As we enter the 29th LGBT+ History Month, LGBT+ activists are lost. In the 20th and 21st centuries, legislation decriminalised our relationships, equalised the age of consent and enabled us to adopt, marry and legally change gender.
Discrimination against us was outlawed, historical convictions against us were pardoned, and hard-fought-for equality under the law was delivered. Since these advances, activists have appeared rudderless. I recently found myself attempting to persuade an LGBT+ activist that they were wrong to claim the lives of trans people in Britain today were similar to the lives of black apartheid-era South Africans. Such is the state of today’s discourse on these issues.
When listening to debates about trans rights, you would think activists were talking about a substantial civil rights advance, like when the US Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This was an act which prohibited discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex or national origin, ending racial segregation in public spaces and outlawing employment discrimination. This is a far cry from today’s debate on whether we should streamline an administrative process someone uses to change gender legally.
You would be forgiven for forgetting that trans people have been able to legally change gender (and largely without controversy) since 2004. The self-ID debate is about nothing more than the strengths and weaknesses of bureaucracy.
People are entitled to their opinions on Gender Recognition Certification (GRC) Reform. However, to suggest that this is the biggest issue facing LGBT+ people or that it’s transphobic to disagree about an administrative process, which is what many activists would have you believe, is preposterous.
Drives for gender neutrality, which will result in fewer British women winning gongs at this year’s Brit Awards, are ill-thought-out. Those who tell us we mustn’t address an audience by saying “ladies and gentlemen”, that physiological differences between male and female bodies do not matter at the most elite levels of athletics or that people who commit violent crimes against women and girls like Isla Bryson should be incarcerated in women’s prisons must be challenged. These are the causes today’s activists champion as if they emulate Martin Luther King marching on Washington.
Whatever your opinion about these causes, they are not the most significant issues facing LGBT+ people or anyone anywhere in the world. We need a reality check. Well-meaning activists and those who follow Stonewall’s line have lost their bearings, and not everyone in the LGBT+ community subscribes to the same school of thought.
Nevertheless, I am hopeful that Stonewall can rediscover its path under Iain Anderson’s leadership. A path which once guided former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to one of his “proudest achievements“, the Conservatives from section 28 to equal marriage and HIV transmission elimination by 2030.
The Albert Kennedy Trust estimates that almost one-quarter of homeless Brits aged between 16-25 are LGBT+. Home Office figures in England and Wales between 2015-2020 suggest a 136% increase in criminals committing crimes against people for their sexual orientation and a 210% increase in criminality against trans people.
In addition, access to health services for LGBT+ Brits, whether this is access to sexual, mental or gender health services, has deteriorated. Waiting lists are long, experiences are negative, and outcomes are poor. Many of the 2.63 billion people living in the commonwealth live in countries that criminalise LGBT+ people; in some countries, penalties can include life imprisonment and execution.
Yet today we have superficial debates over gender neutrality, sports categorisation and administrative processes while LGBT+ people suffer. In Britain, many are homeless or victims of assault. Overseas, some face the death penalty; simply because of who they are and whom they love. Meanwhile, Westminster and the commentariat debate the Section 35 action against Holyrood’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill.
Words like transphobic and homophobic are used too casually. Too often, these words are directed at conservatives who believe in liberty, freedom of expression, individual rights, fair application of the law, moral equality, political equality and equality of opportunity. These principles align perfectly with LGBT+ rights advances.
Instead of opponents insulting each other, a more constructive discourse should evolve. One that understands millions live in countries that have adopted a form of self-ID. Some trans people find the current GRC process invasive, traumatic and bureaucratic, and it is not unreasonable to think it need not be that way.
Equally, as we have seen with Isla Bryson, bad people will take advantage of lax administration to make their lives easier and even commit crimes. We cannot simply wish that away.
However, we must ask: is a less bureaucratic GRC process worth the ugly discourse Gender Recognition Reform has caused? Does it feel like things have moved forwards or backwards since the reforms were tabled?
At home, instead of Westminster and Holyrood playing to self-ID or not to self-ID, ministers and activists could also focus their energies on 3 Hs: homelessness, healthcare and hate crime. Helping young people thrown out of their homes by their families for not being straight, improving access to LGBT+ health care services and cracking down on criminals who assault people for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans.
Abroad, Carolean Britain is re-establishing its position on the international stage independent of the EU. We might use our freedom to rebuild relationships with the commonwealth as we strike new trade deals and international development agreements. Using our influence to advance equality under the law for LGBT+ people in the Commonwealth.
It is time to stop only talking about what we are against and start talking about what we are for. The Conservatives win when they present a positive, unifying vision of Britain and the good it does at home and abroad. It is time to do precisely that with the sometimes thorny issue of LGBT+ rights.