As LGBT History Month takes place across Britain, LGBT activists Stef Newton and Lev Taylor look at the the battles we have left to face.
LGBT History Month is an annual, month-long event raising awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans history and the achievements of the equal rights movement. In the UK, it is celebrated in February.
LGBT History Month started in the United States in 1994, empowering people to come out and speak out against inequality. It first came to the UK in February 2005 as a celebration of the abolition of Section 28, a government act forbidding acceptance of homosexuality in schools.
This year, getting involved in the fight has never been more relevant. Sadly, many of the issues we are campaigning on are the same as they were thirty years ago.
During the 1980s, LGBT people saw attacks on their rights on identities. Thatcher forced through an agenda of homophobia with Section 28. By no coincidence, she timed this with cuts to jobs and services. At that time, LGBT activists were adamant: “we have nothing to cut”. Back then, there were no government-funded services for LGBT people who needed housing or healthcare or community centres.
Today, very little has changed. The services we do have are mostly provided by charities. The Albert Kennedy Trust sorts out housing. Terrence Higgins Trust deals with our health. Broken Rainbow address issues of domestic violence in the community. A number of small NGOs provide infrequent community centres and welfare support services. But the government still don't see it as their duty to look after LGBT people.
On top of this, the coalition government cuts will affect LGBT people disproportionately. Cuts to education and welfare will hit us the hardest, with £3mil cut from LGBT provisions in London alone, youth centres closed, the ring fence around the HIV/AIDS Support Grant (£26mil) removed, the HE teaching budget cut by 40%, tuition fees tripled and Education Maintenance Allowance scrapped. Earlier this year, we saw students and trade unions marching together against the cuts; the LGBT movement must remain part of this fight.
The attack LGBT people face, of course, is not limited to Britain. We must be aware of and respond to international issues. In December, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the United Nations, claiming to fight for LGBT rights: ‘It should never be a crime to be gay,’ she said, advocating western reform. As a war with Iran becomes a more realistic scenario every day, LGBT activists need to stop and consider the subtext behind Clinton’s apparently inspiring, but empty words. Conditions of war and occupation make the fight for liberation harder, not easier.
We have numerous battles to fight; and LGBT history month should be an opportunity to think about how we can fight; and what we must demand.
Our aim is not to get back to normal. ‘Normal’, for us, was violence and isolation. We need more. At the same time as demanding the reversal of all cuts, we need to start thinking about what else we need. Let’s not just defend the little we have. At this time of political upheaval, this is a perfect opportunity to begin articulating our real needs.
Not only do we need to stop the privatisation of the National Health Service, we need a health service that actually caters to our needs – providing gender reassignment surgery, care for people with HIV and decent mental health services. More than demanding an end to tuition fees, we need to introduce universal grants and support for all students. And not only must we stop cuts to housing and living allowances, we really do need new social housing and enough living space for the many in our community who are estranged from their families and forced into homelessness.
LGBT liberation will mean thinking about more than just the small picture. It means starting to imagine what a world where we were truly free would look like. We have nothing to cut. We have everything to gain.
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