The blog of Monty Moncrieff
London Friend Chief Executive
LGBT History Month: Let's make sure our LGBT histories shape our LGBT futures
February in the UK is LGBT History Month, a celebration of the lives and achievements of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. It provides an opportunity to celebrate our histories as individuals, as communities and as part of a political movement. It’s a chance for us to remember the contributions of the pioneers, the volunteers, the campaigners, the politicians, and the unsung voices of LGBT populations.
Handily, as well as bit of back-slapping the month also provides the opportunity for a series of events to raise the profile and visibility of LGB & T people, and increase the awareness of the issues facing our communities. One of the greatest achievements of the month since its inception in the UK in 2006 has been to secure buy-in from a range of public bodies including local authorities, schools, health services and government departments to publicly back LGB & T equality with messages of support from the Prime Minister and others.
The LGB & T voluntary and community sector has played a huge part in this history. Since LGB & T people began to more formally work towards equality in the aftermath of the Stonewall riots in New York informal groups of people started to come together to form alliances to advance our visibility, to lobby for our rights and to provide support for one another. London Friend was one of the first of these in the UK, emerging as a social and support network from the early Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) and last year we celebrated our 40th birthday, making us the oldest LGBT charity in the UK.
Others followed suit, including the formulation of telephone helplines like the London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard in 1974, providing a listening ear and information about where to meet other LGB & T people. London Friend, with other associated local Friend services nationwide provided face-to-face support, counselling and outlets to socialise. Over the years many more organisations developed as community members came together to support our own, perhaps most notably the way gay and bisexual men responded to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Latterly as a sector we have professionalised our approach, thinking more strategically, forming partnerships, and generating our own research to evidence inequalities.
As our confidence as a community built so too did the demand for equal treatment, and groups such as Outrage, Stonewall and Press For Change led the fight for legislative change. Looking back, the achievements are quite remarkable given our starting positions: an equal age of consent; employment protection; gender recognition; and the repeal of Section 28 to name just a few. Whilst there’s still room for improvement, particularly for trans people, we stand on the verge of equal marriage, finally establishing legal parity between same-sex and mixed-sex unions.
But history is only a product of the present and the future and whilst the broad-brush battles have been largely won, with public and social attitudes increasingly accepting of LGB & T people, the next step is to embed equality into the work of our public bodies. The Equality Act places a Duty on public sector organisations to advance equality, although many organisations still struggle to include LGB & T people in their strategic thinking.
LGB & T organisations and individuals still have as big a role to play as ever to ensure that public bodies are held to account and actively engage with diverse populations in the planning and evaluation of their services. We need to ensure that research about the health and social needs of our communities is included in Joint Strategic Needs Assessments. We need to push for routine monitoring of sexual orientation and gender identity so that outcomes for these groups can be evaluated. We need to see commissioners ask their providers to evidence how they are meeting the needs of LGB & T people, and to measure performance, with improvement plans where required. We need LGB & T people themselves to joint their emerging Healthwatch and bring diverse voices to local decisions.
Above all we need to make sure our LGBT histories shape our LGBT futures.
London Friend provides training and consultancy for health and social care services, commissioners and other public sector organisations to help them understand their Equality Duties in relation to LGB & T people, and to ensure their planning and evaluation considers outcomes for LGBT service users. Visit our training pages for a sample of our training or contact us to discuss your individual needs.