Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Stonewall School Report 2017: What Needs To Be Done To Make Our Schools Truly LGBT+ Inclusive

This morning there was the release of Stonewall's 2017 School Report, research that had been conducted by the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge. The report provides a vital snapshot into the experiences of LGBT students, with 3,713 participants having responded to
an online questionnaire covering areas such as language, wellbeing and mental health and Internet and Social Media use. The School Report indicates that there has been improvement in schools tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying: the percentage of HB bullying has decreased from 55% in 2012 to 45% in 2017 and 50% of students hear homophobic slurs "frequently" in the classroom environment, which is down from 70% in 2012. However, the percentage of students who have experience transphobic bullying remains worryingly high, with 64% of respondents stating that they had been bullied on the basis of them being openly trans. 57% of non-binary pupils have also stated they were being bullied for being open about their identity. The question is, how do schools help to create an environment that is truly inclusive, where teachers, support staff and students feel comfortable enough to be open about their gender identity and sexual orientation and whether students have the awareness needed to act as responsible global citizens who are tolerant and respectful of differences?

HBT Bullying and Language:

It's pleasing to see that some progress has been made towards address HB bullying; 70% of LGBT+ students have said that their school has openly stated that HB bullying is wrong, a massive increase from 25% in 2007. However, only 41% of students reported that their school had openly stated that transphobic bullying is wrong. This is unacceptable and there needs to be a change in attitudes in schools that makes it clear that transphobic bullying under any circumstances is wrong. In order to explore why I believe it is wrong, I feel it's necessary to reflect on my own experiences whilst at secondary school in the early and mid 2000s.

I was extremely lucky to attend the Priory LSST (now The Priory LSST Academy) that had an inclusive culture in place which included a zero-tolerance attitude towards bullying of any kind. I did experience name-calling  (the usual gay being used as a slur, camp hand gestures because the pitch of my voice was higher than others in the year, being called he-she/fag/tranny etc) on a systematic, weekly basis from a group of specific individuals but because I wasn't openly calling myself trans non-binary at the time, I didn't feel I experienced any specific name-calling and bullying that directly targeted my gender identity at the time. I now realise that they were bullying me because of aspects of my identity and I didn't deserve to be subjected to it. You are who you are. I was personally afraid to be open about my feelings because I thought I'd been perceived as "mad" by my friends but the signs that I didn't perceive myself as being male were there: I'd never take my vest off in the changing rooms for fear of being stared at by my peers and I always felt uncomfortable being referred to in the third person or as a "boy", insisting they use my name instead. I always insisted on playing a female role in Drama lessons and whenever I created my own characters, they were always female. I have met friends who are non-binary who carried out similar actions at school without explicitly coming out as non-binary. It may have been because the words "trans" or "non-binary" were never used at school and my parents never used them at home either. Instead my Mum always referred to me as "different" and just loved me for who I am.  Again, that's me being fortunate and lucky but it's still sad to see that 40% of respondents to the survey say they can't speak to a parent about LGBT+ issues.

The name-calling I've described above was on top of the name-calling I received due to my short stature and the way I moved due to my dyspraxia (a disability affecting hand-eye coordination). For example, I was regularly called "Colleywobbles" because of the way I walk (my feet are misshapen and face outwards as result of how my feet developed whilst I was at primary school). The School Report figures have revealed that disabled LGBT+ young people are more likely to experience HBT bullying than non-disabled LGBT+ ones (60% as compared to 43%). This is not acceptable and teachers need to support disabled students who are bullied for both being LGBT+ and for their disability. That means reiterating that they are available to have confidential conversations and take action against the bullies as soon as possible, making good on the commitment they have made openly. You see most of the teachers at the school reminded us that we could confide in them privately if we had been name-called on a systemic basis but I never felt I could talk to them fully about my gender identity or sexual orientation because no action was ever taken to rebuke HBT bullies. That in addition to there being no teachers and support staff who openly discussed their gender identity or sexuality in the classroom made me feel as if I'd never be understood and helped in any other way than academically. I was always speaking to my teachers before and after class but this was almost exclusively on academic issues- whether I could make a good teacher when I finished my education, whether Henry VIII really loved Anne Boleyn, whether 2+2 =4 etc etc. I never spoke to them directly about the bullying I experienced as a result of my disability because I don't think many of them knew what the definition of dyspraxia really was and adding my feelings of gender dysphoria into the mix, it made me a very shy but supposedly "gifted and talented" child. The School Report shows that students still feel wary about talking about the HBT bullying they experience: 45% of students say they've never told anyone about the bullying, with 63% stating that "it's not easy to talk to anyone". With teachers not talking about LGBT+ issues, I'm not surprised at these figures.

What was effective at the Priory LSST was the  "anti-bullying champions" Prefect system, created to help foster a zero-tolerance culture against bullying in all its various forms. Such champions (drawn from Year 9 through to Year 13) would befriend and hang around with Year 7-9  students who may have been perceived as "different" by others and be open to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. I remember an instance of homophobic bullying that occurred in an English lesson where I walked in on a group of three (rather nasty) Year 10 boys picking on my fellow Year 8 friend, calling him a "pansy", a "nancy-boy" and a "groper", falsely accusing him of having touched one of them on the bottom. It turned out that aforementioned Year 8 friend had tried to get past the boy in question and his schoolbag happened to brush past him, making contact. A Year 11 anti-bullying champion happened to be in the vicinity of the classroom and stopped the boys from gesturing and name-calling, managed to get some initial witness statements from those in the classroom and informed the teacher promptly when he arrived. Luckily the Year 10 boys were the only ones to end up facing punishment (I later heard they'd been given detention for a week) and they were made to apologise to my friend for their behaviour. So you see, anti-bullying champions can really make a difference to the school environment and the more of them that are trained in having the confidence to help LGBT+ students, the better; the School Report reveals that only 41% of LGBT+ students had seen their peers intervene to stop HBT bullying which is still more than the 22% of students who had seen teachers intervene.

I realise my school's attitude towards HBT bullying in the early 2000s seems rather proactive in hindsight. I've spoken to LGBT+ friends whose school experiences involved sustained stalking, systematic abuse and harassment and in one case, sexual assault. The School Report states that 7% of LGBT+ students have been the victim of physical bullying, with trans students twice as likely to be a victim than LGB students who do not identify as trans (13% compared to 6%). Any physical act of violence shown towards a LGBT student should be recorded, with the perpetrators removed immediately from the classroom and reported to the police if the act has resulted in the LGBT student sustaining injuries (i.e. a crime). Perpetrators should also be appropriately disciplined, whether that involves detention, temporary suspension or exclusion. Schools must be a safe environment for all pupils, including those who openly identify as LGBT+. The School Report shows this is not yet the case: 19% of LGBT+ students stated that they do not feel safe at school, 9% of trans students stated that they have received death threats whilst at school, 3% have experienced sexual assault and 4% have been threatened with a weapon. That shocks me to my core. Why is it the case that students feel emboldened to threaten their trans peers (open and not) with knives or sexually assault them?

Attitudes need to change amongst the teaching establishment as a whole. Teaching unions are leading the way in encouraging teachers to support their trans students and headteachers need to make it crystal clear that teachers have a duty to tell their students openly that transphobic bullying and language is wrong in any context. Not addressing transphobic language, attitudes and bullying when students are at secondary school does lead to those students entering the working world still believing such attitudes are acceptable when they are not. Transphobic discrimination in the workplace is illegal under the terms of the Equality Act 2010 (protected characteristic of "gender reassignment surgery" applies to employees who are intending, are perceived as intending or going through such surgery) and if a transphobe has committed a criminal offence, they may be prosecuted and convicted of carrying out a hate crime (Parliament has passed legislation in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 that means that offenders can receive tougher sentences if prosecutors can provide evidence of that offender having hostility towards trans people). We want to reduce instances of transphobia in society in general and teachers and support staff need to play their part in this.

I'm concerned to read in the School Report that teachers and support staff are not routinely challenging HBT language when they hear it in the classroom; 68% of respondents say they've very rarely or never heard their teacher "sometimes" challenge those students who are using HBT language. Teachers and support staff must have the confidence to explicitly state the language is wrong and if they do not believe themselves that the words being used ("tranny", "fag/faggot", "he-she", "shim" etc are are wrong, they desperately need to go on a diversity training course as part of their Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to learn why those words cannot be condoned in any form and if they can't get to grips with that, they genuinely need to question whether the teaching profession is right for them when they feel they cannot protect all students within their classroom. Enough of bigotry and enough of silent acceptance. Stand up and support your LGBT+ students.

A zero-tolerance approach across the school environment to HBT bullying is essential and headteachers should review their bullying policies to ensure that they are fit-for purpose. Headteachers could discuss their policies with organisations such as Stonewall and take on-board suggestions made. They must also ensure that all teachers and support staff at the school sign up to the policy and promise to implement measures when they observe HBT bullying in the school environment. If teachers fail to take necessary action and refuse to take part in attending training courses, disciplinary procedures must followed and if teachers are found to participate in HBT bullying in any way, disciplinary procedures must be enacted as soon as the report has been received. Headteachers must explicitly state that transphobic bullying and language use is wrong. The School Report reveals that in schools where this has happened, trans students are less likely to worry about bullying and more likely to report it and are twice as likely to "rarely" or "never hear" transphobic language at school.
Most importantly, headteachers should openly support LGBT+ equality; only 19% of students said they'd heard their headteacher talk about it. Part of supporting LGBT Equality is to encourage the setting up of LGBT+ group for students that meets once a week to allow students to socialise and to discuss the issues that affect them. A representative from the group should be on the school board to discuss the concerns raised with the headteacher. The benefits of the group are that LGBT+ students are more likely to feel part of the school community and are having their concerns addressed. There's no extortionate expense to setting up the group and it can actually lead to real change in the culture of the school environment. That can only be a good thing.

Accommodating Trans and Non-Binary Students: 
I think it's essential that schools take a positive approach to helping students who have disclosed to them that they are trans and non-binary:

  • student confidentiality must be respected; I'm happy to read that when trans students disclose their status to teachers, 75% of them ask about how best to support them but it's not acceptable that 19% of trans students have stated that their teachers did not respect their wish for anonymity. No teacher should disclose a student's gender identity without permission because such disclosure could lead to them becoming subject to bullying. The choice to publically disclose is the trans student's alone. 
  • teachers should have a basic idea of when to signpost trans and non-binary students for further advice and support: 60% haven't been provided with any advice and guidance, such as which organisations they can speak to (Mermaids is one dedicated organisation that all trans and non-binary students can be referred to). 
  •  trans and non-binary students should be allowed to use the bathroom or changing room they feel comfortable using; if a student has openly disclosed their status and have indicated which bathroom and changing room they wish to use, they should be accommodated wherever necessary and dispel any stereotypes being perpetuated by students (e.g. a pre-op trans female student isn't going to flash their penis).
  • trans and non-binary students should be referred to by their preferred name and pronouns, with registers being updated to reflect this; 33% of trans students report that their school keeps using their dead name rather than their preferred name.
  • trans and non-binary students should be able to wear the uniform they feel comfortable in; 20% of students are still being told they cannot wear the uniform that reflects their gender identity. 
These 5 actions need to be taken if schools are to be truly trans and non-binary inclusive.


LGBT Teacher Recruitment: 

There is far more that educational establishments can do to try and reduce instances of trans bullying; for example, incentivising the recruitment and retention of trans and non-binary teachers in state-maintained schools would help provide a number of positive role-models for students to identify with, regardless of their own gender identity or sexual orientation. The report states that there are no figures for students who knew trans members of staff in school; it's bad enough that only 4% of respondents to the School Report knew they had an openly bi member of staff in their school! Bi and trans visibility in the teaching professions remains stubbornly low, with graduates being put off pursuing a worthwhile career because they feel they may be openly discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Universities who run PGCE courses and schools participating in teacher training programmes should proactively counter and challenge the narrative that schools are not trans and non-binary inclusive and reach out to LGBT+ societies on campuses to encourage students to consider volunteering in schools to explore teaching as a viable career option. I would have dearly loved to have become an English and Philosophy teacher but I found it very difficult to find a volunteering opportunity after I graduated in 2010 to gain the necessary experience needed to have a chance of having my teacher training application approved and I don't want other trans and non-binary graduates who have achieved the necessary qualifications to go through the same experience.

Sex and Relationships Education:

The School Report findings back up recommendations made by organisations such as the Terrence Higgins Trust that Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) is needed in schools that is at least LGBT inclusive (I'd like it to be non-binary, queer, intersex and asexually inclusive too): 40% of respondents revealed they are not being taught anything about LGBT issues at school, 76% haven't learnt anything about bisexuality in school and 77% have not been taught about gender identity and so have no idea what being "trans" means. Only 20% of LGBT students overall and 10% of faith school students had been given any advice and guidance on same-sex relationships. 13% of LGBT students have been taught about healthy same-sex relationships and only 20% of students have learnt about consent in same-sex relationships. 17% have learnt about violence or abuse in relation to same-sex relationships. Given that the primary duty of an educational establishment is to impart vital information to students so they can appreciate the diverse world in which we live, the fact that students are still leaving school without any understanding of gender identity, healthy same-sex relationships, consent and domestic abuse and violence is quite frankly shocking.

It is important that SRE guidance provided to schools is appropriate, written by SRE experts with input from LGBT people to inform lesson planning. Whether SRE would be delivered by the same teacher who has responsibility for Personal, Social, Health and Economics Education (PSHE) or whether it will be a teacher with a background in social sciences or the Arts is not yet clear. I would love for there to be a specific PGCE pathway to be created that allows for applicants to train in PSHE and SRE as their main specialism but embedding SRE into existing PGCE and teacher training programmes could be a way of ensuring teachers are equipped to teach the subjects when required to do so. I'd rather foster a passion for SRE and PSHE; if teachers are engaged with the subject material, they can impart that information in a lively and enthusiastic way and students may be more likely to retain the information years afterwards.

Current PSHE must include the basic information on LGBT+ issues; it's embarrassing that some students are leaving school with no idea that gay, lesbian and bi people can get married (58% of respondents said they've never been taught about same-sex marriage or civil partnerships).

Another aspect of the School Report that concerns me about the current curriculum is that only 20% of LGBT pupils are being taught about safe sex in same-sex relationships. There is an argument put forward that teachers do not have the time or the resources available to them to be able to teach their students about all forms of safe-sex. At my secondary school we received no direct sex education that was LGBT inclusive (hence why I had no idea that trans people existed) and the only sex education we did receive was delivered in a half-an-hour Biology video in Year 9, a series of worksheet based lessons that followed on from that video and a Year 11 hour lecture delivered to the whole year group with the instructor talking about how to put a condom on the banana. Not very instructional or reassuring (good job I haven't shown much inclination for sexual activity anyways!) I believe that sex education in schools must include helpful information on same-sexual intercourse free from judgement. It's embarrassing that young people are being left to learn about same-sexual intercourse online and are being taught that it shouldn't be talked about; silence is sending out a signal that same-sexual intercourse is still "wrong" when in-fact it is far from being wrong.

However, having strong SRE and PSHE provision isn't really enough. The National Curriculum as a whole should have a focus on LGBT+ acceptance and encourage students to take an interest in LGBT+ issues and admire LGBT+ role models. Only 25 of LGBT students reported that they had discussed LGBT+ issues in English or Geography. Embedding LGBT+ awareness into PGCE courses beyond the Equality and Diversity requirement is key. Why not talk about Lord Byron as a bisexual in English Literature lessons? Why not celebrate Alan Turing as a gay role-model in Science lessons? Students in GCSE Religious Studies lessons already learn about marriage and divorce and various religious and ethical views on sex, so why not devote a lesson to discussions of gender identity, with reference to a range of religious views (OK some of those views are far from accepting but they have been openly stated-e.g. Pope Francis talking about the "ideological colonisation" which is nonsense btw)? Discussions about gender identity should take place but in a respectful manner. The individual responses quoted in the report which talk about positive experiences of embedding LGBT+ issues into the curriculum speak for themselves; Sadie mentions that she discussed work by Oscar Wilde and Audre Lorde whilst studying A-Level English Literature; how amazing it would be if engagement with LGBT+ authors, poets and playwrights happened at Key Stages 3 and 4?

Wellbeing and Mental Health: 

We need a comprehensive approach to help deal with the mental health crisis affecting our LGBT+ students in schools. The name-calling that I received systematically from my bullies in the early years of secondary school (it fizzled out by Year 10) made me feel anxious and worried about being truly myself. I remember numerous school days which ended with me coming home, running to the toilet, locking the door and crying for an hour or two wondering what I'd done to deserve such bullying. There were days when I didn't want to go to school to face my bullies and I'd be happy whenever I happened to have the flu or vomiting bug because it meant I didn't need to attend and listen to their vitriol. Yet anxiety is unfortunately not the only mental health condition experienced by LGBT+ students. It's not right that 84% of trans young people who responded to the School Report have self harmed and 45% of them have attempted to commit suicide. The figure for LGB students self-harming is at an unacceptable 61% with 22% attempting suicide. It breaks my heart as an equal opportunities activist to read these figures. No young person should ever have to feel ashamed of their feelings or their identity to the point where they are cutting themselves with razor blades and planning to end their own lives. Labour have a specific plan to help these students, which involves ensuring that every school in England has access to a counselling service, the number of mental health professionals including specialist nurses increasing and the number of school nurses increasing too. The Conservative Minority Government, propped up by an openly homophobic, biphobic and transphobic Democratic Unionist Party have shown very little inclination to make the counselling service immediately available to schools, which I think is a great opportunity missed. PM May promised to protect LGBT+ people in the UK if she were to retain her premiership during the last General Election campaign Pink News interview; she now needs to prove that her words are worth more than the computer they were written on. That means providing investment in school counselling and pushing forward with plans to make mental health services more accessible to young people who are self-harming. Organisations such as Mind and the LGBT Foundation have specific programmes in place to help LGBT young people; for example Mind has their online Elefriends community which has currently 50,000 members who help each other talk about their condition free from judgement and if a similar scheme were to be brought in specifically aimed at 12-18 year olds and curated and monitored by trained professionals, it may help them discuss their mental health in an open way. All teachers should be trained in mental health first aid by headteachers signing their schools up for the "Mental Health First Aid" programme and school nurses should be aware of how to help LGBT+ students with specific health concerns. Schools should liaise closely with Childhood and Adolescent Mental Health Services so that students have access to the specialist support they need as quickly as possible.

Social Media: 

65% of LGBT+ students believe that social media companies would not tackle abuse or remove HBT content when it had been reported by them to those organisations. Young people are spending increasing hours accessing social media content and I believe that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have a responsibility to carefully filter and curate the content with offensive posts being removed as quickly as possible after being flagged. Whilst I accept that it is inevitable that young people may come across HBT abusive content whilst online (97% of respondents have seen such content), taking robust and quick action when the content is reported might increase confidence and trust in online platforms which would be a positive outcome.

There is a problem with Social Media trolling at the moment and I believe that it needs to be addressed in a robust, comprehensive and rigorous manner. 40% of respondents to the survey indicated that they had been a direct victim of HBT abuse carried out by trolls, including 58% of trans respondents. With digitalisation has come new forms of abuse and it's worrying to read that 6% of LGBT+ students have been photographed or filmed without their consent and 3% of students have had social media accounts created by abusers pretending to them to get them into trouble. 75% of students who have been bullied online did not reported the abuse to the platform. That demonstrates a lack of trust in online platforms to tackle HBT abuse.  I also believe trolls need to be blocked from accessing the platform entirely if evidence has been found to indicate sustained stalking and trolling of young people's social media accounts, with them being reported to the police for appropriate action to be taken.  Stonewall has recommended that social media platforms consult with organisations to improve their reporting procedures but I also believe that clearer signposting needs to be made available online to victims of HBT abuse and bullying so they access the help and support they need emotionally to deal with the after-effects of that abuse; you'd think in 2017 that Facebook would be able to send a message to victims that had details of organisations such as Stonewall or the NSPCC given that they already have online websites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts with contact information on.

We must also beef up Internet Safety lessons in primary and secondary schools at all key stages within the National Curriculum further so that students gain the confidence needed to report content and trolls because they understand it is part of keeping themselves safe whilst online. Such lessons would also protect LGBT+ students from becoming victims of abuse online perpetrated by padeophiles. The Dare2Care campaign, established by Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham and Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities has a recommendation within their National Action Plan that calls on teachers and support staff to be given training on a regular basis so they have up-to-date knowledge and awareness of new online platforms, apps and trends. If we are to help LGBT+ students, the training provided as part of a teacher's Continuing Professional Development must be fully LGBT+ inclusive. That may mean the Department for Education commissioning organisations such as Stonewall and Mermaids to design specific courses to help deliver content directly to teachers and other educational professionals; LGBT+ people should be involved in the creation of content to ensure it is truly fit-for-purpose and can give teachers some ideas that they can implement in their own classrooms.

Conclusion: 

The School Report 2017 findings have shown that there is an urgent need for schools and educational establishments to look at their plans, processes and systems to ensure that they are truly LGBT+ inclusive, especially for trans, and non-binary students. Teachers and support staff must continue to have access to training opportunities so they can increase their awareness of LGBT+ issues and develop strategies to help students in their classrooms on an individual basis. Headteachers need to openly talk about LGBT+ equality, take a firm stance against HBT bullying and encourage the setting up of LGBT+ inclusive groups. Schools should work with local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services to allow LGBT+ students access to counselling. Signposting should be available to students so they can access advice and guidance from organisations such as Mermaids and Stonewall. There should be a drive towards encouraging more trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer and agender graduates into the teaching profession. The National Curriculum should be embedded with opportunities to discuss LGBT+ issues and role-models.Most importantly of all, SRE needs to be introduced that is truly LGBT+ inclusive. If I was the Secretary of State for Education, I'd be asking for the creation of a SRE curriculum that can be delivered in all schools and mandating that it will be delivered in faith schools, with lessons already built in addressing LGBT+ issues. Perhaps that may one day be the case. For now we have to make do with the rather wishy washy promise to provide guidance to state-maintained schools and hope that individual schools openly choose to have discussions around safe same-sexual intercourse and gender identity. I only hope the School Report shocks schools into action so they can truly be an inclusive and nurturing environment for ALL students, where they can be open about their gender identity and/or sexual orientation and respected for their openness. 

Monday, 12 June 2017

General Election Result 2017: How could it affect LGBTQIA+ Rights in the UK?

It looks like we're going to have a Conservative minority government in place backed up by an openly anti LGBTQIA+ rights party (the Democratic Unionists) for the next few months at least and I for one am wondering what this will mean for LGBTQIA+ people, especially trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer, intersex and asexual people in the UK. As I have mentioned on my blog (http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/exploring-ge2017-manifestos-lgbtqia.html) the Conservative manifesto itself was very short on ideas, with the only direct mentions of LGBTQIA+ being a commitment to tackle hate crime on the basis of "transgender identity" (why not gender identity and include non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer and agender people in this promise?) and expanding the UK's global efforts to "tackle the perpetuation of violence against people because of their faith, gender or sexuality."

Prime Minister May was making promises here there and everywhere during her Pink News interview to try and entice LGBTQIA+ voters to back the Tory party at the polls, including supporting a "thorough and independent investigation" to examine human rights abuses against LGBT people in Chechnya (after I suspect being pressured into it by other party leaders and MPs; for example, Sarah Champion, the Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities wrote to PM May on 21st April 2017 to call for an urgent UN investigation). It remains to be seen as to whether a Tory minority government held to ransom by an openly anti-LGBTQIA+ rights DUP would push ahead with such calls, let alone look at a comprehensive review of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004. I remain deeply sceptical as to whether any progress will be made at all to improve LGBTQIA+ rights on the two policy elements included in the Tory manifesto, let alone on the pledges that PM May made in the Pink News interview. Can we really trust PM May when she says that a review into the effectiveness of the GRA could lead to the scrapping of the need for medical diagnosis? Conservative MPs in the main rarely show support for such a policy because it doesn't register highly on the list of priorities. Tory activists keep telling us trans and non-binary people that we should be thankful for the progress that's already been made, as if all we cared about was the legalisation of same-sex marriage or the pardoning of LGB people. I voted for a progressive vision for the UK, not one that stands still and wallows in a sea of utra smug complacency. If the vote tells MPs anything, it should be that young people especially do not believe that there is much for the Tory government to be complacent about. Change is required and it needs to take place sharpish.

The DUP is certainly anti-LGBTQIA+ rights and they have never voted for any legislation to improve LGBTQIA+ rights. There are the well-documented comments of Ian Paisley Junior, who said that he was "repulsed by gay and lesbianism" back in 2007 as well as the party's involvement in the despicable "Save Ulster from Sodomy" movement but there are certain aspects of their and there are certain aspects of their policy platform that should alarm LGBTQIA+ people; for example they  have unashamedly backed a "conscience clause"  which would guarantee any religious conservative legal protection from openly discriminating against LGBT people in a public environment, which is completely against the provisions of our own Equality Act (EA) 2010. I will never support any attempt to bring in legislation that will allow employers to discriminate because their conscience tells them to treat applicants differently on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation. There's likely to be very little movement  blood donation ban for men who have sex with men either whilst the Conservatives remain dependent on the DUP (they want to retain the blood ban). I want to see the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs conduct a review so that the case can be made to remove the blood ban in its entirety in the near future but I doubt the Conservatives are brave enough to conduct that review. Shame.

Gender Recognition Act 2004 and Equality Act 2010:
There's no doubt that the Gender Recognition Act needs urgent reform; in the last Parliamentary term the Conservative government announced that there would be a review into the GRA, with Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Women and Equalities way back in July 2016 stating that she understood that disclosing "traumatic details of past surgery" was distressing and that trans people were being treated "as if they had a mental illness." The review that has been proposed is meant to be looking into ways of moving the GRA process from "medicalised questions" to "self declaration". I've not heard more on this since July 2016 and there's been no progress on other promises that were made by Nicky Morgan before the current Secretary for Women and Equalities, Justine Greening took over. I argue that there must be a firm commitment to at least reviewing the Spousal Veto with a view to removing it; there is no need for it to exist in law and there should be a review of rights so that couples with a trans or non-binary partner have the same access to pension rights and the custody of any children in the event of bereavement as the Lib Dems suggested in their manifesto.

Non-binary and intersex people should not need to prove their status to gain access to neutral gender markers for all appropriate legal documentation, including passports. Legislating for this isn't going to lead to the direct erosion of other people's' gender identities or human rights. So I really do not get why the Tories will not take a progressive stance and implement legislative reform now. I think that unnecessary requests for gender information should also be reduced on official documentation wherever possible.

We also need to see positive action with regards to amending the Equality Act. I can no longer see any logical reason to delay the substitution of the protected characteristic "gender reassignment surgery" for "gender identity", especially given the fact that the Government plans to amend the EA to include protection for those with mental health conditions anyways. I'd also like to see intersex people be specifically protected under the EA with the protected characteristic "intersex" being added to the list. There must be a commitment to banning unnecessary sex assignment surgery on an infant or a young child (i.e. when it is not done for health reasons) and in fact I agree with the Green Party's LGBTQIA+ manifesto suggestion that conducting such surgery should be made a criminal offence. Young intersex people should have the right to determine their own sex and engage in surgery if they have given their explicit consent. There definitely needs to be more training given to NHS professionals to help them support intersex patients and encourage intersex activists to work with healthcare professionals and be part of patient groups to help formulate training materials to help facilitate discussion. Extending legal protection against discrimination to non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer and intersex people is essential and reforming the EA will lay the groundwork for this. I hope the Conservatives are brave enough to commit to at least some of the suggestions outlined above.

The Tories did commit to conducting a study to "measure the size of the UK's population" in July 2016 but I wonder what the direct benefits of capturing this data would be; would it convince them that they need to expand gender neutral bathroom and changing room facilities, for example? There's also the question of whether a government obsessed with Brexit will be interested in analysing the results of the study to help them improve their policies. Labour on the other hand may take on board the results of the survey and add policies in as appropriate; if they want to increase their vote share amongst younger voters I'd say that it would benefit them greatly if they bring in more nuanced policies that can deliver equality for trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer and agender people.

NHS: 
I still believe it is essential to boost funding for sexual health services in England, especially to continue fighting HIV stigma. Sexual health clinics (Genito-urinary medicine services) need to receive funding so that specific advice and guidance can continue to be offered to young people embarking on same-sex experiences for the first time. According to an article "What do cuts in sexual health mean for patients?" written by Ruth Robertson from The Kings Fund in April 2017 (https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/blog/2017/03/what-do-cuts-sexual-health-services-mean-patients), funding for sexual health clinics through the public health grant given to local authorities fell by 6.7% during 2015/16 and cuts have been planned up to 2020/21. However demand has been increasing (new attendance rates increased from 1.6m in 2011 to 2.1m in 2015) and there was a survey conducted by the Kings Fund which found that patients who have symptoms related to a Sexually Transmitted Infection were waiting more than 48 hours to be seen by a professional. The current expectation is that the public health budget ringfence will be removed by 2019/20, meaning that local authorities could face tough choices regarding GUM funding; whilst a comprehensive STI testing and treatment service needs to be in place (thanks to a mandatory law from 1916), other services such as family planning or the provision of free contraceptives may be reduced dramatically.

With regards to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) provision, it appears that there has been no progress in England. Caroline Lucas, Co-Leader of the Green Party and MP for Brighton Pavilion has highlighted the fact that despite NHS England announcing that a PrEP trial would be set up 6 months ago, no such trial has materialised. The Tories have set £10m aside for the trial to take place over the next 3 years and claim that they will wait for the results of the trial before making any decision RE PrEP availability on the NHS but this may not happen until near the end of a full-term Conservative minority government, if at all.

There's been no open discussion about how to improve NHS training for GPs so they have a framework of best practice to help them better support trans patients and there's certainly no plans under a Conservative government to review trans healthcare provision more generally. We need more Gender Identity Clinics to respond to increased demand and help reduce waiting times and we need more specialist sexologists and nurses to staff those new GICs. There's also no plans to review how non-binary, gender-fluid and genderqueer people are treated by NHS staff, which is rather disappointing. There should also be an attempt to safeguard trans patient hospital rights so they can be treated in the ward which corresponds to their acquired gender whenever possible (another great Lib Dem manifesto suggestions).

Finally I believe there has to be a commitment from the Tories to ensure that mental health services are properly funded and accessible to LGBTQIA+ service users. Labour and the Lib Dems both promised in their manifestos to fully fund mental health but the Conservatives haven't made such commitment. We need to recruit more mental health nurses (6,600 have gone since 2010) and I hope the Tory manifesto commitment to recruit 10,000 more NHS mental health professionals by 2020 will be met but a huge reduction in applications from EU nurses of  96% since the Brexit vote and the refusal of the Tories to remove the 1% NHS pay cap isn't going to help increase staffing levels and the removal of training bursaries for UK nursing applicants won't entice students to consider a career in nursing.

Education: 
Sex and Relationships Education will be delivered in schools during this parliamentary term but I wonder how LGBTQIA+ inclusive it will be. The Conservatives agreed with Labour that guidance needs to be issued to schools to help them prepare lesson materials on LGBT+ relationships but there is no indication as to whether there will be any lessons that address intersex or asexual people. When would discussion of trans and non-binary, genderfluid or genderqueer people start? Key Stage 3 or Key Stage 4? Will there be lessons on domestic violence and domestic abuse in addition to consent and  will those lessons include LGBTQIA+ focussed discussions? Will SRE be taught in faith schools? I hope that trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer, agender, intersex and asexual activists will be involved in the creation of materials and be encouraged to go into schools to talk to students about more than just homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying as has been the case in the past. I believe discussions about asexuality is important because no student should ever feel that asexual people are weird because they have no sexual desire or prefer to show affection through hugging rather than through penetrative sex. Humanity is far more interesting than gender and sexuality stereotypes portray and that should be reflected in SRE lessons in an age-appropriate but engaging way.  74% of 11-15 year olds when asked in a YouGov poll conducted by Barnardo's believe that they would feel safer if they were taught about sex and relationships in schools with 94% stating it was important for them to understand the risks and dangers of being online (including accessing gay chatrooms). The Terrence Higgins Trust and National Student Pride survey also found that 72% of students would have had a better first sexual experience if they had received LGBT+ inclusive SRE. These figures demonstrate to me that LGBTQIA+ activists should back the implementation of SRE and get involved with the creation of teaching materials.

We need more LGBTQIA+ teachers and teaching assistants in classrooms to provide positive role-models for our students and I believe there should be a national recruitment campaign designed to encourage more openly LGBTQIA+ graduates to apply for a PGCE course with a range of LGBTQIA+ rights organisations involved, including Stonewall. Ensuring that students are taught about how to be tolerant of people who may have a different gender identity or sexuality is imperative and I've had enough of sticky-plaster policies that tend to only address bullying and harassment after it has occurred. Let's make sure that teachers and headteachers who have pastoral care duties have the knowledge and skills needed to fully support LGBTQIA+ identifying students; building an awareness programme into the PGCE course and into Continuing Professional Development, led by trainers who come from the LGBTQIA+ community will help no end.

LGBTQIA+ asylum rights: 
LGBTQIA+ rights for refugees and asylum seekers in the UK may unfortunately not improve under a Conservative minority government. PM May doesn't have a good track record in this area after all; as Home Secretary she allowed LGBTQIA+ refugees to be humiliated, forcing lesbian, gay and bisexual refugees to have sex to prove that they were LGB...a totally barbaric and anti-human rights approach. The Green Party's LGBTQIA+ manifesto and the Lib Dem's manifesto both convinced me that far needs to be done to protect LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers from discrimination, including ensuring that no LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers are deported back to their home country if they are in danger of facing persecution on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. In fact the Green Party has called for a moratorium on the deportation of LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers until a review of the asylum process takes place with a view to making the process more efficient and quicker. Border agents do need to have equality and diversity training so they understand that asking sexually-explicit questions is wrong (especially if LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers have been subjected to rape before or during their journey to the UK). I believe that detention limits should be set at 28 days and asylum seekers should be allowed to look for work if they have been waiting for their asylum claim to be processed for more than 6 weeks. Accommodation should be habitable and trans and non-binary asylum seekers should be treated with respect, with professionals using their pronoun preferences wherever possible. Asylum seekers also need to have access to counselling to help them deal with the trauma they have faced whilst being persecuted in their home country. There's no indication at the moment as to whether the Conservatives are bothered to carry out any of these reforms.

Homelessness:
PM May said in her Pink News interview that homeless charities such as The Albert Kennedy Trust should be "encouraged to help end LGBT youth homelessness in the UK". The problem is that the actions taken by the Tory government have as of yet done very little to address the problem. Charities cannot fund young people aged between 18 and 21 who have lost mandatory access to Housing Benefit. Research carried out by The Albert Kennedy Trust found that nearly a 1/4 of LGBT young people are homeless in the UK and their projects rely on Housing Benefit funding to run properly; for example, according to a Financial Times article from March 2017 (https://www.ft.com/content/1414f788-30e8-11e7-9555-23ef563ecf9a) the Purple Door Project run by The Albert Kennedy Trust in London and Newcastle guarantees housing for 6 months but requires residents to pay £105 a week - £95 of which comes from Housing Benefit. The Conservatives need to absolutely guarantee homeless young people aged 18-21, whether LGBTQIA+ or not access to Housing Benefit. That includes those young people who may be currently sofa-surfing. Young people want to build a better life for themselves and a compassionate government should do everything they can to help, especially those who have had a traumatic start to their lives.

Brexit:
Brexit means Brexit, or so the old sage Theresa May's maxim goes. I've always wondered how Brexit will affect LGBTQIA+ people specifically. There is concern about the right of LGBTQIA+ EU nationals to remain in the UK post-Brexit and I think it was a mistake of PM May not to guarantee the right outright before Article 50 was triggered. It sent out the wrong signal to our EU neighbours that the UK may be prepared to openly discriminate against their citizens. EU nationals pay tax into our system to help fund our public services and some even work in the public sector, including in hospitals and GP surgeries. We now have a situation where applications from EU nurses are down 96% since the Brexit vote and we're not training enough UK nurses to fill the demand, so we need to have a change of tone as well as policy from PM May and her Brexit team.

There's been hardly any discussion about how Brexit will improve the lives of LGBTQIA+ people. Will the money that is meant to be saved from the EU budget contributions go partly towards improving trans health services or towards the construction of gender-neutral bathroom facilities? Doesn't sound like it. Will the money fund more training programmes for frontline NHS professionals to help them better support LGBTQIA+ patients? Why aren't the Tories doing that anyways? Will the money be used to help expand GICs? More chance of seeing a pot of leprechaun gold on the front seat of Bojo's personalised imaginary red NHS £350m bus. Will leaving the EU truly lead to more jobs for trans people? Unless we change the attitude of employers, especially small and medium business owners in rural constituencies, we're not going to see more openly trans and non-binary people employed in long-term, sustainable employment. I still contend that Brexit will not make any progressive difference to LGBTQIA+ rights in this country and that's why I still remain opposed to it. Plus I don't want to see the UK leave the European Convention on Human Rights or water down the Human Rights Act 1998, both of which may still happen under a Tory minority government.

Conclusion:
Overall, I am feeling pretty concerned about the possible state of LGBTQIA+ rights under a Tory minority government. Whilst I accept that LGBT Tories want voters like me to feel reassured about the promises elicited by Ruth Davidson, Justine Greening et al that LGBT rights will not be weakened by any DUP "confidence and supply" arrangement, it does probably mean that we will see little to no progress on improving NHS services for LGBTQIA+ service users or any improvement in the rights of intersex and asexual people in the UK. SRE may or may not become LGBT inclusive, let alone LGBTQIA+. I can't see a nervous Tory government asking for a review on the blood donation ban or amend the GRA or EA significantly whilst relying on DUP votes. As for PrEP becoming available on the NHS in England before 2022 (or whenever the next election happens to be), we have more chance of Andrea "I'm a mother" Leadsom becoming PM in the next year. However, that doesn't mean that LGBTQIA+ activists are going to sit back and let this parliamentary term take its course. We need to continue campaigning for truly LGBTQIA+ inclusive SRE and to improve health services for trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer and intersex people. We need to encourage PM May to continue to take a firm stance against Chechnya and if possible, allow Chechen LGBTQIA+ people to claim asylum in the UK.  We need to stand up and be counted. If we stay strong, a progressive vision for LGBTQIA+ rights can be achieved. It's just going to take a little bit longer to achieve!

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Lincoln's Choice GE2017: Why I Will Be Voting For Karen Lee And Labour On Thursday 8th June

Sometimes making a final decision can be surprisingly easy. I was in Lincoln's Primark last Friday shopping with my Mum (she'd not been into town for nearly 2 years and was dead excited to check out the latest styles) and we came across this amazing pair of denim hotpants, which had embroidered detail, paint and slogans all over it. For me, it was love at first sight- I grabbed the Size 20 faster than the Jamaican relay team grasp their batons in an Olympic Final. My Mum took much longer to convince-"oh the fit isn't right.....they're high waisted.....I'm 59 I can't carry off a punk look". 5 minutes later and me and Mum both had a pair in the basket and had moved on to look at a Sex Pistols tee. Although it took a while for my Mum to make her final decision, she made the right decision in the end. Politics wise, that's how I really am feeling at the moment. For weeks I hesitated, I read the manifestos, watched the debates wondering who'd make the best Prime Minister for the UK. There was no danger of me voting for the Tories.....hell no, not after the way they've conducted the Brexit process so far. Who wants to vote for someone whose primary response is to fear our European neighbours, throwing a wobbler over whether Spain will annexe Gibraltar (totally false by the way) and not stand up to the nincompoop President that is Donnie Drumpf when he slandered the Mayor of London by stating that "nobody should be alarmed" when in fact Mr Sadiq Khan was asking London residents to not be alarmed at the increased police presence on the streets and ridiculously pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, an agreement that even Russia remains signed up to. Yet after all the hesitation and analysis, I feel that I have reached the right decision to vote Labour and I'm going discuss why in this blogpost.

Nationally:

At a national level, the main choices for PM seems lacklustre for those amongst us who consider themselves centrists and moderates. Theresa May has got very few leadership qualities of note and her questionable record as Home Secretary is being exposed for all to see. Jeremy Corbyn has been portrayed by the mainstream media as a Marxist, "terrorist apologist" when he can only really be accused of possibly being too much of an ideological dreamer, choosing to pursue expansion of trade union powers and mass renationalisation in what still strikes some as a attempt to bring back 1970's style socialism. Now I certainly have not been a super Corbynista (I have more affinity with the Harriet Harman/ Jess Phillips/ Yvette Cooper side of the Labour party) but I've read the Labour manifesto (evidenced by the number of blogposts I've recently done on manifesto comparisons) and I'd say that the majority of it doesn't strike me as being particularly radical. I may not yet buy into the virtues of mass renationalisation yet (especially with regards to utilities) but even I agree that there is a need to review Sustainability and Transformation Plans and reduce the amount of privatisation in our NHS by repealing the Health and Social Care Act. The NHS was designed to ensure that every person in the UK could receive free treatment at the point of use. As investment hasn't kept up with an increase in population, this aim has been increasingly difficult to achieve. We need more funding, we need more staff and we need to ensure that the NHS is accessible to all and I believe Labour's plans, including pumping in an extra £30bn of investment, scrapping the public sector cap and reinstating the Nurses Training Bursary will help to address issues of under resourcing and help recruit more UK nurses.

Yet the Labour manifesto isn't just strong on the NHS. Some policies that never get any attention on the national news have convinced me to consider voting Labour beyond tactical reasons. For example, Labour have pledged to bring in a Commissioner to ensure that the police, local authorities and organisations adhere to at least a minimum standard to tackle domestic violence and sexual violence. Funding will be made available through central government to help stabilise the budgets of women's refuges and rape crisis centres. Although I'd have liked to have seen a general commitment to helping all survivors of domestic abuse, violence and coercive control, regardless of their gender it is a promising start. This policy has not been discussed in the Sun, The Daily Telegraph or the Daily Mail but it's one that makes me believe that a Labour government will truly work towards improving the lives of the majority of people in this country and not the few. Plus Corbyn has done extremely well with his campaign, making the effort to meet voters of all ages and talking about the need to foster creativity amongst young people. He has a message of hope that is resonating widely amongst the electorate and we still do not truly know what the effect on the vote will be on June 8th.

Locally:

At a local level, my choice has even more difficult but for positive reasons. We've been fortunate in Lincoln to have had two talented, amazing, progressive women running in this election both of which deserve recognition:
  • Caroline Kenyon, a successful businesswoman (running a food photography business) and who worked as a journalist and magazine editor and PR guru who has worked with homeless charities and food organisations has truly inspired me to think about what more I can do to help fellow residents in my ward. She's organising a Food Summit that aims to look at sustainably providing food for Lincoln residents who find themselves in difficult circumstances that will take place regardless of whether she wins the election or not. Equally Caroline is working with the University of Lincoln to help establish a Primary Schools programme designed to help lift the aspirations of working class children in Lincoln. I know that it's incredibly important to have access to positive role models who can encourage children to think about their future in an age-appropriate way. I was fortunate to have teachers who saw through my Dyspraxia and encouraged me to read widely which fostered a love of books, especially History books that has never left me. Without that early intervention I would not be writing the blogposts like the one I am writing today. And I want other children, especially those with disabilities, to benefit from positive reinforcement technique and having access to role models they can identify with in the educational sector. 
  • Karen Lee has been involved in Lincoln politics ever since 1994, when she became a Labour party member. She was elected as a City Councillor for Carholme Ward in 2004 and has successfully defended her seat at every local election since then. Karen served as Mayor of Lincoln in 2012-13, the 12th woman out of 13 in 811 years. Karen is a nurse and has worked diligently and passionately for Lincoln County Hospital for many years. Karen wants to increase the number of affordable homes in Lincoln by securing additional funding to expand the planned housing programme as well as fully supporting Labour's plans to bring in safe staffing levels in NHS wards and reintroduce Nurses Training Bursaries. Karen is described by the City Council's Labour Leader Ric Metcalfe as a "tireless and passionate local campaigner", which is true given as she was part of the successful campaign to save Lincoln South Fire Station from being downgraded.
Having read the key campaign leaflets (http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/parliamentary-party-candidate-leaflet.html) and 
 listened to both the Bishop Grosseteste Hustings (http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/thoughts-from-listening-to-bishop.html) and the joint Lincolnite and BBC Radio Lincolnshire Debate I feel that our city and surrounding villages of Skellingthorpe, Bracebridge Heath and Waddington East need a real progressive vision in place to improve the lives of all residents who live within the Lincoln Constituency boundary. What does a progressive vision involve I hear you cry? Well, it starts with an understanding that cross party collaboration is key to helping solve key social issues that affect our communities. It's clear to me that Caroline Kenyon's Food Summit project that she has outlined effectively during her campaign is one that the City of Lincoln Council, Lincolnshire County Council, the District of North Kesteven Council as well as the Lincolnshire Association of Parish Councils should get involved in and I have suggested Caroline gets in touch with my local City Councillor, Rosie Kirk because I believe that she'd be happy to participate. Lincoln's MP, regardless of who gets elected on June 9th should commit to working closely with Caroline and certainly attend the Food Summit when it is held. If they really care about reducing poverty levels in Lincoln and ensure that our foodbanks are stocked with healthy food to help disadvantaged families, signalling an intention to attend would not be a difficult act and I get the sense that Karen would be happier than Karl McCartney, our current MP to collaborate on the Food Summit project. Karen has also signalled a desire to work with the Green candidate, Dr Ben Loryman to scrutinise the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust's Sustainability and Transformation Plan (all STPs are to be halted and reviewed under a Labour manifesto commitment) and examine how best to recruit and retain high quality staff at Lincoln County Hospital. I'd also like to see close collaboration on animal welfare and LGBTQIA+ rights, two areas that have been rather noticeably neglected during Mr McCartney's tenure.

Another key aspect of a progressive vision is a firm commitment to stand up for all constituents, regardless of an MP's own personal views. Now I'm a Lutheran and I believe that my faith should never be used in a negative way to demean people who are members of other Christian denominations or followers of different faiths or who are atheists. Karen on the Lincoln Labour Party website (http://www.lincolnlabourparty.org.uk/karen-lee/) espouses a similar sort of approach to me which was pleasing to see: "I do hold my own views on religion, I was brought up a Catholic and feel that some spiritual belief is a priceless thing, but I think that it is essential to respect the right of individuals to practice their faith in their own way, whatever their religion might be." I get the sense that this means that Karen would be willing to solicit the opinion of Lincoln constituents before voting on an important moral or ethical issue, for example voluntary euthanasia. Unfortunately Mr McCartney used his personal Christian views to denigrate LGBTQIA+ people whilst acting in a professional capacity, stating in a letter to a constituent in 2012 that LGBT people "had exhausted the cause of equal rights" (http://www.lincolnshirelive.co.uk/lincoln-mp-karl-mccartney-defiant-views-sex/story-15918962-detail/story.html) and he had the audacity to put same-sex marriage on the same level as "bigamy and child marriage". Even though same-sex marriage is now legal, there's no indication that Karl has changed his views towards LGBTQIA+ people. In fact, when asked questions on LGBTQIA+ rights during this 2017 Election cycle on Twitter, he has consistently ignored questioners which is extraordinary rude. LGBTQIA+ people in Lincoln are his constituents and most of them and their friends and family will have the ability to vote on Thursday; I have a sneaking suspicion that he won't garner many of them; serves him right! A progressive MP embraces change and accepts people's right to express themselves openly provided they adhere to the laws of the land. I'm all for "following the dictates of one's conscience" but when in public office, you have the thoughts and views of constituents to consider as well as your own and sometimes you have to put your personal views and opinions aside and vote in the best interests of your constituents. Karl just doesn't have a great record of doing that.

There's a number of policies in the Labour manifesto that could directly benefit Lincoln constituents in a progressive way. There's the obvious pledges of abolishing tuition fees and reintroducing the Educational Maintenance Allowance and university maintenance grants that will help students attending Lincoln College, my old sixth form at the Priory LSST Academy, the University of Lincoln and Bishop Grosseteste University but there are less well known policies too; the banning of unpaid internships that last more than a month, the protection of funding for libraries with money available to upgrade computer software that would benefit Lincoln Central Library and my local Birchwood Library amongst others. There's also a promise to look at accommodation standards for those in Armed Forces accommodation as well as extending the Forces Help-to-Buy scheme and insulating the homes of disabled veterans for free. Labour would ensure every school has access to a counselling service to help students deal with exam stress and anxiety and long term mental health conditions and that would help students who attend Lincoln schools.

Karen mentions specific Labour policies in her campaign poster leaflet, including:

  • the proposed rise in Carer's Allowance that would directly  benefit 1,629 carers in Lincoln, giving them more than an extra £500 a year to spend on helping them and their dependent(s) with food, heating and clothing bills. 
  • scrapping the bedroom tax which will help 749 people in Lincoln and insulating homes may help some of the 5,089 homes who are classed as being in fuel poverty. 
  • protecting the Triple Lock because getting rid of it would affect 17,919 pensioners in Lincoln, one of which would probably be my Dad. 
  • reversing cuts to Universal Credit and stopping other tax changes proposed by the Tories so that working families do not need to worry about losing £1,400 a year or have to prove that their third child was conceived as a result of rape through the despicable Child Benefit "rape clause". 
Strangely enough these issues are not mentioned in the Tory leaflet and they haven't been particularly addressed head-on by Karl. Instead, his leaflet focussed on transport infrastructure, apprenticeships and being a part of the "Keeping Sunday Special" campaign, which never really bothers my Mum, who's a care assistant working at least one weekend night a fortnight on her shift pattern and who has colleagues who are more worried about their residency status and wage growth under a future Conservative Government than about whether Sunday is kept special for managers and bankers. It's good that apprenticeships have increased by 6,960 since 2010 but how many of them have gone to those aged 25 and over? How many of them have been available in the creative industries? How many of those places have been filled by LGBTQIA+ Lincolnites? It seems to me that Karl is prepared to only talk about the successes and can't be bothered to put forward a truly coherent progressive plan for the future. What a shame.

An issue that I've heard discussed in the pub and around Lincoln generally is that of funding; funding schools, funding social care, funding recycling services, funding leisure centres and sports facilities, funding libraries and funding Lincoln County Hospital. What has been clear to me over the past few months is that Lincolnshire County Council needs more funding from local government. According to (shock horror) a UKIP leaflet that I received during the Lincs CC elections in May 2017, I found out that Lincs CC is the third lowest funded council in the country. £88 per head (the figure given in the UKIP leaflet is not enough to deliver the services we need as our population begins to age. Council Tax had to go up in Lincs (http://thelincolnite.co.uk/2017/01/council-tax-rise-proposed-as-lincolnshire-police-face-10m-funding-gap/) to help pay towards policing (1.97%) and the Police and Crime Commissioner's Office (we have a Conservative PCC here, Marc Jones) stated that we'd need to see an increase in funding from central government otherwise we'd have a gap in the budget of £10m between 2018 and 2020. This demonstrates to me that Labour are right to highlight that there is a need to increase policing budgets generally to help pay for equipment and the pledge to fund a police officer increase of 10,000 will probably mean that Lincs will see an increase in frontline staff which would be welcome! Yet another reason to consider voting Labour. The total Council Tax rise for those in Lincoln has also included a 1.91% rise in Council Tax precept for the City of Lincoln Council and 3.95% for the Lincs CC precept, estimated to be an extra £53 a year (http://thelincolnite.co.uk/2017/03/council-tax-rise-approved-for-lincoln-residents/). Let's hope the increase may go towards turning the streetlights back on our street or providing decent social care for disabled young adults (that's what a Labour controlled CC would have done).  In his time as Lincoln's MP, Karl has been very quick to ask for money to help complete transport infrastructure projects but has been unable to secure more funding for local government services such as for our police force. Instead Karl blames the lack of influence on being a backbencher and because we rejected a devolution deal Lincoln has harmed its chances of receiving more government investment. In his The Linc interview, Karl said:"it (the devolution deal) will not be quickly forgotten in Westminster and I think we'll be forced to the bottom of the pile for it in the future" (http://thelinc.co.uk/2017/06/the-lincoln-candidates-karl-mccartney/). Such a statement comes from a man who says in his leaflet that  Lincoln is "the most loved City and jewel in the crown of the East Midlands". Does Karl think I and other voters and constituents were born yesterday? How are we going to improve local services with an MP with such a defeatist attitude? I want to see an MP who will fight for us and not moan about being a backbencher.

Equally in The Linc interview I can still see that Karl remains as gender stereotypical as ever: "give a boy a solder and iron and he can do anything"...what about if that boy wants a thread and needle? Doesn't look like Karl believes that creative subjects are good enough for men does he? Epic facepalm moment once again for an MP who says that he cares about education but is far too quick to play into gender stereotypes and offers few concrete policies to help disadvantaged boys. I mean he talks about establishing a vocational scheme but would that be in addition to Conservative plans or a part of them? There are schemes out there which can help young boys foster a love of reading and writing; perhaps Karl if he's returned as our MP (somehow) could look into getting more Lincoln fathers to read to their sons like my Dad did with me and my brother. Has has he spoken to The Fatherhood Institute directly about their Fathers Reading Every Day Scheme? I'd like to see Karl promote awareness of it  (see more here: http://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/training-and-consultancy/fathers-reading-day-training/). 

I also have something to say about the derogatory comment about parenting Karl has made in the interview because it's an important issue for me. As a dyspraxic person, it took me years to learn how to carry out daily tasks like tying a shoelace or holding a knife and fork. My parents certainly were not guilty of not teaching me how to do it. Sometimes it is the case that school students with learning disabilities need tailored support to help improve their hand-eye coordination skills to the point where they can use a knife and fork properly, hold a pen properly or even tie their shoelaces. I'd even go as far as to suggest that teaching nursery and reception pupils how to hold a knife and fork properly is an inclusive activity and helps students bond with one another. Dentists have also highlighted the fact that teaching pupils how to brush their teeth properly can help to reduce tooth loss and if less children face the prospect of having to wait till their adult teeth to come through to feel confident enough to smile because they've learned how to brush their teeth properly then I'm all for it. Those might seem like "parental issues" to Karl but teachers also care about the welfare of their pupils and they wouldn't have entered the profession if they didn't.  Karl's comments about free school meals in general indicate that he'd like to see them reduced to a bare minimum or even scrapped in the future because he asks the question:"is it the role of the state to feed young people?" Well I'd rather see primary school children have a guaranteed meal whilst at school rather than risk the chance of them not being fed at all whilst at school because their parents cannot afford to provide them with a meal (Karl may say that meals will be there for those that need it but he doesn't seem happy about it) and that's what Labour have pledged to do. Perhaps I'm more of a socialist than I thought and that might not be a bad thing! 

I mean Karl's voting record is embarrassing (voting for the bedroom tax and against same-sex marriage included) but I'd argue that his lack of policy proposals that specialise on helping Lincoln constituents is extremely disappointing and has to be pointed out. Karl's been in office since 2010 and yet he has had very little to say on the Environment, disability rights, renewable energy schemes, Sex and Relationships Education that is LGBTQIA+ inclusive or reducing instances of domestic violence, domestic abuse and coercive control in Lincoln. These are the issues that matter to me as a constituent and will get me to the polling station on Thursday. Yet Karl admits in his The Linc interview that the Conservative manifesto promises (which I've read) wouldn't appeal to a young voter because it's not their "core demographic". Well I'm 28 so I don't think I can be considered particularly young anymore but I believe that once a candidate admits that their manifesto cannot appeal to a particular demographic, they're asking voters in that demographic to vote en masse against them. What a shame that would be! ;) ;)

Whatever happens at a national level when the results are announced on the morning of Friday it is absolutely clear to me that Lincoln deserves a progressive, positive, polite and engaging MP in office; one that will stand up for all constituents regardless of their age, class, disability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religious or political belief and one who isn't afraid to work cross-party on issues that matter to constituents. I'm putting my trust in a candidate who can do this and so much more who has a proven track record in campaigning and local politics and really cares about our city. I'm voting for someone who isn't afraid to defend Remain voters and understands the importance of preserving EU export jobs in Lincoln. I'm voting for someone who knows their manifesto inside out and will try and ensure Lincoln benefits from as many of manifesto policy pledges as possible. That person is Karen Lee and I will vote for her unashamedly on Thursday.