Theresa May's LGBTQ action plan: laws may change, but attitudes do not
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
LGBTQ rights have come such a long way in recent years, but there is still such a long way to go. Equal marriage became legal in England, Scotland and Wales in 2014, and a year later, the US Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage, legalising it in all 50 states. Over 62 per cent of voters in the Republic of Ireland said yes to equal marriage in a referendum in the same year.
The progress has been incredible, but that does not mean LGBTQ rights activists are resting on their laurels. Complacency cannot be afforded. Changing the law does not necessarily mean changing attitudes.
Same-sex couples are recognised in the eyes of the law, but there is still work to do when it comes to acceptance in the wider community. In the largest national survey of LGBTQ people in the world, involving 108,000 respondents, it was revealed that more than two-thirds avoid holding hands in public. For something that straight couples may take for granted, LGBTQ couples are hesitant when it comes to a simple act of affection.
And, at long last, gay conversion therapy will be banned by the government. The survey found that five per cent of LGBTQ people have been offered "gay conversion therapies" - that's a staggering 5,400.
The ban is part of the government's LGBTQ 75-point action plan. There will also be a consultation on changes to the Gender Recognition Act, which determines how a trans person can have their gender identity legally recognised.
"No-one should ever have to hide who they are or who they love," Theresa May said, as the government announced the results to their national survey. The very same Theresa May who has had an uneven record when it comes to LGBTQ rights. Back in 1998, for instance, she voted against reducing the age of consent for homosexual acts from 18 to 16, bringing it in line with heterosexual acts. The prime minister voted no on a bill that allowed same sex couples to adopt, and was absent on the vote to repeal Section 28 in 2003.
She did, however, vote in favour of civil partnerships, and then later same-sex marriages. The prime minister admitted her mistakes, saying she has "developed her view" on LGBTQ issues, and wants to "be seen as an ally of the LGBT community here in the UK".
Launching the action plan, while still in bed with the DUP, is "the height of hypocrisy", the Independent argues. In the report, they note, Mrs May said "we can be proud that the UK is a world leader in advancing LGBT rights" - but she has perhaps forgot a certain part in the UK where it is not, Northern Ireland.
"Having objected to every advance in gay rights over the past 60 years," the Independent writes, "the party [DUP] is one of the most anti-LGBT organisations in existence in this country." The very same gay conversion therapies that Mrs May calls "abhorrent" are the ones that the DUP were publicly advocating not so long ago.
The Guardian's Damian Barr calls the LGBTQ cure ban "pure pink-washing", with the crackdown being a cynical move. "It’s... an easy win, like banning the use of kittens as footballs," they argue. Homophobia is still alive and kicking, and gay conversion therapy is "the most extreme and obvious effect of homophobia" - the government needs to address the roots of hate that lie so much deeper.
Barr argues it is as though the government is saying: "Look at this terrible thing we’re banning! Be grateful! Don’t look at what we’re doing or not doing for LGBT people every single day."
He adds: "I’m sick of feeling grateful. We must be as watchful of our politicians as we are of those beery bigots cheering in the street. They’re just as dangerous."
You can change the law, but the attitudes take longer to change. The LGBTQ action plan is a step in the right direction, but it is not a simple box-ticking exercise - it's much more complicated than that. LGBTQ rights have progressed, but there's a long journey that still lies ahead.