For many, February marks LGBT+ History Month. This month provides the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and its allies with the opportunity to honour the courage and stories of those who have come before us, and raise awareness of the work we still have left to do.
The event is held in February to coincide with the 2003 abolition of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act – a piece of legislation introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government that stated that local authorities were not allowed to ‘intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’.
Trade unions played an enormous part in many of these victories in the LGBT+ community, from the beginning of our struggle for equality. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, trade unions added equality to their agendas, and have since kept up the fight and have continually campaigned for full equality.
As recently as 2003, employers could discriminate against LGBT+ people by not hiring them or not promoting them, just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
LGBT+ people didn’t have much protection from bullying in the workplace, and sometimes weren’t offered the same benefits as other colleagues or were unfairly affected by rules at work. The Employment Equality Regulations made all these kinds of discrimination illegal.
While the work of LGBT+ activists and trade unions has resulted in almost full legal equality in Scotland, England and Wales, and a significant increase in the rights of LGBT+ people over the last two decades, there is still a long way to go.
As recent and momentous as these changes in society have been, the sad reality is that LGBT+ rights, both at home and across the world, are currently worse than any of us can begin to comprehend. Same-sex relationships are illegal in around 70 countries, and is even punishable by death in eight of them. As such, a quarter of the world’s population believes that identifying as LGBT+ should be a crime.
In recent weeks, we have also seen an attack by our own UK Government on the rights of the trans community, with their implementation of a section 35 order banning the Scottish Parliament from being able to pass what would have been a monumental piece of legislation in the fight for trans equality. This not only shows sheer prejudice against the trans community, but must be recognised as a failure to see that transgender rights are human rights and that, although the UK have taken strides in providing forms of equality for the community, there is still a long way to go in the fight for protection of all rights.
It is important that we use this month to look to the future, to campaign for a society where full equality is a reality for LGBT+ people, so they can forget the discrimination and atrocities of the past, not just in the UK but around the world. If history has taught us anything, it is that there is strength in numbers and with a strong collective voice we will succeed, much like those at Stonewall did over 50 years ago.
On a personal level, what LGBT+ History Month reminds me of is the number of lives that have been lost in the past within the LGBT+ communities in relation to mental health and individuals taking their own lives.
Although it is a history month, I would like us to look ahead to imagine the world we want for LGBT+ people today and in 20 to 30 years’ time.
- We should continue to campaign for a full legislative ban on conversion therapy in the UK, so that no more LGBT+ people are subject to this degrading practice.
- We should also fight for better treatment for LGBT+ refugees, who deserve not only a safe passage, but a warm welcome when they arrive in our country.
- Lastly, we should campaign for equal access to IVF, so that LGBT+ people don’t need to break the bank to become loving parents.
As we celebrate LGBT+ History Month in 2023, the theme for this year is “Behind the Lens.” This serves as a reminder that the fight for equality and representation for the LGBT+ community is not just about being seen, but about who is doing the seeing.
The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.
Continue to be yourself; look after yourself and others.