Yvette Cooper writes for PinkNews in celebration of Pride, but says more must be done to tackle bullying, disproportionate suicide rates and to implement changes like Gender X passports.
Nothing better captures the spirit of celebration over discrimination, than the spirit of Pride.
As the rainbow flags are rolled out over the coming days, there is much to celebrate. 15 years on from Labour lifting the ban on gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the armed forces, uniformed service men and women now march proudly at Pride and the military is recognised by Stonewall as amongst the top employers for LGBT people. The champagne corks have popped at thousands of same-sex weddings, with the first couples now having marked the one-year anniversary of their special day.
For lesbian, gay and bisexual people, legal equality is now a reality. Yet, as we rightly celebrate how far we’ve come, let’s not forget that the journey isn’t over. The challenges that lie ahead will not be as easy to solve through Acts of Parliament. The new frontiers lie in demanding cultural and societal change.
Together, we must show a real determination to challenge the throw-away comments, the casual homophobia and the transphobia that leave so many LGBT people feeling isolated and alone. This starts with the playground homophobic bullying, which causes low self-esteem in too many of our young people and can lead to serious mental health problems later down the line.
Devastating figures, compiled by Stonewall, show that one in every twenty gay or bisexual women have attempted suicide. Evidence shows that LGBT people are at a higher risk of suicidal feelings and self-harm and are more likely to have experienced depression or anxiety. Each are sobering reminders that, as a society, we are still letting LGB people down.
But nowhere is this renewed focus on mental wellbeing more important than for the trans community. A 2014 survey found that almost half of all trans young people attempt to take their own life. Half. That shocking figure is a deep scar on our country’s recent proud record of advancing LGBT equality and should be a wake-up call to everyone who thinks that equality has been won.
And whilst changing attitudes cannot be done overnight, I believe there are things we can do right now to create a step change in culture.
Firstly, a new push on tackling homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools should start with the introduction of compulsory sex and relationships education. There is a lot more that the Government could be doing to talk to our young people about healthy relationships and equal respect. Unfortunately, even though I raised this issue repeatedly in the last Parliament, the Tories blocked progress. I’ve seen first hand the fantastic work some schools are already doing to tackle these issues head-on and as leader of the Labour Party, I would champion much stronger action to promote respect and equality in our schools.
Secondly, homophobic hate crime should be an aggravated criminal offence, with updated sentencing guidelines and changes made to the criminal records framework, so these crimes are clearly recorded on the records of perpetrators.
Thirdly, equality is one of our core values and is one we must project abroad. So we need more action to promote and advance equality around the world. Philip Hammond’s decision to ban embassies from flying the rainbow flag is as appalling as it is regressive, and I’m proud that Labour has taken a different approach and appointed Michael Cashman as a special envoy on worldwide LGBT issues.
And finally, we need to make sure there is dignity, respect and empowerment for trans and intersex people, with a wide-ranging review of the inequalities they still face. This review should include looking again at the Gender Recognition Act, and consideration of the Australian rules on passports too.
These are the next frontiers in achieving LGBT equality. And if I become Labour’s next leader, I’m determined we’ll tackle them with the same determination and commitment as each of the challenges that have come before.
Yvette Cooper is the MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, and is a candidate for the Labour leadership.