A wake-up call

Labour has a proud history on LGBT+ equality but is our own house really in order, asks our National Secretary, Joe Vinson.

Equalising the age of consent, civil partnerships, lifting the ban on LGBT+ people serving in the military, repealing section 28, opening up adoption to same-sex couples, the Gender Recognition Act, the Equality Act – the list of Labour achievements is an impressive one.

And with that proud record, we, as Labour members, might be tempted to think that LGBT+ equality is achieved. There is no doubt that legislative change has changed the lives of millions of LGBT+ people, but social change is much harder to come by. Acceptance, affirmation, pride and even love, sadly cannot be legislated for. LGBT+ friendly public attitudes and public services require us to diligently and consistently strive for equality.

In a recent study by GALOP, the LGBT+ hate crime charity, one in five people said they wouldn’t want an LGB neighbour – rising to one in four when they were asked whether they would want a trans neighbour. Hate crime has risen every year for five years, doubling in the last year, with two-thirds of LGBT+ people saying they have experienced abuse in some form.

These are shocking statistics, but what they tell us is that legislative change alone is not enough to achieve LGBT+ equality. That applies inside the Labour party as much as it does in the ‘real world’.

The Fabian Society has produced a report on the experiences of individuals, including LGBT+ people, of Labour party membership – and it makes for disheartening reading.

It tells a story where a significant number of LGBT+ people are still facing barriers in the party, from the culture of their CLP meetings right through to standing for parliamentary selection.

Fifty three per cent of LGBT+ members disagreed that everyone in their local party is friendly and welcoming, with only Jewish members disagreeing at a greater percentage. LGBT+ members were also more likely to say they did not enjoy attending meetings of their constituency or branch, with 34 per cent of LGBT+ members thinking that their community would not be treated fairly in their local party.

It is also clear that the experience LGBT+ members have in their local parties is affecting the contribution they feel able to give to them. Citing reasons why they had not held a position in their local party, 14 per cent of LGBT+ respondents felt excluded by the current officers, did not think the process would be fair on LGBT+ people, and had never been asked to stand. Nineteen per cent of LGBT+ members even said that they had been disadvantaged in a party election because of their identity.

The report also explores the experience of LGBT+ people standing in selections, and whilst most people were positive about their experience, there are some concerning trends. 

One in five respondents said they had experienced a disadvantage for being LGBT+ in a local government selection, with almost one in four stating their private life had come under unwelcome scrutiny. In parliamentary selections, almost half of LGBT+ respondents felt they wouldn’t be supported or encouraged through the process.

There is no doubt that many LGBT+ people enjoy their experience as Labour party members, with hundreds going on to become elected representatives at all levels of the party and government – but we cannot hide from these troubling statistics behind our success stories. This is especially the case for our trans communities, where a lack of role models makes championing trans equality difficult, further discouraging people from standing. 

For any LGBT+ member to feel excluded from selection or even just their local party is a stain on our great record, and we have got to tackle it head on.

There are however simple steps we can take to create more inclusive environments for LGBT+ members in our party.

Every CLP should have an LGBT+ officer. Hundreds of CLPs either have not introduced them, and some that do have filled them with straight cisgender people – that has got to change. However, LGBT+ members should be encouraged and welcomed into any leadership position, not just pigeonholed into LGBT+ positions.

More ambitiously, the Labour party nationally needs to provide resources to CLPs, training them on how to create inclusive environments for LGBT+ members – empowering those in leadership positions to recognise LGBT-phobia, and more importantly to offer a robust response when they do.

To support this work, the party should work with LGBT+ Labour to develop a kitemark for CLPs, supporting them to introduce LGBT+ inclusive practices, and produce an annual inclusivity report to monitor the experiences and successes of marginalised groups in the party.

Underpinning that, the Labour party has long promised LGBT+ members a training programme for future candidates – it now just needs to get on and deliver it. With a startling lack of LGBT+ women, disabled people, BAME people and trans people as role models, it is crucial we take an approach which uplifts those LGBT+ people facing exclusion in our communities.

Simply put, this report is a wake-up call for those who think that equality has been achieved and that LGBT+ issues are a distraction. For those of us on the front lines, it only confirms the sober situation LGBT+ members find ourselves in. If we choose to ignore the problem, our party, and the wider labour movement, will only suffer as a consequence.