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Introduction to the LGBTQ+ Rights Campaign

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Feeling free to express ourselves, dress how we want, or fall in love with whom we want without fear of judgement or retribution is a privilege that many us take for granted. However, it is still far from being a reality for all members of society. When it comes to basic human rights, there still lies a big divide between the experience of the minority and those in the mainstream. Members of the LGTBQ+ community are locked in a global struggle for their rights to be universally recognised.

What are LGBTQ+ rights?

LGBTQ+ rights are human rights, but there is still much disparity in the UK and across the world regarding the rights that members of the LGBTQ+ community enjoy in comparison to their straight, cisgender peers. This inequality is not only evident from a legal standpoint, but also manifests itself in many other forms of daily discrimination and persecution experienced by LGTBQ+ people. This point is underlined by findings of the 2018 YouGov poll, which showed that last year one in five LGBTQ+ people in the UK experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity (Stonewall, 2018).

Is the UK championing LGTBQ+ rights?

We may like to think that the UK is leading the charge for LGTBQ+ rights, but we are not exactly blazing a trail. There is no question that the decriminalisation of gay sex and the legalisation of same-sex marriage represented significant milestones for the LGTBQ+ community in the UK.

However, same-sex marriage was only legalised in the UK as recently as 2013 and, in real terms, gay sex only ceased to be a crime throughout the UK in 2013. It’s fair to say that when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights in the UK, change has been a long time in coming and there is still a way to go before we achieve true equality for LGTBQ+ people in the eyes of the law and in the hearts and minds of the UK population.

Is there a growing acceptance worldwide of being LGBTQ+?

Progress in achieving the milestones of decriminalisation of gay sex and the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the UK may well have been slow, but we also know that the situation for LGTBQ+ people in certain parts of the world is much, much worse – and, for some, just being identified as being LGBTQ+ is life-threatening.

As things stand, there are currently only 28 countries where same-sex marriage is permitted whereas, shockingly, homosexuality is still illegal in over a third of UN countries and same-sex activity is punishable by death in 11 countries (Human Dignity Trust, 2020). We can take some comfort that, according to PEW Research Centre’s findings from June 2020, acceptance of homosexuality has improved in many countries over the last 2 decades. But their findings also state that public opinion remains sharply divided by country, region and economic development. In other words, while there are many areas where acceptance of homosexuality has improved, this is in stark opposition to other countries where there is little to no public support or acceptance of homosexuality.

What is the significance of the sharp divide in public acceptance of homosexuality globally?

This divide means that there is still a lot of work to be done globally to champion LGBTQ+ rights both to alter public perception and in many cases campaign to change overtly homophobic and transphobic government policy. And, while we may have seen more progress for LGBTQ+ rights in the UK over the last decade in comparison to some countries, there is still much more to be done before we can honestly say that our own government’s policies do not marginalise LGTBQ+ people and LGTBQ+ people are not stigmatized on the basis of their gender identity, gender expression and/or sexual orientation.

Is conversion therapy still legal in the UK and elsewhere?

Banning conversion therapy is one area where change is still needed in the UK and across most of the globe. The idea that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans is a mental illness and that a LGTBQ+ person can be ‘cured’ with reparative treatment is a view that is still too prevalent and conversion therapy is still legal in the UK and indeed throughout most of the world. The UK took a step in the right direction in 2018 when the UK Prime Minister pledged to ban it in England, but 2 years on, no formal consultation has yet materialised, so the practice remains legal. 5 more countries – New Zealand, Canada, Chile, Mexico and Germany – have also pledged to ban conversion therapy in the near future, but as yet there are currently only 3 countries worldwide – Brazil, Malta and Ecuador – that have actually legally banned conversion therapy to date.

Is gender change legal in the UK and elsewhere?

The idea that being LGTBQ+ is a mental illness is further compounded when it comes to how the UK and many other countries approach the process for legal gender change. The World Health Organisation only declassified being transgender as a ‘mental health condition’ as recently as 2019, so the situation is changing, but slowly and we have yet to see how quickly this equates to changes to the legal gender change process.

Data gathered by the National Geographic and published in January 2017 tells us that, in 41 countries (including the UK), being diagnosed with a mental disorder is a pre-requisite for legally changing gender and, in some cases, hormone therapy, surgery and/or sterilization are also required. This data also revealed that 67 of the world’s countries currently have no legal provision for gender change and there are a further 31 countries such as the US and Australia where, though gender change is legal, it is incredibly difficult to achieve due to regional differences in practice or inconsistent enforcement of the law.

This means that a huge proportion of the worldwide trans and intersex population are stuck with in-country systems where there is either no process for legal gender change or the process available is arduous and distressing, and comes with no guarantee of success. Not only this, but there are also many overseas governments like Hungary who have overtly outlawed legal gender recognition for trans or intersex people and there are still at least 15 countries that criminalise the gender identity and/or expression of transgender people (Human Dignity Trust, 2020).

In fact, there are currently only 6 countries in the world – Ireland, Malta, Norway, Argentina, Portugal and Belgium – where a person can legally self-determine their own gender and, sadly, it looks like the UK is not about to join them. Despite a recent consultation to review the UK’s 2004 Gender Recognition Act, the UK legal gender change process remains so long and involved that many trans people will never attempt it and will instead stay trapped with a legal identity that is at odds with their expression of their authentic self. Unfortunately, this lack of legal recognition can have a considerable impact on the mental health of a trans person and can massively affect how well they integrate into society following their transition.

Are LGBTQ+ people more likely to suffer from poor mental health?

The correlation between an increased risk of poor mental health and living openly as a LGBTQ+ person in Britain or anywhere else in the world cannot be underestimated. Research collected from a 2018 YouGov survey and presented in a report by the charity Stonewall showed that, in Britain, over half of the 5,000 LGBT respondents reported experiencing depression in the past year. The report also revealed that alarmingly almost half of all trans people surveyed admitting to having thought about taking their own life and almost a third of LGBT people had done the same (Stonewall, 2020).

Has Covid-19 made things worse for the LGBTQ+ community?

Findings by the LGBT Foundation in 2020 leave us in no doubt that the LGBTQ+ community have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. They found that as a marginalised group, LGBTQ+ people are more susceptible to the effects of Covid-19 and are more likely to have been adversely affected following the introduction of Covid-19 safety measures, which led to the suspension of some non-essential healthcare services and surgeries, reduced access to support groups and a massive surge in domestic abuse cases within the LGBTQ+ community (LGBT Foundation, 2020).

What can you do to help?

There’s a lot to process when it comes to understanding the current situation for the LGTBQ+ community and the ongoing global struggle for LGBTQ+ rights, but you can find more information on many of the points touched on here in our learning hub.

We have some big challenges to overcome to achieve equality for everyone in the LGBTQ+ community, but as with all struggles, change can and is happening. Groups like Amnesty International, the LGBT Foundation, Stonewall and Mermaids UK, as well as many others, are working hard to support the LGTBQ+ community and champion LGBTQ+ rights.

We are committed to helping to drive positive change for the LGBTQ+ community in the UK and internationally.

Join our LGTBQ+ campaign today to become an LGBTQ+ ally and start making a difference straight away.

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Jenny Cole

Jenny is currently working as a freelance copywriter. She has over 10 years of professional sales and marketing experience in the private and public sector, including 3 years as an in-house copywriter for an established UK retailer. At now-u, Jenny works on our copywriting.

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