London Gay Pride parade makes its way down Whitehall. Photo: PA Archive/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.Austerity cuts may be broad-reaching, but their impact remains uneven. The increased dependency of LGBT people upon public services such as housing and healthcare means that the decimation of such services disproportionately affects the these communities. A study by the Albert Kennedy Trust estimates that roughly 24% of the youth homeless population is LGBT, a problem compounded by proposed cuts to housing benefits for under-21s, which could further disadvantage those who may lack support and shelter from their family. Despite speculation that Cameron’s administration saw Westminster become the “gayest parliament in the world,” the above figures suggest that a legacy that has failed LGBT communities.
So, the pressure is on for Jeremy Corbyn to provide a convincing counter-vision to the current challenges faced by LGBT services and spaces. The launch of Labour’s LGBT manifesto, ‘Proud of our Diversity’ on the eve of the leadership voting deadline, promises exactly that, forecasting in its introductory pages that “there is still much to do to build a society that is equal for all.” In a climate in which press-friendly gestures towards LGBT-friendliness are rarely followed by material benefit to these communities, it's important to peer into the meat and potatoes of Corbyn's policies. Here is a run-down of six key areas from the manifesto, and the challenges these policies may face:
Protecting gay spaces
Corbyn’s LGBT manifesto recognizes the role that LGBT nightlife spaces play in the lives of their communities. Gay bars often serve as sanctuaries and important community hubs where alienated people can come to feel safe, welcome, and not in the minority. These spaces are not only vibrant centres of LGBT life, but often also sites of DIY welfare support. Punters of the Joiner’s Arms notably came together to fund treatment for asylum seekers with HIV.
Sadly, however, the wholesale closure of gay bars has followed the gentrification of traditionally gay areas of the UK’s major cities. The Joiner’s Arms, Hackney and the George and Dragon, Shoreditch are only two examples of key gay bars condemned to demolition. The future of the Vauxhall Tavern, Britain’s oldest gay bar, is also unclear, having recently been purchased by property developers. When a gay bar is shut down, it leaves a scar on its community, more so than if a mainstream bar has to relocate. Corbyn’s promise to expand the Asset of Community Value status of gay bars therefore reflects a position of solidarity that has not been seen in Parliament previously.
Enshrining rights for LGBT workers and renters
According to LGBT charity Stonewall, approximately 26% of LGB staff have experienced bullying and abuse in the past five years, while a recent government report indicates that a staggering 88% of transgender employees experience harassment in the work place. Although workplace equality and diversity programmes on the whole tend to nominally speak out for greater LGBT inclusion and protection, Corbyn’s LGBT programme uniquely makes strides to intervene in the real blockages to equality. In practical terms, this constitutes a promise to abolish Employment Tribunal fees, making it easier for LGBT workers to bring discrimination claims where discrimination has occurred. Additionally, Corbyn plans to strengthen trade union rights in order to protect all British workers, which in practice will safeguard the LGBT workers who rely on these forms of union protection to a greater degree than their heterosexual and cisgendered counterparts.
Similarly, Corbyn’s LGBT manifesto recognises the greater degree of dependency experienced by LGBT folk upon social housing and welfare. Thus, Corbyn’s pledge to build one million new homes in five years represents a lifeline for the communities suffering housing precarity.
LGBT rights in education
One of the most interesting components of the LGBT manifesto is its commitment to reforming British education to include on the National Curriculum a comprehensive history of LGBT lives and struggle. Corbyn promises to make Sex and Relationship Education compulsory in schools, focusing largely on sexual health, and creating positive attitudes towards sexual minorities.
The manifesto explicitly acknowledges that education in these issues is key to providing the knock-on effect of reducing other manifestations of discrimination. These proposals could serve to reduce harassment in the long-term, due to a widening of awareness in society at large.
Fighting for sexual and mental healthcare provision
The manifesto further recognises LGBT reliance on public sexual and mental health care provisions, along with the health care services for trans people who wish to medically transition with Hormone Replace Therapy and various surgeries. The core of Corbyn’s healthcare pledges is to wrest control of the NHS back into public hands. Along with a substantial increase in funding for the NHS, this will drastically ameliorate the provisions that can be provided for LGBT people.
LGBT people, and LGBT youth in particular, suffer from a disproportionate amount of mental health problems due to harassment, abuse and isolation. Trans youth especially, who suffer from gender dysphoria as well as the accompanying societal pressures, require a large amount of mental health care. A Stonewall study reported that 48% of trans people under 26 have attempted suicide, while 59% have considered doing so. The same community has historically experienced a greater vulnerability to sexual health issues. Thus, Corbyn’s promise to support the right to access 'PrEP', a preventative medication for those at risk of contracting HIV - notably including LGBT sex workers - represents a substantial step forward. Such healthcare polices would spell long-overdue comprehensive care for LGBT health issues, and seek to meaningfully remedy the problems exacerbated by the Conservatives’ healthcare cuts.
Street and domestic violence is a daily reality for LGBT people. LGB people suffer disproportionately high levels of domestic abuse, and one in five trans people experiencing domestic violence. Street violence against LGBT people rose by a horrifying 22% in 2014-2015 and in light of atrocities such as the Orlando massacre, this is only expected to continue rising. Corbyn pledges to implement the Stonewall’s recommended programme to work with schools, police and local authorities to tackle not just the the perpetrators of this violence but the root causes of societal hate and prejudice which lead to discriminatory violence.
Corbyn’s policies also include greater funding for LGBT tailored domestic violence services which have been axed almost completely during the last few years of the Conservative party’s austerity regime, demonstrating a clear receptivity to the voices of grassroots activist groups such as Sisters Uncut. This constitutes a vast improvement on provisions currently available for survivors of LGBT hate crimes and indicates a proactive vision for tackling immediate forms of oppression.
The last key area addressed in Corbyn’s LGBT manifesto pledges to further “promote diverse representation at every level of our democracy and society.” Included in this vision is a plan to build implement the recommendations of the Shami Chakrabati Inquiry, to consult on and introduce a wider equal opportunities policy for recruitment opportunities internal to the Labour party, and create advisory boards for all equality strands within the party.
Importantly, democratic representation features last in Corbyn’s list of key focus areas for improving LGBT life in Britain. Representation is usually the first port-of-call for mainstream LGBT politics, treated as a benchmark from which equality and diversity will inevitably trickle down. Yet this positioning of representative politics indicates that Corbyn’s conception of “diversity” reaches beyond representation and seeks to address structural inequalities first, deeming representation a logical conclusion of a comprehensive reform of social attitudes and policies.
Moving forward, then, what conclusions can we draw from the publication of Corbyn’s LGBT manifesto? Firstly, it is clear that in the twice-elected leader of the opposition, British LGBT communities appear to have a genuine ally, whose policies are receptive to the needs of the country’s marginalised queer proletariat. It is a testament to the arduous campaigning efforts of LGBT grassroots groups that their demands have now gained representation in a viable parliamentary platform. Although the Labour party has long proclaimed itself a friend of the LGBT community, this has often failed to manifest in authentic championship of the welfare provisions and social spaces that the queer impoverished depend upon. New developments within the party, however: the breaking away from the centre ground with the rise of Corbynomics and exponential growth of a grassroots membership, offer the potential of a genuinely productive relationship that could add serious gravity to our struggles in the coming few years.