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!