Fighting for a just society – legal rights for LGBTIQA+ individuals

Tops of heads visible at a Pride march with a flag that says: "Born this way"

Written by Luanne Thornton

In the UK, the LGBTIQA+ community remain oppressed within our society, and while in recent years their rights have been acknowledged by UK legislation; equality still eludes LGBTIQA+ people within our society. For countless LGBTIQA+ individuals, the kind of daily normality that is experienced by heterosexual people does not exist for them.

This article explores injustices experienced by the LGBTIQA+ community over the past several decades, tracks the progress the UK has made, begins to look at how our future can be shaped and how the Green Party is leading the way for progressive British politics.

Decriminalising Homosexuality

Let's begin our discussion in 1957, when the report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution - better known as the Wolfenden Report - was published. Following a three-year enquiry, the Wolfenden Committee compiled a report which proposed that 'homosexual activity between adults consenting in private could no longer be considered a criminal offence'. Under pressure, the Government initially rejected the report’s recommendations.

Despite this initial rejection, mounting support for the recommendations to be implemented from a wide range of people (including, academic Tony Dyson and writer J.B Priestly) forced the government to pass the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which legalised same-sex acts carried out in private between men over the age of 21 in England and Wales. It took just over a decade for Scotland (1980) and Northern Ireland (1981) to follow suit. A move towards equality was reflected in this act, yet even now, there is still a long way to go to achieve justice for the LGBTIQA+ community.

Inclusive Education

Justice was to be set back in 1988 when Section 28 of the Local Government Act, enacted under Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government, prohibited local authorities from 'promoting homosexuality' or 'pretended family relationships' and forbade councils from funding educational materials. The legislation prevented LGBTIQA+ issues from being discussed and prevented pupils from getting the support they needed.

The legislation came under lots of opposition with the British Library noting key moments which included: Sir Ian McKellen coming out while discussing the subject on a Radio 3 debate; campaigners abseiling into the House of Lords during a debate on the ruling; and campaigners invading the BBC studios the day before the section became law.

"...Section 28 was repealed but for a whole generation of LGBTIQA+ individuals, the harmful effects of this act were already done."

In 2003, Section 28 was repealed but for a whole generation of LGBTIQA+ individuals, the harmful effects of this act were already done. There’s a whole host of personal experiences that LGBTIQA+ people have discussed in the media with drag queen Davina De Campo and author Matthew Todd joining a vast range of LGBTIQA+ people sharing their experiences of the legislation and how it impacted their lives.

Within the education community there remains a shadow of Section 28 and new policies are having to be implemented into schools. An inclusive education has been highly fought for by various groups across the United Kingdom. One of these groups was Time for Inclusive Education (TIE), a Scottish charity founded in 2015 by Liam Stevenson and Jordan Daly. TIE helped to contribute to the historical moment when Scotland became the first country in the world to mandate an LGBTI-inclusive curriculum across all state schools, something in which the rest of the UK parliament at Westminster would pass in April 2019.

The new legislation meant that all secondary schools in England would be required to teach RSE including sexual orientation and gender identity, and all primary schools in England would be required to teach Relationships Education (RE) which can include LGBTIQA+ families. By reforming education in the UK to be more LGBTIQA+ inclusive we are beginning to see a greater representation of the world in which we live and are able to offer better advice and support for young people across the United Kingdom. This is positive progress which we will begin seeing the impact of in the next few years.

Same-Sex Partnerships and Legal Recognition

Perhaps one of the most progressive series of legislation came as a result of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which permitted same-sex couples to enter legally binding partnerships. These were used as a substitution for marriage but there was a variety of differences which made still didn’t suit many within the LGBTIQA+ Community. These differences included but were not limited to: the lack of religious ceremony for civil partnerships; civil partners cannot call themselves ‘married’ for legal purposes and that adultery is not a valid reason to dissolve a civil partnership, but it can be used to divorce.

The subsequent Marriage Act in 2013 then went further, allowing same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales; the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 followed and finally the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc.) Act 2019 was adopted by Northern Ireland, making same-sex marriage legal on 13 January 2020. The introduction of civil partnerships and marriage is a positive affirmation and celebration of love that LGBTIQA+ individuals experience.

Gender Recognition

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 - introduced on 4 April 2005 - gave transgender people full legal recognition of their gender, permitting them to acquire a new birth certificate. However, the gender options are currently limited to the binary 'male' or 'female'.

The Gender Recognition Act (GRA) is also criticised by many in the LGBTIQA+ community because it requires transgender people to receive a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria; a process which is described as a dehumanising experience while also excluding non-binary people altogether.

The GRA came under review in 2020 but the desired result for the LGBTIQA+ community wasn’t achieved. In order to gain a Gender Recognition Certificate individuals still need “a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria from an approved medical practitioner; a medical report from an approved medical professional providing details of any treatment they have had; Evidence they have lived in their new gender for at least two years; an agreement from their spouse/civil partner to the marriage/civil partnership and a statutory declaration that they intend to live in the acquired gender until death (making a false statement is a criminal offence)”.

"The Green Party... continues to advocate for individuals to be able to self-determine their gender"

The Green Party alongside other LGBTIQA+ allies continues to advocate for individuals to be able to self-determine their gender in line with best practice in other countries such as; Ireland, Malta, Argentina and Norway. It is very clear that this government, as Nancy Kelley Chief Executive of Stonewall UK explains: ‘has fallen far short on its promise to reform the Gender Recognition Act, and has missed a key opportunity to progress LGBT equality’. The Green Party leads the way in fighting for an updated GRA, stating in 2019 their commitment to “updating the Gender Recognition Act to allow trans and non-binary people to get legal recognition through self-declaration" as well as "changing the law so an X gender marker would be added to passports for non-binary and intersex people who wish to use it”.

As the Green Party we are looking ahead but unfortunately our current government is not representing the current society we live in and making life harder than it needs to be for many LGBTIQA+ individuals.

Creating a Just Future

In addition to an incompetent - and frankly cruel - government, there is a significant political issue that may further affect the LGBTQIA+ community in the UK… Brexit.

The UK’s exit from the European Union means that our laws are no longer held accountable to EU legislation, meaning the UK may alter, lose or dilute the LGBTQIA+ rights that were once retained and protected by the EU. Moving forward, the LGBTIQA+ community will need to remain as diligent and resilient as ever in their fight for justice and equality, especially as Brexit's complex changes take place in the UK. The LGBTIQA+ Greens remain at the forefront of the fight for the rights of LGBTIQA+ people, from organising protests to lobbying policymakers. We are proud to be part of a party that champions ideals of positivity and inclusion and must continue to fight to keep the freedom for the LGBTIQA+ community and grant them the additional rights they deserve.

For more information on what the Green Party are doing in order to protect and fight for the rights of LGBTIQA+ individuals please refer to our commitment to LGBTIQA+ people.

And for further details please feel free to get in touch with our LGBTIQA+ members group.

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