Care workers have expressed concern at the delay of the Sexual Orientation Regulations after it was announced that the new laws will not come into force until April 2007 because of the huge number of responses to the legislation.
The Liberal Democrat’s Women and Equality spokesperson Lorely Burt has been leading calls for the minister to step down after reports that the new Equality Act may be amended to allay fears of Christian groups, her demands were echoed by the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association.
The Observer reported last weekend that protests from Christian groups seeking a ‘conscience clause’ in the law particularly regarding faith schools and adoption agencies have led to a delay.
Julie Fish, a professor in social work at De Montfort University, said the delay will mean another six months of misunderstanding towards gay and lesbian needs in areas of public services, she told PinkNews.co.uk: , “It is not illegal to discriminate against LGB people in key areas of public services, such as health, social care and education, moreover, it is difficult to provide services for a section of the population whose needs are so poorly understood.”
She pointed out that without a law on equality for the LGB community it is hard for services to understand the unique needs of gays and lesbians, “When they visit their GP, for example, many LGB people do not come out because they fear a prejudiced reaction. It is not the case that existing services are inappropriate, but rather that they are largely non-existent,” she said.
The issues of healthcare towards the gay community are discussed in her new book Heterosexism in Health and Social Care.
Her concerns were echoed by the Alzheimer’s Society who said the treatment of gays and lesbians in care homes is an important issue, their September newsletter warned, “There are possibly 35,000 LGBTs suffering from dementia in this country.
“They are likely not to be in partnerships; likely not to have ‘come out'; not able to speak for themselves. No consideration has been given in the document to those who are not able to make complaints for themselves about any discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. People with dementia generally cannot speak for themselves.’
“The issue about opt-out for religious reasons, and the way it impinges on the treatment of gays and lesbians in residential and nursing homes, is a thorny one. The end result will be interesting.”
The Department for Communities and Local Government which is in charge of implementation of the bill along with the Women and Equality Unit, say the gay community should not be too concerned by the delay, “We are absolutely committed to bringing forward proposals that provide effective protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
“The delay is purely a result of the huge response to the consultation with over 3000 responses received. This is a complex area so it is only right that we take the time to consider them fully and carefully to make sure our proposals are workable and provide effective protection from discrimination.”
Junior Women and Equality Minister Meg Munn, whose remit involves representing the gay community, reassured PinkNews.co.uk that the government would be keeping its promises on the guidelines, she said the reports of exemptions are unfounded, “We were on a tight timescale, the consultation closed in June and we had a much higher number of responses than we expected.”