Pride season is a time of mixed emotions for many in the LGBTQ+ community. There is a lot of focus on big parades and get-togethers. And rightly so – there is much for us to celebrate. But it is also a time to reflect on some of the challenges which persist – progress is not linear, nor something about which we should ever be complacent.
In the UK, we've seen the repeal of homophobic laws, such as Section 28, and the introduction of legislation that allows LGBTQ+ people to marry and assume parental responsibilities, as well as be afforded protection in the workplace and when buying goods and services. More broadly, charities, businesses, and individuals are undertaking much great work to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people. As a gay man in my mid-40s, there are so many things that I can do now which seemed impossible when I was growing up – things that most people would take for granted.
But any idea that we have reached the nirvana of equality would be way off the mark. In a recent government survey, more than two-thirds of LGBT respondents reported they avoided holding hands with a same-sex partner for fear of negative reaction and, in the preceding 12 months, 24% of respondents had accessed mental health services and at least 40% had experienced an incident such as verbal harassment or physical violence because they were LGBTQ+.
The recent experiences of trans and non-binary people are particularly troubling: for example, recent research shows that almost half of trans people in Britain have attempted suicide at least once and 84% have thought about it. Two in five trans people have been attacked or threatened with violence in the last five years. 62% have experienced harassment from strangers in public places. Trans people, trans women and trans women of colour, in particular, are also subject to disproportionate levels of violence.
Outside of the UK, the situation can be much worse. I have the privilege of sitting on the board of GiveOut, a charity that supports LGBTQ+ human rights activists worldwide and sees some of these challenges first hand. For example, 71 jurisdictions still criminalise same-sex activity – almost half of them commonwealth jurisdictions, eleven of those impose the death penalty and 15 criminalise the gender identity and/or expression of trans people. Many more jurisdictions target trans people through other sanctions, such as public order offences.
So what can we do to help?
Much of the progress we've made simply wouldn't have happened without the support of allies, and we need allies to keep working with us on our path towards full equality – and for more to join in. For anyone who would like to be an ally, here’s what you can do to help promote LGBTQ+ inclusion:
- Educate yourself and stay informed
Follow LGBTQ+ topics in the news to keep up to date on the current issues for the LGBTQ+ community. Be aware that language evolves and be open to new concepts and ideas. Look up words you are unfamiliar with. Learn about pronouns, what they are, why they can matter and how you can be an ally by introducing yourself with your pronouns or just including them in your email signature. Avoid taking what is said about LGBTQ+ issues in the press at face value and consider the fact that there are differing views on issues affecting LGBTQ+ people, including within the LGBTQ+ community itself.
Avoid easy assumptions
Not everyone you meet is straight and/or cisgender. Avoid using gendered language where these assumptions are implied e.g., instead of asking someone about their girlfriend/boyfriend or husband/wife, ask about their partner in the first instance.
Support LGBTQ+ charities
A good way to find out more is to engage with LGBTQ+ charities. If you follow their updates and activities, you can easily find out about opportunities to volunteer or take other action, including providing financial support.
Exercise your influence
Look within your social networks and think about what you can do to influence. Engage with community groups and service providers about what they are doing to support LGBTQ+ people. Consider the next generations, by speaking with schools and colleges about what they are doing to educate children and young people about LGBTQ+ issues. I am privileged to chair the board of Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people's charity – some of our resources could be a great place to start.
Uplift the most marginalised voices in the community
Remember that LGBTQ+ people come from across the whole of society: people of colour, trans and non-binary people and those with a disability, for example. Too often these voices are not as easily heard as those (like me) with relative privilege. Allies can be particularly effective in amplifying the voices of those who are the most marginalised.
Daniel Gerring is a partner and head of the pension funds practice at Travers Smith and sits on the firm's Diversity & Inclusion Board. He also holds a number of non-executive positions in the not-for-profit sector, including Chair of Trustees at Just Like Us and board member of GiveOut, Refugees at Home and City YMCA, London. He is a member of the Network Group for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights and a Leadership Fellow of St George's House, Windsor Castle.