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House of Commons Hansard
28 February 2017
Volume 622

    [Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

  • I beg to move,

    That this House has considered LGBT History Month.

    I am proud to have been selected to bring forward this debate on an important issue. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans History Month is an important month, but it is only one month. It is not merely a month in which prejudice should stop; it is a month when we should all celebrate ordinary people being allowed to express who they are and, frankly, who it is that God made them, but that should last for more than a month. As the website clearly states, the work to educate out prejudice continues throughout the year, because almost exclusively, intolerance of the LGBT community, although in decline, is steeped in the most hideous ignorance. We must all be advocates for tolerance and normality.

    I have always been passionate about tolerating diversity. There is no more normal strand of diversity than being part of the LGBT community. At the risk of inducing some sighs from my colleagues, I would like to announce that I am not gay. I am simply not that cool. I suppose it is either disappointing or encouraging that there are not more Members here today. I think the issue is worthy of debate, but perhaps the absence of some Members indicates that they do not think the issue is worth debating, because it is no big deal any more. I sincerely hope it is the latter, and I suspect that it would be.

    Nevertheless, it is an honour to lead this debate on such an important issue. For me, it strikes at the very meaning of the word “equality”. It is the type of issue upon which we will all be judged as parliamentarians. I am ashamed to say that our forefathers, not only in this country, but across the world, got it so wrong. How on earth did we ever think that being gay was wrong or a choice that people made? How on earth did we ever think that it was a good idea to close down discussions in school about being gay, with the imposition of section 28 as recently as 1988? What on earth were we thinking? How on earth do some people now think that being a boy trapped inside a girl’s body is somehow a choice that they have made? I have heard it called a fashion statement—my goodness! Do people honestly think that young adults would put themselves through such stress to make a fashion statement? It just goes to show the depths of that hideous ignorance.

    I see LGBT equality alongside issues such as black people or women not being allowed to vote—issues where society has got it so wrong in the past. It is not a matter of opinion; our attitude in bygone generations was plain wrong, and we all have a duty to do everything possible to make up for it and ensure that those who have suffered in the interim receive vindication. In that respect, I am incredibly proud of what Scotland and the rest of the UK have done on the issue over the last 15 to 20 years. Scotland is a world-leader on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex equality and rights, being rated the best country in Europe for two years in a row. Scotland continues to be marginally ahead of the rest of the UK. That said, the UK is rated third on the latest index after being first last year, and that deserves great credit and praise.

    Scotland’s same-sex marriage legislation is widely seen as one of the most progressive equal marriage laws in the world, specifically because of the provisions on gender identity and gender reassignment equality. However, we are of course committed to doing more. There is no place in Scotland or the UK for prejudice or discrimination. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly regardless of age, disability, gender, gender identity, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or sexual orientation. However—this is the crucial point—we simply cannot allow ourselves to think that because we have made all that progress, we have somehow achieved equality for LGBT people. We still have a long way to go, particularly in the field of transgender and non-binary rights.

    Only yesterday, the Scottish Parliament became the first Parliament in the world where the majority has expressed its support for the inclusion of LGBTI issues in the school curriculum. Great credit ought to go to the “Time for Inclusive Education” campaign for that. Scotland was the first country in Europe to provide national government funding for transgender rights. We continue to fund third-sector organisations to help us work towards a greater level of equality, but we still need to do more.

    The Scottish Parliament will be reviewing and reforming our gender recognition law so that it is in line with international best practice for people who are transgender or intersex. That is why the Scottish National party MPs at Westminster are calling on the UK Government to amend the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that trans and non-binary people are covered by discrimination protections. We are also pushing for reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the scrapping of the spousal veto in England and Wales. That would ensure that all trans and non-binary people could fully and more easily access their human right to legal gender recognition, in line with international best practice.

    Transgender and non-binary equality is the new frontier of LGBT equality, and we must deal with it more swiftly than our predecessors dealt with prior issues. I politely refer the Minister—I know she cares deeply about these issues—to a report in The Observer on Sunday that outlined new Home Office guidance used when sending LGBT Afghanis back to Afghanistan. It read:

    “While space for being openly gay is limited, subject to individual factors, a practising gay man who, on return to Kabul, would not attract or seek to cause public outrage, would not face a real risk of persecution”.

    In other words, if they stay in the closet, they will be fine. Will the Minister make urgent inquiries on the guidance and push the idea that no LGBT person should ever be sent back to a state that does not tolerate who they are? That scenario should be enough to trigger asylum. We are no better than them if we allow that sort of repatriation to occur.

    I am proud to be a Member of the gayest party in Westminster. Of our 54 MPs, eight, or 15%, are openly gay, compared with 5.4% of Labour MPs and 4.6% of Tory MPs. In the Scottish Parliament, the gayest party is the Conservatives. Some 13% of their MSPs are openly gay. I suggest that might be their only endearing feature.

    The movement has come a long way and I am hopeful that some members of the LGBT community will speak in the debate and outline some of their personal experiences, which I obviously cannot muster. We must never forget the prejudice that people have suffered just for wanting to express who they are. We have had the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which decriminalised some acts, and the repeal of section 28, which banned the promotion of homosexuality and the

    “teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”

    What an affront that was. We have come a long way, but we need to travel further. I pay tribute to every LGBT person who has experienced prejudice over the years. If that prejudice derived from rules made by this place, this place should formally apologise. If I have the gift to apologise on behalf of this place, then I do so now, formally.

    I should not need to spell this out, but unfortunately I feel I must for some. The love a man can feel for a man, or a woman for a woman, is real. It is so very real and sincere, and it is indistinguishable from the love I feel for my wife. The conclusion for everybody should be clear. For those who believe in God, the conclusion must be that that love comes from God. A woman trapped in a man’s body is not making a statement when expressing who they are—they simply do not feel how their body looks. That feeling is very genuine. It is never manufactured, and that person has the right to be who I believe God made them. They are who they are. They have not chosen to be anyone or anything, and we should all respect that.

    One of my closest and most loyal party campaigners in my constituency is a lady called Wilma. She had been trapped in Bill’s body her entire life. She is now free, I am pleased to say. She is confident and is finally able to express exactly who she is. I am very, very proud of Wilma and will always, but always, defend her choice to be who she is. Being gay or transgender is not an affront to any person or to anyone’s religion. The only affront left is for those who still hold those prejudiced views.

    The real panacea for LGBT equality is the day when there is no need for a distinct community, when we do not even think it worth mentioning and when there is no need for debates such as this. I long for the day when the Backbench Business Committee would laugh at such an application for a debate because the issue had been consigned to history and was not worthy of discussion.

  • The hon. Gentleman is making an incredibly important point. I am an openly gay Member of Parliament, but all through my campaign my sexuality was never mentioned. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is more empowering than people might realise for young people to find out that somebody is gay, and for that to be the fourth, fifth or sixth thing that they have heard about that person?

  • I completely and wholeheartedly agree. That brings me to consider the point last year when the Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) was brave enough to come out and admit that he was gay. I went to meet him to congratulate him on having the courage, although I did not think that courage ought to be needed to make such an admission. I remember being struck when I put a post on Facebook, acknowledging that the chap was my political opponent, but that he deserved some praise. I received a volume of comments—I would not say abusive—that basically said, “So what? Now back to his politics.” That said it all. Everybody who read that thought, “That is not even worth mentioning. Forget him. Do not even give him credit for it. Get back to his politics,” which it is our job to argue about.

    So I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman. The point where it becomes completely normal and is not even worth mentioning is the panacea to be reached. Society is not quite there yet, but I am proud to say that I am. When I leave here today, I will not have any gay or transgender friends—I will just have friends.

  • It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Dorries. An honour it is to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless). I am not sure that his constituency has a gay bar as such, as the city of Glasgow does, but it does have the fantastic Beltie Books bookshop in Wigtown, run by a fantastic gay couple, Andrew and Nick. On my first visit there, when they were not entirely sure if my partner and I were a couple, they told me that the place was very much for the “friends of Dorothy”. That was my first ever hearing of that phrase as a way to know that it was a welcoming place in that part of the world for folk like us.

    It is slightly depressing to pick up on what my hon. Friend said about the low interest that there seems to be in this debate when we look around the Chamber right now. This is the last day of LGBT History Month 2017. There is a lot to consider and to reflect on, in terms of both the history and what we collectively, as a Parliament and as a country, wish to achieve, not just on these islands but around the world for which this Parliament bears some responsibility.

    Before the debate began, I mentioned to the Minister that I had taken some time, if not a lot of time, to look through the Hansard for the 1966 debate on the Sexual Offences Bill. If you have a spare 20 or 30 minutes, Ms Dorries, and you fancy a laugh at the past, go through that Hansard. It will make you laugh, but it will also make you slightly depressed. I would not wish to quote all of the comments that caused me to wince, but I will pick up one or two particular howlers.

    Mr Humphrey Berkeley, at the time the Member for Lancaster, said that it was

    “clear that homosexuals have a choice.”—[Official Report, 11 February 1966; Vol. 724, c. 785.]

    Sir Cyril Black made, from what I read, some of the most astonishing contributions. He said:

    “We also, if we pass the Bill, give a new view of this form of sin”—

    that being homosexuality—

    “to the great mass of the nation. This fine argument of the difference between sin and crime is not an argument that is understood by the great mass of the people.”—[Official Report, 11 February 1966; Vol. 724, c. 800.]

    Mr William Shepherd, the Member for Cheadle at the time, is one of the few Members who made any reference to the “L” in LGBT. He said that lesbians were different, because they

    “do no physical damage by their acts. They are not proselytisers as homosexuals are and, on the whole, they find it agreeable and acceptable”.—[Official Report, 11 February 1966; Vol. 724, c. 816.]

  • The hon. Gentleman refers to 1966, but many of us can remember similar comments made very recently. In all of the debates in this place about legalisation on the age of consent, gays being able to serve in the military and the abolition of section 28, similar and worse comments have been made. Rather than dismiss them as part of a bygone era, it is important that we recognise that they are still representative of people’s views in wider society. That is why events such as today, marking LGBT History Month, and challenging and engaging with such views in order to shape them is incredibly important, as well as reflecting on the historical aspect.

  • The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We can laugh at some of this stuff, but in reality I did not have to go back to 1966 to find such views—we could probably take a walk around some of our constituencies and find some of these views.

  • Perhaps not in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency—I accept that! Let us not pretend that the progress that we celebrate is universally celebrated across the country.

    I will perhaps touch on that later on, but I want to reflect on some of the history and the landmarks that have gone by. There is a lot more to it than what was achieved in this or that year. Last week, I took part in Queer Question Time in the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, which is I think the oldest gay bar anywhere in Britain. I was on a panel with two guys in their seventies and two others. The two guys in their seventies had helped set up the Gay Liberation Front. One is now chair of the Sexual Avengers; the other is involved in the International Radical Pink Fairies. They had done loads so that I could campaign as an openly gay man in my election campaign, and I have never felt so unqualified to talk about gay history in my entire life as I felt on that night. [Interruption.] I hear my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Stuart Blair Donaldson) saying from a sedentary position that I am not!

    I want to mention a few of the key elements in UK history. In the 1950s, the Wolfenden committee was formed after a succession of well-known men were convicted of indecency, which called into question the legitimacy of the law. Its report recommended that homosexual behaviour be legalised, which was rejected at the time by the Government.

    In 1967, the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised sex between two men over 21 and in private, but that did not extend to the merchant navy, the armed forces, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. It has to be said that Scotland was, to an extent, dragged kicking and screaming to catch up with our counterparts south of the border in this regard. It was in 1980 that sex between two men over the age of 21 and in private was decriminalised in Scotland.

    In 1992, the World Health Organisation declassified same-sex attraction as a mental illness. In 1999, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously found that the investigation into and subsequent discharge of two personnel from the Royal Navy on the basis of their sexual orientation was a breach of their right to a private life under article 8 of the European convention on human rights. That historic ruling is what causes so many LGBT people across this country great concern about the Government’s plans on European human rights as we move forward next year—there is a lot floating around about how the Prime Minister wishes to see that legislation go. It would be most welcome if the Minister could shed some light on that.

    In 2000, the ban on lesbians, gay men and bisexual people serving in the armed forces was lifted, under a Labour Government—that was a great achievement of the Labour Government. I do not want to be partisan, but let us not forget that they went to court to try to prevent that from happening.

    In 2003, section 28 was repealed in England. We had a brutal and horrifying debate on that issue up in Scotland. One of my earliest memories is going to school and seeing the big “Keep the clause” posters and the campaign trucks that were being driven around towns and cities across Scotland. From 2004 onwards, we started to move into an era when civil partnerships became legalised. We now have full equality of marriage under the law in Scotland, England and Wales. Northern Ireland always feels a wee bit left out. It is the last place on these islands that still does not have same-sex marriage. It falls on all of us who believe in progress to stand in solidarity with those in Northern Ireland campaigning for reform and to offer practical support so that they can have equal marriage. I am proud to say—I am not sure whether this is still the case—that when the Scottish Parliament passed the same-sex marriage legislation in 2014 it did so with the largest majority of any legislature in the world.

    There are a couple of things that we need to consider as we move forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway rightly mentioned the recent case of the Afghan asylum seeker, but there is a wider issue about how LGBT people’s asylum claims are handled. I shall be interested to know what reforms the Minister intends to put forward to improve the way we handle the cases of people who identify as LGBT and could be sent back to countries where that is a crime.

    My hon. Friend also rightly mentioned transgender rights, which, as I said last week at the panel event I mentioned earlier, are hugely important. Too often, gay and bisexual men seem to think that the fight is done. When we talk about transgender rights, people say, “Yeah, yeah, of course I am in favour of that,” but they will not be caught on a march or joining a campaign to lobby Parliament. We gay men can be a bit self-centred at times, so we need to get out of that box and join with transgender people in campaigning for the changes they wish to see.

    My hon. Friend rightly mentioned education, which is a devolved matter. England is the largest constituent nation on these islands, and I want us all to marry up our education systems so that, when someone goes to school and receives personal and sexual education, it reflects the person they are. The only thing I can remember from the sexual education I got at school is that it is not sex unless you are lying down. In many ways, it has not moved on. How on earth is a young transgender, bisexual, lesbian or gay person sitting in school listening to that kind of stuff supposed to learn anything about what a healthy sexual relationship looks like, about issues of consent, and about how to build emotional relationships with other people?

    An issue I am campaigning on along with the excellent organisation Freedom To Donate and the all-party parliamentary group on blood donation is that of gay men giving blood. At the moment, I do not believe that our policy reflects modern science. I welcome the Government review that is taking place at the moment, and I hope that the report that we aim to produce by the middle of this year goes some way to informing its conclusions. I would like to see a system in which we say to people, “If you can safely give blood”—there are millions of men who have had sex with men across this country who can—“you should be able to do so.” That is something I would like to see progress on.

    The final thing I want to mention—to my shame, I had no idea that this was the case until I met my two friends from the International Radical Pink Fairies and the Sexual Avengers last week—is that there is no AIDS memorial anywhere in the UK. I was in Berlin at new year, and it has one. There are AIDS memorials in Washington DC, New York, San Francisco—all over north America and in different parts of Europe.

  • The hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) is now going to tell me that there is one in Brighton.

  • I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again; it is very generous of him. I invite him to come and visit Brighton, where in New Steine there is a very beautiful memorial designed by an architect called Romany Bruce. It is one of the most beautiful testimonies to love and to the legacy caused by the AIDS/HIV epidemic. We meet at it regularly to hold vigils and to celebrate the life of the gay community in Brighton and Hove. I invite the hon. Gentleman to come down at his earliest opportunity to see it for himself.

  • The hon. Gentleman has bagged himself a Scotsman for the weekend. I cannot wait to come and see it. Having spent some time in his constituency two years ago—I hate to say that it was washed out by rain the entire time in the middle of August—I know it is indeed an excellent place for LGBT people.

    We need a national memorial. The London Assembly has recently had a debate on that issue and has agreed to establish one, and I hope that Sadiq Khan will take that forward. Not to be political, I have a different view of what the nation is, so I would like to see one in Scotland, and I do not see why there cannot be memorials in Cardiff and Belfast, too. It strikes me as slightly odd that none of our major cities have one. I do not want to cause any offence—I have perhaps just lost my invitation to the constituency of the hon. Member for Hove. It is bizarre that in London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff there is no acknowledgment of the AIDS crisis and what it means to the LGBT community. Although it does not affect only our community, it is undeniable that it had a massive impact.

    LGBT History Month is hugely important, but we have to reflect on how we move forward. I have covered a lot of issues, but there are a lot that I have not covered, including the need to seek decriminalisation in other parts of the world, where we have enforced the laws that people now have to live under. I would be interested to hear anything on that issue from the Minister. Let us ensure that, when we come back here to debate LGBT History Month in 2018, I can tick something off my list of what I would like to see achieved.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) on securing this debate. He is indeed a champion of equality for all. This debate gives us the opportunity, before the end of the month, to celebrate in the House the successes in the struggle for LGBTI equality in the UK. It also gives us the opportunity to reflect on past failures and injustices. That is exactly what LGBT History Month should serve to do.

    I have just returned from an interview with the Financial Times. It is not an institution that I considered to be the most progressive institution on this front, but it turns out that it also celebrates LGBT History Month. It reminded me of the Stonewall movement and the progress that was made over many decades to ensure the equality that I enjoy as an openly gay woman today. I echo my hon. Friend’s sentiments: February should not be the only month in which we celebrate LGBT people. We need more allies like him.

    Although there are very few Members here, I am grateful that we are having this debate in this Chamber. It is not so long ago that section 28 was in force and homosexuality was still a criminal act. In fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) outlined, England and Wales decriminalised it only in 1967—that does not sound so long ago—and Scotland decriminalised it in 1980. That is not the only reason why we should celebrate LGBT History Month, but we should remember where we have come from and where we have to go. The UK has an important role to play as a global actor. It is important to remember that in far too many countries in the world homosexuality is a criminal act and many individuals face death for loving the person they choose to love.

    As well as considering where the LGBT movement has come from, we must consider where it is going in future. I hate to say this, but as a young gay woman I remember, while watching the equal marriage debate in this House only a few years ago, that sinking feeling from listening to MPs who did not reflect me as an individual or as a young woman. Clearly, this Parliament has already changed my perception of this building, of this place and the kind of debates that we can have here.

    In recent years great progress has been made, and many members of the LGBT community—less so in the transgender community—feel that they are more adequately represented in Parliament. Equal marriage is perhaps one of the most significant pieces of legislation that the House has ever passed, allowing love to be recognised in marriage, and families to be recognised in law. More recently, my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson) promoted legislation to pardon all gay and bisexual men convicted under now-abolished sexual offences. Such a policy has been adopted by the Scottish Government and will be soon by the UK Government. Progress has opened up opportunities and cleared barriers for people in LGBT communities to make the most of their lives and to live them to the fullest. We can see evidence in the House of Commons, where we now have more out LGBT MPs than ever before, that the debate is changing and that young people may look to this place to see role models and those whom they can feel represent who they are as people.

    Much more remains to be done, however, for those who identify as LGBT and, for example, as non-binary individuals. Members of some communities feel frustration at the lack of progress, in particular for transgender, intersex and non-binary individuals. We only have to look at the statistics from the mental health charities to qualify any statement. In Scotland one in four children who identifies as trans faces bullying, discrimination and hate crime every day. I pay tribute to Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson of the TIE campaign in Scotland—Time for Inclusive Education—and I am absolutely proud that the Scottish Parliament has for the first time secured a cross-party majority to ensure that inclusive education is on its agenda. I would like to see that throughout the UK.

    Transphobia is endemic in the workplace, schools, healthcare, public services, the media and the criminal justice system. Transphobia becomes a daily fact of life for those who experience it. With that in mind, the first ever inquiry of the Women and Equalities Committee focused on transgender equality. We heard statements about harrowing experiences from individuals who had gone to other countries to seek surgery, because of the waiting list in this one, and who had failed to achieve recognition of their new gender identity or of a relationship. I recognise the Minister’s passion in that regard—she seeks the same progress as I do—but I still feel that UK Government action has been lacking.

    Two pieces of legislation need to be updated. We can celebrate the historic successes of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010, but they are fast becoming outdated. For its time the Gender Recognition Act was a most progressive piece of legislation and made the UK a world leader, but the UK can do much more. The Act allows transgender people to have their gender recognised by certificate, but it still requires medicalised and arduous procedures. It is essential for us to follow countries such as Ireland, Malta and—soon—Scotland, and to allow individuals to self-declare their gender. That sort of change could be made easily by the Government and it would make a huge and positive difference to individuals in their work, life and leisure. The clinical routes and the psychological diagnosis of gender dysphoria are no longer relevant. Even the medical community agrees that such changes are easily made and could allow for self-declaration instead of the previous pathological route. The Equality Act also uses outdated terminology such as “gender reassignment” or “transsexual” in a way that makes things unclear to transgender people and those who identify as non-binary. Such changes would be simple to make and I am sure the Government will proceed to do so in due course.

    Ultimately, it would be remiss of me to celebrate the achievements marked in LGBT History Month without pointing to where we must still go and how we must move forward. The rights I enjoy today are thanks to the people who fought so hard for them, so it is incumbent on me as an LGBT member of the community to stand up for those rights and to keep fighting for transgender individuals and those who identify as non-binary.

    Today marks the end of LGBT History Month, but it is a chance to look at the public petition to reform the law and to secure greater equality for transgender and non-binary people. The petition takes note of the unacceptable levels of discrimination that some in society face. It is essential for the UK to reform the law, to extend discrimination protections and to improve gender recognition rights. The Scottish Government have already committed to doing so and it would be remiss of us not to keep up that progress throughout the UK. Tragically, in some parts of the UK not all individuals can enjoy the same rights of recognition for their marriage or love in law, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South said. That is something that must be changed.

    We stand on the shoulders of giants: the people who fought for the rights that we enjoy today. The LGBT community requires more allies, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway and the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), who is indeed a champion for change. This is a civil rights movement and we must keep up the progress.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship as ever, Ms Dorries, and I know that this is an area about which you, too, care. I thank the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) for securing such an important debate. Like him, I am disappointed that more people are not present, because so much more needs to be done.

    LGBT History Month gives us the opportunity to reflect on key achievements in the long and ongoing struggle for LGBT rights and equality. It offers us a chance to celebrate those individuals, collectives and movements who fought so hard for so long to win recognition and rights, and to realise and respect the debt that we owe them. It gives us the impetus to share their incredible stories of struggle and progress, which enrich young people’s awareness and understanding of LGBT people and issues. In particular, I thank the hon. Members for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) and for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) for talking about just how far we have to go still, while at the same time respecting and honouring the struggles that we have overcome to get to this point. I will focus on some of the issues they raised.

    Despite having much to celebrate in the UK and indeed worldwide, we still have a long way to go before we truly achieve LGBT equality. In this country, the experience of young LGBT people is often marred by terrible bullying and isolation, and LGBT people at work suffer discrimination and harassment. Around the world, LGBT people are still the subject of state-sponsored hate, and in 10 countries homosexuality is punishable by death. I will speak to each of those points.

    Young LGBT people still suffer bullying and discrimination simply because of their sexuality or gender identity. Stonewall’s “The School Report” found that more than half of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils in Britain have experienced direct bullying in school. Almost all gay young people hear such phrases as, “That’s so gay”, or “You’re so gay”, used in a derogatory way in school. METRO’s “Youth Chances” survey of almost 1,000 trans young people found that 83% of them had experienced verbal abuse and 28% physical abuse in school.

    The consequences of that are severe: two in five gay, lesbian or bisexual young people have attempted or thought about taking their own life because of bullying, although by comparison the Samaritans says that only 7% of young people in general attempt to take their own life; and 59% of trans youth said they had deliberately hurt themselves, compared with 8.9% of all 16 to 24-year-olds. Yet the interventions that we could be making to ensure that LGBT young people receive the support and advice they need to thrive are simply not in place.

    LGBT young people are more isolated than their peers and less able to meet other young people with similar experiences, a situation only made worse by the near abolition of youth services across the country as a result of Government cuts. According to a report released last year by Unison, 93% of youth service employees said that their local authority had cut youth services, creating particular problems for LGBT young people. Does the Minister agree with me that youth services are vital in offering young people trusted support and advice away from the school and home environments? If so, will she tell us what communication the Government have had with local authorities about the provision of youth services, in particular LGBT specialist services?

    Of further significant concern is the impact that poor quality and patchy personal, social and health education and sex and relationships education has on young people. Research by the Terrence Higgins Trust on young people aged between 16 and 24 found that 95% of respondents had not learned about LGBT sex and relationships, and 97% had not learned about issues relating to gender identity. Failure to provide such LGBT-inclusive PSHE and sex and relationships education can have serious impacts on the health and wellbeing of LGBT young people. By not embedding LGBT issues within the curriculum, negative perceptions of and myths about LGBT people may persist and become reinforced, fuelling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. It also leaves young people vulnerable by causing them to turn to the internet and myriad unreliable sources, and may unintentionally leave them to fall victim to grooming or exploitation.

    The Government, including the Minister before us, have made commitments on numerous occasions to bring forward changes relating to statutory sex and relationships education. Can the Minister tell us when the Government intend to table amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill to see those changes come into law? Can the Minister tell us which stakeholder groups the Government are consulting on this issue, and whether they include LGBT specialist organisations?

    LGBT young people make up 24% of the youth homeless population, often as a direct result of parental rejection and abuse within the family. Will the Minister tell us what the Government have done to understand the prevalence of LGBT youth homelessness? Can she say where it is most prevalent, or which local authorities require the most support?

    According to the Albert Kennedy Trust’s research, conducted in 2014, only 13% of housing providers recognised the unique needs of LGBT youth, and only 3.9% of those providers had implemented initiatives to address those needs. What are the Government doing to help local authorities and housing providers understand the unique experiences and needs of LGBT young people?

    Many LGBT people experience terrible workplace bullying and harassment. According to Stonewall, almost a third of LGBT people who have experienced bullying have been bullied by their manager; more than half by people in their team; and a quarter by people junior to them. Nearly half of trans people who are not living permanently in their preferred gender role state they are prevented from doing so because they fear it will threaten their employment status. Yet the Government are shutting down the routes to challenging discrimination at work. The introduction of employment tribunal fees has hindered access for many people, especially those from diverse communities, and flies in the face of our core principles of fair access to justice. Worse still, the Government know that.

    In January this year, the Government snuck out their review of employment tribunal fees, admitting that the fall in claims has been significantly greater than was estimated when the fees were introduced. They are consulting retrospectively on proposals for an adjustment to the “help with fees” scheme to extend the scope of support available to people on low incomes. Does the Minister really believe that reviewing fees for the lowest-paid is good enough, or does she accept that the Government have priced people out of enforcing their rights?

    I want to turn to the international context, where huge progress has been made in the struggle for LGBT equality. Nineteen countries now recognise marriage as a legal right, but there are many countries where homosexuality is punishable by death and many more where homophobic and transphobic hatred and violence are commonplace. Just as we ask no one to be a bystander to LGBT hate crime here in the UK, the Government cannot be a bystander to the regressive and backward policies of nation states around the world. We look to this Government to take a zero-tolerance approach to violence and discrimination against LGBT people in all its forms. Can the Minister tell us what work is being undertaken by the Government to promote LGBT rights abroad, both through the UN and in regular interactions with individual nation states?

  • The hon. Lady will recall that our parties’ manifestos at the general election laid out plans for an envoy who would report directly to the Prime Minister on LGBT progress. I think her party’s candidate was Lord Cashman, whom we would have been delighted to support. Does she agree that that should still be under active consideration by the Government? It would be relatively simple and straightforward and could deliver enormous benefits.

  • I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It would be a simple thing to put in place. We have a Victims’ Commissioner, for example. It would not be an expensive intervention, but it would both send out messages and provide helpful scrutiny of the issue for the Government. I suggest the Minister looks into that.

    Reflecting on the year just gone, it is important to reiterate that when it comes to the rights of LGBT people here and around the world, the status quo is never enough. If LGBT equality does not progress, we are not simply at a standstill, but going backwards. That is why LGBT History Month is so important. It shows us how far we have come as a society, but it also highlights how far we have to go.

  • It is an enormous pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) on securing this really important debate and on opening it with his charismatic warmth, wit and eloquence. It is such an important debate. LGBT History Month is so important. As he said, the question is why we have to hold back a month every year to talk about this when we should talk about it every day. It is important that we do. Other Members here today have articulated beautifully how far we have come, but also how far we still have to go.

    LGBT History Month gives us an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the numerous achievements in furthering LGBT equality and the numerous individuals and groups who have brought them about. It is also an opportunity for us to take a moment to remember that there is still much more that we can do.

    LGBT equality remains a subject of great importance for the Government. I am incredibly proud to serve as the Minister responsible for LGBT policy. It is a role I take very seriously. We are committed to exploring all avenues in eradicating barriers that prevent anybody from achieving their full potential and living full, happy and healthy lives. I will talk a little more about that in a moment, but first I want to touch on the journey that this country has taken on the route towards LGBT equality.

    Historically, progress on equality has often involved small steps driven forward by the tireless efforts of devoted individuals in the face of what might often seem insurmountable obstacles and setbacks. However, looking back at the steps we have taken in the UK, it is clear that our country has a strong record of furthering equal rights for all, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bi and trans, or who have another minority sexual orientation or gender identity. It is a record we should be proud of. It has made the UK a beacon of hope for many people around the world, particularly, as the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), pointed out, in those places in the world where, tragically, people can be put to death because of their sexuality. For them we are a beacon of hope as they move forward on their journey.

    This year marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales. As we know, it was never illegal to be a lesbian; apparently, they did not exist. The 1957 Wolfenden report on prostitution and homosexual offences laid the foundations for all LGBT equality legislation. Its recommendations first led to the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, when homosexual acts between two men were legalised in England and Wales. For Scotland, it would be another 13 years, and one more for Northern Ireland.

    Some of the most progressive changes have occurred only in the past two decades, as hon. Members have articulated. The age of consent was equalised in 2000, and in 2002 same-sex couples were afforded the right to adopt. Two years later the Government introduced the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which granted same-sex couples legal recognition of their relationships for the first time, as well as the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which, as the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) pointed out, was a strong first step forward that enabled people to change their gender legally. These are but a few of the historical achievements on our journey in progressing equality for LGBT people over the past 60 years.

    The journey has none the less enabled the UK to become a global leader in this area. It has created a space in which we can be proud to say, for example, that we have the highest number of openly LGB parliamentarians in the world. In 2015, 36 MPs from across the political spectrum described themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual. That journey paved the way for equal marriage, which became a reality with the first same-sex marriages in March 2014. Today, more and more same-sex couples are choosing to marry, finally able to celebrate their relationships in the way other couples have done for centuries.

    Without the commitment and achievements of the very people whom we celebrate during LGBT History Month, the UK would not be the world leader in LGBT equality that it is today. We have set the bar unashamedly high and have become an exemplar of best practice for other countries. We continue to be recognised as one of the most progressive countries in Europe for LGBT rights by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. As the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway pointed out, in 2016 the UK came third behind Malta and Belgium. The ILGA has not provided a breakdown for each of the home nations. The scoring for Scotland, based on ILGA criteria, was determined by a Scottish LGBT charity, which ranked Scotland as top of the list. That underlines how we must continue to learn from each other and share best practice. Our placing is a testament to the myriad achievements made in recent decades.

    With the Equality Act 2010, the Gender Recognition Act 2004, and hate crime legislation, to name a few, we are immensely proud to have one of the world’s strongest legislative frameworks to prevent and tackle discrimination, including on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender reassignment. Additionally, more and more LGBT people are becoming adoptive parents and giving children the much needed stable family environment that so many of them crave and deserve.

    The Government are none the less determined to continue to build on those successes in securing and furthering the rights of LGBT people. We are rightly committed to championing equality and are therefore working across the whole of government to improve the experiences of LGBT people throughout their lives. Our focus between now and 2020 will be on a number of areas, including ensuring that LGBT people do not face barriers in health, safety and education, and that they receive high quality services.

  • The Minister mentions health barriers. I am keen to hear what her thinking is about provision of pre-exposure prophylaxis, which I am sure she is aware of. It strikes me and many in the LGBT community that if it were a drug for heterosexual people—of course it is also for heterosexual people; but if the issue of HIV were as big an issue in the heterosexual community as it is in the gay community—we would not even be having the debate and PrEP would be available already. Can she update us on the Government’s exact position? I think there is a pilot, and it would be helpful if she could update us.

  • The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that important issue. PrEP is potentially a life-saving development. We are aware that it could make a difference to the health outcomes of people living with HIV and AIDS. The Court of Appeal recently ruled that NHS England has the legal power to commission PrEP. That means that it has to consider providing it on the NHS. It has committed to consulting on enabling it to be assessed as part of the annual prioritisation round for specialised commissioning. That consultation is expected to start shortly.

    I have outlined how we want to focus on issues such as health, safety and education for LGTB people, but other hon. Members have also spoken about the importance of showcasing our work internationally, to ensure that we bring other countries with us in our efforts for equality. We are a founder member of the Equal Rights Coalition, which has an important role.

    A couple of Members mentioned the disturbing reports about an Afghan asylum seeker. We remain committed to improving the asylum process for those claiming asylum on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Decision makers and caseworkers are provided with dedicated guidance and training on the management of such claims, but they consider every case individually. The asylum claims made in the UK, including those made on the ground of sexuality, are carefully considered in accordance with our international obligations under the 1951 refugee convention and the European convention on human rights. However, no one who is found to be at risk of persecution or serious harm in their country of origin, because of their sexuality or gender identity, will be returned.

    We recognise that our progress in achieving acceptance and recognition of trans people has not kept pace with that in respect of the LGB population, and that transgender people, as many hon. Members have mentioned, continue to suffer from high levels of inequality. We want Britain to be a place that works for transgender citizens. We recognise that there is a long way to go on trans equality. Last week I met with trans ambassadors from the youth charity Fixers to hear what they think can be done in healthcare and education to improve services that they receive. I was very touched when the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway said that no one would choose to be trans. It is not a fashion statement. It takes enormous strength of character and awe-inspiring courage to make that change in one’s life. In some cases it is a very long and particularly tricky journey. A young trans person in England today is nearly twice as likely to have attempted suicide, and nearly three times as likely to have self-harmed, as their non-trans peers. Moreover, the number of police-recorded transgender hate crimes in England and Wales rose by more than 41% in the past two years. Those are unacceptable figures.

    From mental health to hate crime, and from bullying in schools to discrimination in the workplace, there is more to do. That is why, in 2015, the Government published guidance for employers and service providers that gave a clear explanation of the Equality Act 2010 and how it should be interpreted when supporting and recruiting transgender people. We have also increased sentences for transgender hate crimes, bringing them into line with those for other hate crimes. In addition, we recently issued instructions to offender management services to improve the treatment and management of transgender offenders. The new guidelines state that all transgender prisoners must be allowed to express the gender with which they identify.

    Last year, we received the thoughtful, thorough and wide-ranging report on trans equality from the Select Committee on Women and Equalities. We are taking a number of the recommendations forward. We have committed to a range of actions, including reviewing the Gender Recognition Act 2004 with a view to demedicalising and streamlining the process of changing legal gender. As the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East pointed out, that Act was ahead of its time, but the world has moved on quickly and we need to review it. We have committed to conducting a review to find ways to reduce unnecessary demands for gender markers in official documents. We are writing to all relevant heads of public sector bodies and professions to highlight the need for introducing and monitoring the effectiveness of training on transgender issues. We are also committed to improving training for NHS staff, as well as the service specification for gender identity and children and young people’s services.

    We are already making progress in relation to that commitment. NHS England has committed an additional £2.2 million to young people’s gender identity services to respond to an increased demand. It is working closely with the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, the only gender identity clinic specialising in young people, and with other organisations to develop a workforce and training plan for transgender identity services. The commitments given in our response to the Select Committee will mark a step forward in equality for trans people. We are committed to delivering positive change and will continue to work with transgender citizens to review and improve our policies as we move forward.

    As other hon. Members have articulated, we are unfortunately all too aware that individuals perceived to be LGB or trans are disproportionately affected by bullying. In 2014, 86% of secondary school teachers and 45% of primary school teachers reported that pupils experienced homophobic bullying or name calling in their schools. That is totally unacceptable, which is why the Government have made £3 million available to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools. We are funding six initiatives that have so far reached more than 1,200 primary and secondary schools in England, or will do in the next three years, building on the previous £2 million grant that the programme announced in October 2014.

    The shadow Minister was right to point out that having the right sex and relationship education and PSHE is also really important to equipping young people with the tools they need to face the challenges of the modern world. As she knows, my colleague the Secretary of State for Education has committed to bringing forward her suggestions very shortly as part of the Children and Social Work Bill.

    On youth services, improving mental health starts with ensuring that children and young people get the help and support that they need and deserve. That is why we are doing an enormous piece of work with the Department of Health to find suitable partners to deliver projects to extend training pilots for single points of contact in education and child and adolescent mental health services to up to 1,200 more schools and colleges. Through that work, we will also pilot a range of peer support programmes and approaches for schools, colleges, community groups and online, and launch a programme of randomised controlled trials of preventive programmes across three different approaches to mental health promotion and preservation.

    In their 2015 manifestos, the Conservative and other parties committed to building on the posthumous pardon of the Enigma code breaker Alan Turing. I am delighted to say that only last month, we secured a tremendous achievement and another move forward for LGBT equality when our Policing and Crime Bill received Royal Assent. The so-called Turing’s law has become a reality. That allows posthumous pardons to be issued to people convicted of consensual same-sex activity and enables statutory pardons for the living. It is right that individuals should not have a criminal record because they had a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex.

    The hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) mentioned the fear that some people—particularly some members of the LGBT community—have about Brexit. In these uncertain times, it is really important to stress that the Government are firmly committed to maintaining protection of LGBT people during and after the process of leaving the European Union. The hard-earned progress that we have made in so many areas must not be eroded. We are proud that the UK has some of the strongest equality legislation in the world and want to continue to address discrimination in all its forms.

    Relevant EU directives and European Court of Justice judgments have already been incorporated into domestic law through the Equality Act 2010. We have begun to provide a strong framework to ensure that the UK is well positioned to continue to drive forward LGBT equality post-Brexit. On legislative protection, we aim to maintain stability and continuity for the LGBT community. The Government have made a clear commitment that all protections in equality legislation will continue to apply once the UK has left the EU, and there will be no going back on that commitment.

    The individuals and achievements we celebrate during LGBT History Month remind us that we have made real progress in advancing the rights of LGBT people, but we should be inspired to maintain the momentum of recent years to bring about positive change, which for many felt almost inconceivable just decades ago. We recognise the importance of these issues and will continue to explore effective means to improve the lives of LGBT people. The Government are acting in education, health, safety, the workplace and other areas to ensure that no one is left behind. The work is complex and it sometimes takes time to see the benefits, but we are committed to ensuring equality for all and eradicating discrimination in all its forms because that is simply the right thing to do.

    May I once again congratulate the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway on securing the space to consider these issues? I thank all Members who have taken part in this historic and important debate.

  • I was initially disappointed that so few Members were here, but then I thought, “Perhaps that’s a positive thing and they don’t think there’s an issue worth mentioning.” I was struck by the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald)—these are his words, not mine—that gay men could be a little self-centred and perhaps think they have already won this battle. It has come across loud and clear from all the contributions today that this battle is not won and there is still a big fight to be had. It is incumbent on my hon. Friend and friends in the community—[Interruption.] He chunters, “Friends of Dorothy,” from a sedentary position. It is for them to take the baton up once more. A huge, effective movement has evolved over years, and it needs to come together again to face the new frontier of the challenges that we face.

    I thank the Minister for her detailed response. I repeat that I know she cares deeply about this subject. She might not join another party or change her constitutional views, but I suggest that these issues will be in safe hands as she gets on with her work over the next three or four years, and I wish her all the very best.

    The hon. Member for—is it Rochdale?

  • Many apologies—that is almost sacrilege. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) made the important point that it is not only legislation and policies to do with the LGBT community that make a difference. She talked about employment tribunal fees, which clearly are not targeted at the LGBT community in any way, but it is an unintended consequence that LGBT people are on the margins of those who suffer from such policies. We therefore need to look not only at LGBT-directed policies, but at the unintended consequences across a range of policies.

    I was very impressed when I met the Minister last week and she said that she is in the process of embedding equality in every aspect of the Department for Education. I suggest that she should become a champion—pardon the pun—to embed equality not just in the Department for Education but across all Departments. If she drives that change, she will have done great things with her tenure.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Resolved,

    That this House has considered LGBT History Month.

  • Sitting suspended.