) and supporting calls for a "thorough and independent investigation to take place" examining human rights abuses against LGBT+ people in Chechnya
  • Reviewing the GRA, including moving the system away from "medical checks"
  • Signing up the European Convention on Human Rights for another 5 years (which was in the manifesto) and promising the "commitment to equality for LGBT people is unequivocal and will not change" as the UK exits the EU
  • Carrying on with the large-scale PrEP trial in England with £10m allocated over the next 3 years for it (but Labour wants to see the PrEP trial conclude ASAP)
  • Make possible changes to passports and legal gender identity but only after conducting a review of gender requirements on government forms and passports (which is part of the Transgender Action Plan)
  • Maintain the memorandum of understanding between therapists and NHS England to condemn gay cure therapy (but not commit to making it illegal)
  • Encourage local authorities to work with the Albert Kennedy Trust to reduce LGBT homelessness
  • Continue "hosting representatives of LGBT groups and Pride organisers from around the UK at Downing Street".
The question I have for the Conservatives is: why didn't they feel confident enough to mention the review of the GRA in their manifesto? Were they afraid of upsetting potential older Tory voters who may be transphobic or could they not be bothered to mention it? It sends out a very negative message to floating voters who may be active in the fight for LGBT+ rights. Equally, there was no commitment made by PM May to implement the Trans Inquiry Recommendations in full which is disappointing considering Nicky Morgan and the Women and Equalities Committee Chair Maria Miller, both Conservatives, made those recommendations to David Cameron in 2016. 

Another issue that will need to be addressed in time for the next General Election is access of trans people to the voting process. Currently there are a number of trans people who have reported that they were unable to register to vote because their National Insurance number hasn't been updated to reflect their change in gender identity; apparently you need to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) to prove legally you have changed gender before your NI number can be used. However, no guidance can be offered to local authorities on this by the Electoral Commission, meaning that socially transitioned voters feel locked out of the system: (http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/05/21/trans-voters-are-being-blocked-from-registering-in-the-uk/). Perhaps a change in the GRA will allow for these discrepancies to be ironed out and allow for easier GRC obtention.