Next week, Brighton will again host one of the biggest Pride festivals in the UK, with a quarter of a million people descending on the city to celebrate LGBT culture and call for equal rights for LGBT citizens. There has been considerable progress in LGBT rights in the UK over the last few years, and there has been no better time to identify as LGBT in this country.
However, there are some who think that now that same-sex marriage is legal in the United States and the United Kingdom, there is no need for the LGBT movement, that the fight for equality in the Western world is over, and that protests for equality would only be necessary in the Islamic world. Someone I spoke to recently went as far as saying that now we all have equal rights, the movement is ‘pointless’, ‘annoying’ and that Pride ‘shoves their lifestyle in people’s faces’. This could not be further from the truth.
Minorities in this country, such as the black community, the LGBT community, the disabled, and women, still face discrimination and abuse. Can we really call Britain a tolerant and equal society when 96% of gay pupils will hear homophobic language at school? Can we call Britain an equal society when LGBT people face being beaten up for who they are, with 1 in 5 altering their behaviour in public for fear of abuse? Can we call ourselves a society where LGBT people have equal rights when almost half of LGBT youth have considered taking their own life? Attitudes need to change before we can reach that point, and they need to be tackled at the source. A lot more work needs to be done in schools and workplaces across the country to provide more information about LGBT issues and support those who identify that way.
In addition, legislation still fails LGBT people when it comes to equal rights. LGBT people in Northern Ireland are still unable to marry and have significantly fewer rights than they would have in Great Britain, LGBT sex education remains only voluntary (due to PSHE not being compulsory for students) and conversion therapy, which has ruined the lives of many troubled LGBT youth remains legal – despite homosexuality being removed from the WHO’s list of mental disorders over 25 years ago.
As well as this, there remains the controversial one year ban on donating blood for sexually active gay and bisexual men, a ban implemented despite the majority of those living in the UK with HIV not falling into this category. With blood shortages common, the ban excludes a number of healthy donors and is no longer necessary due to improvements in testing and safeguards since the start of the epidemic in the 80s. Most importantly, though, MSMs (men who have sex with men) are unfairly targeted by the restrictions; the system allows for promiscuous straight males to donate, despite being at higher risk than a gay man in a monogamous relationship who is unable to donate. Where is the equality in that?
Then, there is the fact that the trans community, the often overlooked section of the LGBT community, is still deprived of the rights they deserve and suffer from the criticism of some who say they are mentally disturbed. The truth is the exact opposite – being transgender is not something that can be cured with treatment or therapy. Transgender people experience a persistent disconnect between the sex assigned to them at birth and their internal sense of who they are, with a number of scientific studies suggesting there may be a genetic link. Back in 2002, the Lord Chancellor’s office in the UK said in a report that ‘transsexualism is not a mental illness’ and more recently in 2012, the American Psychiatric Association removed gender dysphoria from its list of mental health conditions. Yet the myth that gender dysmorphia is a mental illness persists. It is not acceptable to say that gay people need treatment and counselling to ‘cure them’, so why is it seemly acceptable for people to say the same for the transgender community?
As this is something that the person experiencing it can not change, it is therefore right to provide them with the same rights that other minorities are given. It is not acceptable that people born into the wrong body are even more likely to face harassment, physical assault and sexual violence and are more likely to commit suicide than LGB people. It is not acceptable that trans people in the US are four times more likely to live in poverty and experience unemployment at twice the rate than the rest of the population. And it certainly is not acceptable that trans people can be forced to use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth, even though doing that can be even more disruptive.
This lack of understanding and unwillingness to try and grasp the importance of transgender rights is causing misery for thousands of people and greater progress for granting the rights deserved of this overlooked and underrepresented group needs to be made.
This is, of course, not to mention what occurs abroad where people in the US face losing their jobs or being refused services because of their sexual orientation, face being silenced, mistreated by police or beaten up by gangs who ‘hunt’ gay men in the streets of Russia, and face prison or even death in 73 countries across the world.
Pride and the LGBT movement more widely exists because LGBT people aren’t equal. It exists to show people that it is okay to be gay, bi or trans and that there is support out there for young people afraid to come out or disowned by their family and friends. It exists to stand up for the rights of LGBT people around the world, including those whose voice is suppressed.
So, to the people who seemingly think that Pride is an excuse to shove our way of life into other people’s faces, I say you’re lucky. You won’t have to go through the process of coming out to your friends and family, face homophobic or transphobic abuse or have to hide who you are in public for fear of being beaten up. Whilst LGBT people still have to live in fear because of who they love or their identity, and whilst LGBT people still not receive full rights from their governments, we won’t stop fighting.