Recorded hate crime against disability, religion and gender/sexual orientation is skyrocketing

GOV.UK published statistics on hate crimes and racist incidents recorded by the police.

It makes grim reading if you are from a religious minority, disabled, or from a gender and sexual minority.

Recorded hate crime against all four is on the rise. The rise is fastest amongst lesbians, gays and bisexuals.

This goes against a lot of the rhetoric that we hear about Britain becoming a more safe and tolerant place.

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How To Tell Your Colleagues You’re Gay

How To Tell Your Colleagues You’re Gay

Coming out at work, it’s terrible isn’t it? On your first day on the job you do up your tie, check that you haven’t left Grindr open and leave your gayness at the door. Before long, the “partner chat” starts to begin. Most of your colleagues love for some inexplicable reason to talk about their kids, or the place that they’ll move into when they’ve had their kids, or the person they’d like to have their kids with. And all the while, you stay quiet, not really knowing how to broach the subject. Blithely dropping “my boyfriend” into conversation all seems a bit casual, and what do you do with the gaping hole in the conversation that follows? Will coming out adversely affect your career prospects, particularly in a conservative workplace?

With all the uncertainty around coming out, it’s no surprise that many of us choose not to bother. According to a 2014 study conducted by the advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, 53% of LGBT employees in the U.S. are closeted at work. There are also only a few openly gay company executives in the UK and the US. Tim Cook is the only openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and not all of us work for companies as trendy and progressive and cool as Apple.

But why is coming out at work seen as such a big deal, and how can you tell your colleagues you’re gay without making a massive deal out of it? It’s easy to imagine your sexuality being turned into the butt of jokes at work, but how do you approach that? How do you let people know that you’re openly gay, but that it’s just another facet of your professional identity? If you have leadership aspirations, how do you square those with being openly gay?

All of these concerns are understandable, and the mood music around diversity issues is definitely a little tricky right now. We’ve just had the Google Diversity Memo, which openly discussed the idea that “biological suitability” may make different people more suited for different roles. You might be the first LGBT person to come out in your workplace.

The first thing that you can take heart from is that the workplace is likely to be more friendly to gender and sexual freedom than society at large. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 91% of the Fortune 500 provide protection in their own policies on the basis of sexual orientation, and 61% protect employees based on gender identity. While this may feel like cold comfort if you know that you are the first person to come out in your company (or even in some cases your industry!), but you can at least know that you’re unlikely to be coming out without at least some sort of safety net.

If you are the first to come out in your company – great! You’ll now be able to bring your full identity to work with you, and leave the uncertainty of having to manage what you say behind you. When I came out in my first role, I was the first person in the company to do so, but I was able to take a role in educating the workforce on LGBT issues, and it ended up being a really positive thing for my career.

Far from being a negative experience for me, it’s actually helped me stand out. I’ve learned about networking groups such as LGBT Interbank and London LGBT Professionals, and have found myself part of a much wider network than I previously thought possible. I used to see being LGBT and involved in leadership as a contradiction, but now I see them as one and the same thing.

One of the really negative trends in recent years has been the tendency to reduce everyone to labels. “Oh that person is trans, that person is bi, that person is genderqueer,” without really getting to know that person. My networking with LGBT professionals (and with straight allies) have helped me and them remember that we are all people at the end of the day, and that we have lives beyond the labels we give each other. Learning from the experiences of others has really helped me develop as an LGBT leader.

For that reason too, there’s a lot to be said for just standing up and being counted. By being a visible LGBT presence in and around the office, you’ll be making it easier for other people to come out, and helping your colleagues better understand LGBT issues. It may feel daunting to be the first one, but all change begins with one person, and you’ll be doing your part to create a more productive and positive work environment for everyone.

But what can you do to make the process of coming out easier? Here are some top tips:

Know Your Context

It sounds obvious, but yes, you do need to understand what your work environment is before you take a decision to come out. Although the situation is rapidly changing, some work environments and some industries are going to be less friendly than others. You may well get a different response to coming out in the construction industry to working in media.

Coming out in management consulting may be a different experience to coming out in sales or banking. If you work in one of these industries or one of these companies, you likely already know about it, but it’s worth checking yourself first. In the long run, if a particular company is homophobic, you may decide against working with them in the long run.

‘What a man believes may be ascertained, not from his creed, but from the assumptions on which he habitually acts.’

George Bernard Shaw

Tip one should be to absolutely do your research about the kind of environment you are likely to be coming out into. Will you be the first person to come out? Are there any protections for LGBT people, either through the employee handbook or at the state level? Success in all walks of life is about knowing the terrain you are likely to be fighting on.

Find Allies You Can Rely On

Second, you absolutely want to find other people you can go into battle with. Be on the look out for other LGBT employees, and colleagues that seem to be gay-friendly, as well as friends and mentors in and around the workplace. Many of them will have been through the exact same thing that you have, and will be in a position to teach you about their experiences and help you. They’ll also be a great help if you run up against any challenges as an LGBT individual in the workplace.

I’ve worked with dozens of really fab mentors over the years who have helped me with everything from coming out to joining up with networking events, to making the right decisions in relation to my career. Sometimes these things have explicitly involved my sexuality, other times it’s just been nice to have another voice who knows what you’re going through.

Having people around who understand what you are going through, particularly those who don’t expect you to do things like do unpaid “internships” in return for their advice, is a great way to validate your plan of action moving forward. You should be open to talking about your experiences, particularly after you’ve come out, as you’re in a great position to act as an example to others who haven’t come out yet.

Come Out Early, Come Out Often

If you have come out, don’t feel that that’s the last thing you can ever say on the subject. A great way of coming out without making a huge deal out of it is to mention a past relationship. You don’t have to fight too hard to find the words, just find a way of bringing it into conversation.

People will understand, and it’s a million times easier than sitting down colleagues and having the chat which has a real “the birds and the bees feel to it”! So if the topic does turn to what you are doing at the weekend, or where you are going on vacation and you know the lie of the land, you should feel totally comfortable just dropping it in! These are natural and normal opportunities for you to come out at work.

Where you go from there is totally up to you. Some people like to openly embrace their LGBT identity as part of their working identity, and that’s totally cool. Others prefer to hang back (and anyway, prefer to keep their private and their work life separate). Others are sadistic and enjoy teasing new colleagues with “are they / aren’t they” type tricks!

It’s also for you to decide where your particular boundaries lie as an LGBT individual. I always used to hate it at the pub personally when Friday afternoon conversation turned to “gay lingo”, which straight men seem to have a strange fascination with; or questions about whether I was a top or a bottom.

I like to think that these stemmed from misunderstandings about “where the line” is, but if you think someone has pushed their questions too far, feel free to politely tell them. You might also want to think ahead of time about how you might handle some of these conversations if they do come up, particularly in situations like the pub where the expectation is that things are going to be quite relaxed!

Post-Coming Out

After you have come out, you may find that a lot of things already become a lot easier. But being anxious about how people are going to react is always going to be a part of the LGBT experience. It’s always going to be one of those slightly awkward things, although it does seem to get easier the more you do it (depending on environment).

Taking the lead with your sexuality and gender identity at work can be a really positive development for you, and will help others who are thinking of coming out. You have the right to feel comfortable about yourself at work and be a more productive leader.

What’s stopping you from coming out at work?

It’s time liberals really stood up for Trans people

It’s time liberals really stood up for Trans people

In the wake of Donald Trump’s sudden ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, much of the attention has focused on the political backlash against the decision. Much of the liberal media is in consensus that this is a politically driven decision designed to deflect attention from the ongoing Russia investigation and the fallout from Trump’s continuing criticism of his Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

But that’s not the entire story: Trump’s anti-LGBT rhetoric is so effective because of deep-seated ignorance within the American population (particularly when it comes to transgender people), that LGBT advocates have thus far done a poor job in combating.

On Twitter, one of the main hashtags that people were mobilizing around against the ban was #TransRightsAreHumanRights. Many of the people involved in the discussion were mocking and cajoling Trump and his supporters, and laying out their own arguments why Trump’s ban was unfair on transgender people.

The problem with this approach is that many of the people who oppose transgender people in the military and transgender people using the appropriate bathrooms and such like are ignorant about transgender people. And if you want to get through to people who are ignorant about people who are different to themselves, appeals to “fairness” very rarely work.

Instead, we need to start with the premise that the only reason Trump has been able to ban transgender people in the military is that there are at least some people who will be supportive of the ban, and many others who think it’s “no big deal” if transgender people cannot serve. Some of those people may even be self-described “liberals.” It’s asking a lot for those people to change their opinions overnight. Some people are, for instance, very concerned about having their bodies seen by others, a reaction that they then project onto other people. It isn’t productive, fair, or right to call these people bigots.

In the days of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, senior military officials and conservative commentators argued that young people from middle America would be made uncomfortable by sharing quarters with gay people. Because privacy and trust are of paramount importance in the military, it was necessary to keep gay people out the way for the importance of group cohesion. “See, not homophobic, just practical!”

Now we, lucky us, know how this story ends. It turns out the fears about gay people in the military were massively overblown, and actual military personnel were completely comfortable with their colleagues being gay. The thing that was actually needed was for senior people in the military saying that if you were prepared to lay down your life for your country and make the ultimate sacrifice, it didn’t really matter what your sexuality was. Instead, they demurred.

We also know that banning transgender people from the military solves none of the problems it purports to solve. Although the people who came out as transgender in the military under Obama face an uncertain future, it won’t stop transgender people applying to join the military. Trans people will still exist in the military. They will just conceal who they are.

As a direct result of Trump’s policy, the military will be losing out on talented service people. Over the 17 year course of DADT, two gay service members were kicked out of the military on average every day. These included specialists in Arabic translation, people who spoke many languages, and experts in counter-terrorism. Among the trans population in the military, there are some similarly brilliant people.

Nor would allowing transgender people to serve openly have any impact at all on military readiness. A 2016 study by the RAND Corporation found that 18 other countries, include Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, allow transgender people to serve openly in the military with “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.” There simply aren’t that many trans people in the military to make a difference. Based on RAND’s estimates, trans troops make up around 2,450 of the 1.3 million active-component service members — a fraction of a percent of the US military.

For the same reason, the cost of trans people serving in the military seeking gender-assignment treatment is negligible. The RAND study found that: “Using private health insurance claims data to estimate the cost of extending gender transition–related health care coverage to transgender personnel indicated that active-component health care costs would increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, representing a 0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures.”

There is, make no mistake, though, a battle for hearts and minds to be won across America. And it won’t be won by mocking Trump, or calling Trump supporters bigoted. Research by David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, published last year, found that “simply encouraging actively taking the perspective of others can markedly reduce prejudice for at least 3 months.” When their team of canvassers discussed perceptions of trans people with voters around Miami, they were able to generate more positive perceptions of trans people — and they stuck.

But liberals need to get outside the bubble and have the conversation. Trump is counting on the fact that liberal voters will just howl at the moon on Twitter. All this will do is reinforce the perception that many conservative voters have of liberals. Liberals need to reach out to people in Middle America and make the argument. Don’t know any people in Middle America? That’s part of the problem.

Study after study shows that when diversity and tolerance wins, everyone wins. Civil rights scholar Taylor Branch’s epic study of the civil rights movement found that “the civil rights movement liberated segregationists themselves.” Racial terrorism dropped and integration led to business growth and a decline in poverty. Mass enfranchisement led to the revival of a genuine two-party political system in the South. Meritocracy triumphed over the politics of arbitrary exclusion.

But things will only change if liberals can overcome the lack of familiarity and empathy conservatives have for sexual minorities. The conversations may be awkward, and involve some people confronting hard truths about themselves, but the pay off is worth it for all of us. The real question is: Liberals, are you prepared to have the conversation?

The strange death of the Gay District

Many of the most gin-soaked, euphoric and, poignant moments of my life have happened in gay districts. My first kiss, my first attempts at flirting, the time I made out with my boyfriend in the rain when the club told me I was too drunk to get in. Because I went to an all boys-school in the countryside, I was the only gay person that I knew growing up. It was in Birmingham’s gay district that I first realized that there were other people like me.

This week, bar owners in London are warning that they are threatened with closure due to rent rises. It’s becoming a familiar story. Bars in gay districts that were previously thriving are changing ownership, to be replaced by residential units and craft cocktail bars. Areas that were previously known for their head shops, sex dungeons, all-night cafes and LGBT watering holes are being stale pastiches of themselves.

‘These increased huge rate increases are ridiculous. You don’t get a say in it. You can try and appeal it but it will take two to three years to go to appeal” — Jeremy Joseph, G-A-Y

We all, us who can remember gay districts as they were, remember a club that had a profound influence on us growing up. The Astoria — torn down in 2008 in an act of cultural vandalism that that part of London has never quite recovered from — hosted G-A-Y, an outlandishly camp night that managed to pull off the balancing act of targeting younger people while making older guys feel welcome. Its replacement, Heaven, aspires to the same magic but falls somehow just short.

Much has been made of the end of “separation” in the gay community. How, as decades of inequality and discrimination are rolled back, the “visibility gap” is disappearing. Straight people are becoming gay allies, and gay people are becoming more indistinguishable from straights. The need to “be seen” and “visible” as an LGBT person is running into the reality that sometimes changes happens more efficiently when marginalized populations blend into the background.

How important is “being seen” to the emotional well-being of LGBTQ people, and does the idea of a “gayborhood” still serve the LGBTQ community?

Gentrification certainly plays a role here. Even many of my gay friends say that they would rather the gay district had more upmarket wine bars and eateries. The gay nightclub is passé, they argue, a throwback to an era when all we had was Gaydar and the handkerchief code. Many of them do not lust after an era where contact with gay people meant staying out in a sweaty club until 4 am. They laugh that there was ever an era where nightclubs had rows of computers where people could log in to a dating website, and still more that people ever used those things.

We’ve slipped silently into a new era of gay equality: where a generation of young LGBTQs are growing up without reference to the struggles of HIV/AIDS, bars being raided at dawn and homophobic abuse on the streets. For sure, today’s LGBTQs have their own struggles, like body shaming, queer mental health and protection of the transgender community, but these no longer require gay people to huddle amongst themselves. While LGBTQ spaces will always provide a focal point during moments of great trauma for the gay community, such as Manchester or Orlando, and gay “traditions” such as drag and karaoke on a Sunday will live on, the gay ghetto plays an increasingly less significant role in LGBTQ life.

The slow death of the gay village has happened in sharp relief to the expansion of gay-friendly neighborhoods elsewhere in town. A gay district used to be based on a particular geographic area that locals and tourists could point too. This area would be marked by LGBT flags above the bars, and these areas would act as a focal point for events such as Pride. Today, if you walk through Greenwich Village, the area feels moribund. Gays of New York have migrated north, into Hell’s Kitchen, where LGBTQ culture is just one of many cultures.

And while health care, community organizations, non-profits and churches being within a particular location used to matter a great deal when there was a stigma attached to being gay, these functions have now dispersed into the wider community. LGBTQs can now access these things anywhere. People can take an HIV test either at their local doctors or at home if they so wish and have hundreds of options for meeting other gay people.

Many, particularly older, gays, still hold a sentimental attachment to the idea of a gay district. For them they will always be the place where they first went to make friends, to meet people like them, to hook up, and to find a partner. They’ll always be the place where LGBTQ people can stand in opposition to the world. They cherish the bizarre rituals and the sense of history.

As we mark the Pride month and the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of sexuality in the UK, it’s worth asking some questions about the role of this kind of visibility politics. How important are gay districts to the advances of minorities? How important is “being seen” to the emotional well-being of LGBTQ people, and does the idea of a “gayborhood” still serve the LGBTQ community?

To understand why gay districts are hollowing out now, you have to know how they came to be in the first place. The modern American gay community, as we are aware, entered into existence as a result of World War II. Even before Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, there were ructions in the military about homosexuality, and during the Second World War, many gays and lesbians were discharged for homosexual activity.

The gays that were discharged were not well treated when they came home. At that time, homosexuality was still very much treated a psychiatric disorder, so not only were many discharged soldiers barred from receiving any GI rights or benefits and getting civilian jobs, they were also often locked away in military psychiatric wards and tested on. One such test was the “Gag Reflex Test,” where a tongue depressor was stuck down a man’s throat. If he did not gag, this was because he had performed oral sex so many times that it no longer worked. After the war, gay men stationed in Europe were packed onto “queer” ships and sent home with dishonorable discharges.

If anything good can be said to have come from the crackdown on homosexuality in the military, it was that it gave birth to the LGBT Civil Rights movement in America. Much like today, many GIs were appalled by being told that they could not serve their country, and many veterans came out completely and began to advocate for change. Some got involved in proto-homophile organizations such as the Mattachine Society. Others, none too keen to return to small town America after the war, settled in the major coastal cities. For the first time, America’s cities had a critical mass of LGBT people, laying the foundation for Stonewall and the gay liberation movement.

“From that day on, nobody ran for anything in San Francisco without knocking on the door of the gay community.”

Over time, these groups gradually started to gain political influence for gay people for the first time. José Julio Sarria had served in the United States Army during World War II. Following his discharge, he served as a teacher, frequented the Black Cat and was eventually hired, first working as a waiter and then as a drag performer. After the 1959 San Francisco mayoral election, where police leniency towards homosexuals was one of the major issues, Sarria ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Sarria was the first openly gay candidate for public office in the United States. In winning nearly 6,000 votes and finishing ninth, Sarria shocked pundits, and for the first time, the idea that a gay voting bloc could wield power in city politics took hold. As Terence Kissack, former executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, would later comment, “[He] put the gay vote on the map.” As Sarria himself put it, “From that day on, nobody ran for anything in San Francisco without knocking on the door of the gay community.

It’s an open question whether we have gayborhoods today. Is Hell’s Kitchen a gayborhood? How about Williamsburg or Chelsea? Or Shoreditch or Dalston in the UK? Or Neukoln in Berlin? Sure, they all have gay bars and plenty of gays. But they also have a lot else, and other groups of people besides. Is it not cause for celebration that gay life has moved out of a small, rapidly gentrifying corner of Lower Manhattan? Should we not celebrate the fact that gay hip hop nights now exist? Does it matter if the act of meeting and connecting with gay people has moved from offline to online? When straight people come to gay spaces, it’s, of course, important that they feel welcome, but who does it really serve if we make them feel like second-class citizens when we do?

This debate rages online as well. When Pride in London released a set of posters for Pride in London focusing on winning over straight allies, the campaign was savaged on Twitter for prioritizing the voices of heterosexuals. The advertising agency behind the campaign had no doubt run focus groups and found, as opinion research in the States did on the issue of gay marriage, that ads featuring same-sex couples were not the way to persuade people sitting on the fence to back equality, and that ads showing straight supporters performed better. So what is more important here, the feelings of LGBTQ people, or advancing the cause of justice? Increasingly often these things are coming into conflict.

Too often, we want to have our cake and eat it: demanding integration and acceptance but also the right to slam the door of the gay ghetto shut and turf straight allies out for relatively minor transgressions. Hen parties are a small, negative side effect of gay bars being a nice place to hang out, and gay people have every right to demand respect in their own spaces, but not knowing all the words to Sissy That Walk is not a hate crime. Part of this new phase of adjustment will be nudging our straight allies towards better and more considerate behaviors. There are equally times when a straight presence will not always be welcome, however well-intentioned.

Social change has happened, to the extent that we could previously only have dreamed of. 65% of people have a friend or a close family member that is LGBT. The average age for coming out fifty years ago was 37. 37! Today it’s 17, and many are coming out before that. 7.3% now identify as LGBTQ, compared to 2.4% of baby boomers (shout out to my lesbian mum!). Increasingly our own narratives are intertwined with those of heterosexuals, not because heteronormativity is taking over, but because demography demands it. Segregating ourselves from straight friends, colleagues, and allies on a night out is not always an appealing proposition.

And yet, the more “safe spaces” such as Greenwich and Soho fade into history, the more we seem to need them. The Orlando and Manchester attacks both demonstrated that hateful bigotry is still very much out there. Most gay people have a tale of coming home from the club and facing homophobic abuse or a physical attack. In many parts of the world, there are no safe spaces for gay people, to the extent that discussing whether we need them in the West seems even complacent.

Gay districts have nurtured us, offering a sanctuary during some of the darkest moments in our history. Yet the brutal logic of the market dictates that for the most part, people no longer want to drink in them to the extent that they once did. This is a strange consequence of drinking establishments being such a part of our history. They’d never pack up the Statue of Liberty or Central Park if people stopped visiting it, but if people stop visiting a bar, then sooner or later, that bar is going to have to close, regardless of its cultural significance. One of the biggest jobs of our generation is to preserve LGBT history when the generation that has fought for our rights are no longer around to do so.

I’m an optimist about what the future looks like. I’d like to see more gay spaces open up around our largest cities, around the country, and around the world. I’d like gay areas to be, actually wherever gay people feel like living. I want a place with a nice riverside walk, shops, bars, and space to walk with my kids and my future husband. While protecting our historic areas, let’s set out to make the whole world a gay village.

The Paradox of Homophobia

The Paradox of Homophobia

On Tuesday the BBC aired a documentary titled “Is It Safe To Be Gay In The UK?”, exploring the issue of rising hate crime against gay people in the UK. The interviewees included James and Dain, a gay couple from Brighton who were set upon after a night out in Brighton’s gay village in May 2016; Becky and Alex, a lesbian couple attacked on a night out in Croydon in August 2016, and Jenny Raynham, whose brother Alex, who is also gay, died after being punched and kicked in Trafalgar Square in 2009. The question posed by the documentary was whether, with reports of homophobic hate crimes rising, it is safe to be gay in the UK in 2017.

The documentary was a hard watch, with graphic descriptions of both assault and the lived experience of being a victim of a homophobic attack. To outsiders, it’s not always obvious that nearly everyone in the LGBT community has some experience of homophobia, whether it’s having someone shout at you for what you’re wearing, tutted at (or worse) for holding hands with a partner in town, or being told that you’re not welcome to drink somewhere because you’re gay. Although assault is rarer, almost everyone has, or knows someone who has, been seriously assaulted at one time or another. But one common theme stood out to me: the paradox that the LGBT community has never had such legislative protection — sale of goods, equal marriage, hate speech — but that gay people have never felt so vulnerable.

I hear stories of friends who have been chased home after a night out by gangs of thugs waiting outside the gay village in Manchester (the irony being that many straight people now prefer to go out in the gay village because they have less chance of going home in an ambulance). Concerns about homophobia are routinely dismissed as “snowflake” behaviour on Twitter. A Western Carolina University study found that anti-gay and sexist jokes are a favourite of men looking to shore up their masculinity. Just this week a Labour councillor was suspended after describing Pride marchers as ‘evil’ on social media.

I hear white gay men who continue to throw those with less status under the bus, aided and abetted by the far right. I hear stories like that of Steven Simpson, an autistic, openly gay 18-year-old, who had homophobic slurs written on his body and was set on fire at his birthday party by Jordan Sheard, 20, who was sentenced to just three and a half years in jail. The retired rugby star Gareth Thomas says that Football risks “being left in the dark ages” unless more is done to tackle homophobia in the game.

I see endless revisionist history by people that seek to erase the Conservatives (and their current leaders’) dreadful record on LGBT rights over the last thirty years. I see the DUP, who are openly homophobic, being invited into government, with “assurances” being given that it won’t affect UK policy. What message does that send to the LGBT population in Northern Ireland? That a majority government is more important than their rights to marry and live free of religious bigotry?

I’m forced to look on at rehashed homophobic tropes on the front pages of the right wing media on a regular basis. As Michael Lovelock, Lecturer in Media at Cardiff University pointed out in a study of the right-wing media, when it’s not the “openly gay former Olympic fencer” frustrating Brexit, it’s the NHS decision to offer PrEP being denounced as a waste of scarce resources, with the Daily Mail calling potentially life-saving PreP a “promiscuity pill.” The Mail claimed that funding PrEP would deprive “toddlers with cystic fibrosis” and “deaf children” of life-saving care.

Lovelock argues that the idea that LGBTQ people represent some kind of threat has become a recurrent theme in the right-wing media. He cites MailOnline branding same-sex traffic lights in Trafalgar Square in London as “dangerous” to pedestrians, the Sun attempting to implicate George Michael’s partner, Fadi Fawaz in his death and the infamous “happily ever after” Jan Moir article about Stephen Gately’s death.

Mention any of this on Twitter though, and the accusations will roll in thick and fast about dramatising the problem. Why are you creating division, they ask, as though the current politics of harmony is serving us really well. Why does it take the very visible evidence of black eyes and homophobic bullying in schools for people to sit up and take notice of homophobia? Why was no-one talking about the spike in anti-LGBT hate crime, intimidation and violence over the last twelve months before this programme? And why do mental health issues and homelessness demand a “holistic solution” when the evidence shows that both disproportionately affect LGBTQ people? Why was Owen Jones shouted down for referring to Orlando as a homophobic terror attack, which it ostensibly was?

I’m tired of being told that I have all the freedom I want under the law, whilst constantly having to look over my shoulder. I can accept all stripes of people (God help me, even the bizarre “cult of masc” that has developed in the LGBT community over the last twelve months), but I am no longer willing to put up with feeling unsafe. I accept that some people have right-wing beliefs, but I am not prepared to be treated as a “threat” to the social fabric. And I am not prepared to think about whether I’m going to get beaten up for being gay on a night out. It’s 2017 and I should not have to.

What’s particularly galling though, is the backslapping that goes on around the legislative achievements on LGBT rights, when so much homophobia exists in the background. It’s not enough to be happy that LGBT people have the right to marry when LGBT people are being beaten up on the streets and left for dead. If “Is It Safe To Be Gay In The UK?” and the statistics on rising hate crime shows anything, it’s that homophobia can’t be unlearned through legislation alone, and that we must push harder until it is out of society for good.

We still need to make it easier for LGBTQ people to access Mental Health support

We still need to make it easier for LGBTQ people to access Mental Health support

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that LGBTQ people are at higher risk of mental health issues. 44% of young LGBT people have considered suicide, and 52% of young LGBT people report self-harm either now or in the past.

42% of young people have sought help for medical anxiety or depression. Young LGBTQ people also suffer significantly higher levels of verbal, physical and sexual abuse during their lifetime.

There’s also a general lack of positive stories and positive role models. LGB stories are often told through the prism of struggles with sexuality, coming out to friends, family and teammates, and HIV/AIDS. Trans and Gender Queer people are almost invisible, and their stories tend to be told in a very dated way.

This week, Olly Alexander’s “Growing Up Gay” programme for BBC Three will have lifted the lid for many straight allies on mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.

Alexander is a great role model for the LGBTQ community: boyish, confident and at ease in his own skin. The documentary highlighted that for many LGBTQ people, the path to self-acceptance is not linear and is subject to awkward bumps along the way.

When I first came out, my mom, who raised me and is one of the least homophobic people you could ever meet, told me that she was worried that ‘choices’ I was making my sexuality and the impact that it would have on my health.

My mother, who has come out herself in recent years, has spent her entire professional career supporting disadvantaged people and has always been an incredibly warm and accepting influence in my life.

That even my mother would conflate poor health choices and same-sex attraction shows how deeply embedded this conviction is in our society. And yet the idea that LGBTQ people are somehow to blame for the issues that they face is so incredibly damaging.

And yet, in a way, I see where my mother was coming from. The fact that I played with Polly Pocket and My Little Pony as a kid, that I was experimenting with makeup from the age of eight and that I had to be persuaded to invite girls to my birthday party was an indication that my life perhaps wouldn’t be the easiest.

We know that the stigma is real. 40% of homeless youth are LGBT kids and it should shame us all. But even if we are not homeless, we are confronted with LGBTQ mental health issues every single day.

“Are you okay?” is not the ice-breaker it is in the straight community because in many cases your friends are not okay. One of my friends, who is trans, confided in me last week outside a club at 4 am that he was suicidal. In addition to everything else in his life, his mom deadnames him.

Being LGBTQ is not a choice we make. It runs through every facet of our being and my identity and is as much a part of me as my hair colour, my eye colour or my body shape. It’s also a part of my identity that I am unlikely to share with my family and friends.

Twitter has become a lifeline for many young LGBTQ people, creating a space for young LGBTQ people to meet and talk to others and get support without any expectation of sex. Twitter is a modern day canary in the coal mine for LGBTQ people who are struggling with mental health issues, and frankly, I wish it had been around sooner.

Yes, the LGBTQ community is still under attack from all quarters of the media. The transgender community, in particular, has become the latest figure of fun for right-wing columnists, who make hay from conflating “snowflake” tendencies with trans and gender issues. The stigma around LGBTQ people in the media is still real and we should not allow ourselves to be gaslighted.

The misrepresentation that LGBTQ people feel exists in stark contrast to the progress that we are told we are making, the kind of progress that would allow LGBTQ people to feel able to ask for mental health support.

We urgently need to make access to mental health support easier and equip LGBTQ people with the tools they need to tell positive stories about LGBTQ life.

BBC Three’s Gay Britannia season has shown the impact the media can have when it chooses to tell respectful and celebratory stories about sexuality rather than prioritizing shock value.

For many LGBTQ people, this will have been the first time they saw their lives as LGBTQs accurately reflected on screen. Life as an LGBTQ person is not all bad, honest!

Yet it’s incredible that decades of television have happened without people being able to feel “Yeah, that character on TV represents me and my life.”

This can only happen if we have LGBTQ creators in positions of influence. We can’t rely on guidelines written by middle-aged heterosexual regulators to protect us. LGBTQ people need to be on board to say what is and isn’t a positive representation.

Every ounce of effort that goes into improving LGBTQ access to mental health support and LGBTQ storytelling will pay off a hundred fold.

Responsible reporting, like that seen in the Gay Britannia season, really sets the stage for powerful change.

Farron’s Faith Conundrum Says More About Him Than Progressive Politics

Farron’s Faith Conundrum Says More About Him Than Progressive Politics

Tim Farron shocked the political world, or the handful of people who follow Lib Dem politics, yesterday, with the announcement that he could not “live as a committed Christian” whilst being Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

For the many of us that see politicians are petty, venal liars, this outbreak of putting principles before power might seem laudable. Indeed by teatime, the usual suspects were already gathering to proclaim Farron as a free-speech martyr pushed out by the liberal lynch mob.

Yet I can only presume that those who came to this conclusion either didn’t bother to read Farron’s statement or were not interested in reading it. For Farron makes clear in his statement that “To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”

Sure, you can point to a tweet by Brian Paddick talking about his misgivings, but if politicians could be fired as the result of a tweet, Theresa May would be long gone by now

More importantly, though, eh? Christianity incompatible with progressive politics, nonsense.

Jesus wasn’t so much a progressive: he makes Jeremy Corbyn look like Margaret Thatcher. The unemployed son of two asylum seekers, he was a soak-the-rich, banker-bashing, fair-wage campaigning anti-war champion of the people. His policy on social inequality wasn’t a slight increase in the 12.5% rate of corporation tax, but that a rich person couldn’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all.

Sure, there are a few verses in the Bible where God could be interpreted being anti-gay, but the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is more of an injunction against gang rape (which hopefully is something we can all agree is a bad thing), rather than any definitive statement on LGBT rights.

And yes, God created Adam and Eve. But he also created Danny Alexander, Nick Clegg and the Tweenies, so it’s not like he’s perfect or anything.

In fact, the Bible is so anti-gay that the word “homosexuality” didn’t even show up in English translations of the Bible until 1946.

The Bible doesn’t ‘teach’ homosexuality any more than it teaches that you shouldn’t sell your daughter into slavery, that trimming the hair around your temples is offensive, or that eating shellfish is an abomination (okay, maybe that one is true).

Instead, the Bible is an anthology of books that reflects the many and varied preoccupations of its creators as they try to understand the world around them. Kind of like a first century version of Black Mirror.

Reading the Bible literally, as a series of historical facts, requires us to ignore everything we know about language, and the many different modes of speech from
irony to satire, exaggeration, puns, sarcasm, riddles through to outright throwing down shade.

The Bible was also written in a highly patriarchal culture that assumed men were in control and women were subject to them. Marriage between a man and a woman was primarily seen as a property transaction. Today, we know differently – that marriage is a voluntary commitment based on love, respect and mutual commitment. Understood in that way, gender becomes irrelevant.

Instead, we need to look at the Bible through the challenges of today, replacing locusts, floods and nasty Pharisees with PPI calls, reality TV and Katie Hopkins. And our saviour coming not in the form of Jesus Christ, but the unfollow button on Twitter.

If Farron believes this his beliefs make it impossible for him to lead his 11 disciples to the Promised Land, or he’s upset to have been betrayed by Brian “Judas” Paddick, then he’s entitled to those feelings.

For the rest of us though, Farron’s statement does a lot of harm. Not just to Farron’s party (although some of the Lib Dem big beasts are rumoured to have sworn three times they didn’t know who Farron was), but to a generation of LGBT people who have already grown up thinking God hates them.

The Bible contains a transcendent message of love – that LGBT people are part of God’s creation, created with the freedom to be themselves, and that God does not intend for anyone be alone. Like a prototypical Born This Way, if you like.

Farron’s naive view of religion, that shares more in common with the bloke on the street with the megaphone than actual Christian thought, does a great disservice to that.