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The Progress and Challenges of LGBTQ+ Rights in the UK and What Election Manifestos Promise for the Future

by Emily Duff

As we navigate 2024 and Pride Month comes to an end, the need for long-term activism is more prevalent than ever. It’s crucial to reflect on how far the UK has come in advancing gay rights, while also recognising the work that still needs to be done.

While we’ve celebrated significant milestones that begin to close the discriminatory gap, we’re still nowhere near equality.

With a general election on July 4th, the political manifestos of parties running can offer a glimpse into the future of LGBTQ+ rights in the UK.

A Brief History of How Far We’ve Come

The UK has seen some progress in LGBTQ+ rights over the past few decades with the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, less than 60 years ago, marking the start of some change.

Since then, the UK has introduced more measures to protect and empower the LGBTQ+ community:

2004: The Civil Partnership Act allowed same-sex couples to form legally recognised partnerships.

2010: The Equality Act provided anti-discrimination protections.

2013: The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act legalised same-sex marriage in England and Wales, with Scotland following in 2014.

2019: Northern Ireland legalised same-sex marriage, ensuring equal rights across the UK.

These milestones reflect a society increasingly aware of the need to further equality. However, it is far from comprehensive, especially as we continue to make backward steps - with hate crimes against trans people in England and Wales having increased by 186% in the last five years, according to research from the ONS.

Challenges That Still Need to be Addressed

Despite some advances, LGBTQ+ individuals in the UK still face significant challenges. The community are disproportionately affected by mental health issues, often due to societal stigma, discrimination, and a lack of supportive environments.

Many LGBTQ+ individuals still experience discrimination in their daily lives, whether at work, in public spaces, or within their own families. Worsened by many factors, including a 69% reduction in youth centres since 2011. 

The breakdown of the NHS has posed issues for many citizens as the UK government persist in pushing for privatisation, despite their Brexit promises. As a result, transgender individuals face considerable obstacles, including inconceivably long waiting times for gender-affirming healthcare on top of inadequate legal protections.

On an international social level, bisexuality is still undermined. Recent TikTok conversations around how “bi women should leave their boyfriends at home” when it comes to Pride celebrations undermine allies (should parents, family, and friends be excluded from celebrating and supporting the queer people they love?) and demonstrate a prevalent erasure of bisexual men. Bisexual people are not just confused.

As protesting becomes more and more challenging and dangerous, we must continue to confront these disparities. It is imperative to address these issues not only for empowerment and freedom but for safety. And doing so requires both societal and political change.

July’s General Election and Political Promises

As the UK approaches the July 4th general election, the manifestos of major political parties provide insights into their plans for LGBTQ+ rights. 

Labour Party: Labour has pledged to reform the Gender Recognition Act to allow for self-identification and to reduce the waiting times for gender-affirming healthcare. They also promise to strengthen hate crime legislation and ensure comprehensive LGBTQ+ education in schools.

Summary of Labour’s Outlook on LGBTQ+ Issues:

- Ensure respect and dignity for all by making all strands of hate crime, including those against LGBTQ+ and disabled people, aggravated offences.

- Ban all forms of conversion therapy, including those targeting trans individuals, while protecting the freedom to explore sexual orientation and gender identity.

- Reform the gender recognition process to remove indignities, requiring only a diagnosis of gender dysphoria from a specialist doctor for recognition.

- Implement recommendations from the Cass Review to ensure appropriate and high-quality care for young people with gender dysphoria.

- Commission a new HIV action plan aiming to eradicate new HIV cases by 2030.

Full manifesto here

Conservative Party: The Conservatives focus on enforcing existing laws against discrimination and hate crimes. They plan to launch initiatives aimed at improving mental health support for LGBTQ+ while simultaneously reducing trans rights and use of gender neutrality.

Summary of Tories’ Outlook on LGBTQ+ Issues:

- Introduce controls on all "Equality, Diversity and Inclusion" initiatives and spending.

- Promote equality of opportunity and avoid divisive identity politics, ensuring inclusivity regardless of sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion.

- Strengthen the relationship between schools and parents by ensuring parents have the right to see what their children are taught, especially on relationships and sex education.

- Legislate to enforce guidance on supporting gender-questioning students, involving parents in related decisions.

- Implement the HIV Action Plan to end new HIV transmissions by 2030, potentially expanding HIV opt-out testing.

- Complete the Cass Review to ensure evidence-based care for gender-questioning youth, banning the private prescription of puberty blockers.

- Amend the NHS Constitution to guarantee single-sex accommodations and same-sex intimate care, and protect the use of terms like "woman," "breastfeeding," and "mother." 

- Recognise biological sex as a reality and ensure it is clearly defined in the Equality Act.

- Legislate to ensure a unified approach across the UK regarding legal sex designation.

- Maintain strong legislation to prevent discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender reassignment.

- Condemn conversion therapy but emphasise the complexity of legislating against it, citing existing protections and ongoing reviews.

Full manifesto here

Liberal Democrats: The Lib Dems advocate for comprehensive LGBTQ+ protections, including reforms to asylum processes for LGBTQ+ refugees. They also support a ban on conversion therapy and emphasise the need for inclusive education.

Summary of Lib Dems’ Outlook on LGBTQ+ Issues:

- Uphold the belief that basic rights and dignity are the birthright of every individual.

- Address bullying in schools by promoting strong pastoral leadership and delivering high-quality relationships and sex education.

- Require police forces to set ambitious diversity targets and provide regular progress reports to Parliament.

- Support campaigns to improve "Equality, Diversity and Inclusion" in sports.

- Offer asylum to individuals fleeing violence due to sexual orientation or gender identity, ending the culture of disbelief and never refusing LGBTQ+ applicants based on discretion.

- Confront and expose stereotyping and hate speech in public life and media.

- Defend the rights of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including trans and non-binary people.

- Ban all forms of conversion therapy.

- Reform the gender recognition process to remove medical report requirements, legally recognise non-binary identities, and eliminate the spousal veto.

- Require large employers to monitor and publish data on diversity metrics and set five-year aspirational diversity targets.

Full manifesto here

Green Party: The Greens propose a bold agenda, including full legal recognition for non-binary individuals, immediate action to reduce healthcare waiting times for trans people, and robust measures to tackle LGBTQ+ homelessness.

Summary of Greens’ Outlook on LGBTQ+ Issues:

- Ensure readily available tailored mental health services for communities of colour, children and adolescents, older people, and LGBTIQ+ communities.

- Work towards ending HIV transmissions by 2030 through a comprehensive, evidence-based approach. This includes providing access to the HIV prevention pill online, in pharmacies, and from GP services, as well as renewing successful opt-out HIV testing programmes in A&Es in high-prevalence areas.

- Campaign for the right of self-identification for trans and non-binary people.

Full manifesto here

The fight for LGBTQ+ rights is both personal and political. As voters and activists, we have the power to shape a future where everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can live safely.

By staying informed, advocating for change, and supporting policies that promote equality, we can ensure that the progress made so far is not only preserved but built upon.

For more information on the LGBTQ+ policies of each party, you can visit their official websites or refer to their 2024 election manifestos.

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