Sarah Champion MP: Why the Tory LGBT Action Plan falls short of delivering real change
As an opposition Member of Parliament my job is rarely to be a cheerleader for the government. I do welcome the LGBT Action Plan published this week, it would be churlish not to do that.
Elements such as the training that the National Crime Agency will develop covering online safety for LGBT young people and the work with Behavioural Insight, who will use behavioural science to help to build a more tolerant society, are innovative.
The action plan is a step in the right direction in many areas, but it is not the stride forward required to respond to the results of the LGBT survey.
The announcement on gay conversion therapy has grabbed the headlines. Although the government has pledged to end the practice, there is little detail as to how this will happen.
The Memorandum of Understanding on Conversation Therapy in the UK is a positive initiate done in good faith by the main registration and accreditation bodies for psychotherapy and counselling practitioners. It has been in place for several years.
When I asked the Minister for Women and Equalities this week for an evaluation of its impact, the response was that the voluntary code is managed and led by the sector. It is impossible to make good policy decisions when you do not know the impact of what is already in place.
It is hard to see how the government can meet their pledge on conversion therapy, without introducing a professional statutory and regulatory body for psychotherapy and counselling and making gay conversion therapy a hate crime.
The hierarchy in hate crime was not addressed in the action plan. I view this as an opportunity missed. The survey results state: “We know in the last year that the number of hate crimes recorded by the police on the grounds of sexual orientation and being transgender has risen by 27 percent.”
At present racial or religiously motivated hate crimes are consider aggravated offences. LGBT and disability hate crimes are not. This means that if found guilty the perpetrator receives a shorter sentence.
Health was a major focus of the action plan. The survey results make it clear that one of the biggest barriers to good mental health for LGBT people is long waits to access to both gender identity and mental health services. On this the action plan had nothing concrete to offer.
I was appalled when this government fought against the introduction of PrEP in England. This is a drug that has been shown to reduce HIV transmission rates by 86 percent and will save the health service money in the long run. The government lost a judicial review, and an appeal, as they tried to pass on the cost of providing PrEP to local authorities.
At present PrEP is only available as part of a three-year trail to 10,000 people. Rather than making it available to all that could benefit from it through their GP, the action plan weakly offers the possibility of a further trail.
For people in Northern Ireland PrEP will remain unavailable. The government needs to act now, not just on PrEP but also same sex marriage for British LGBT citizens in Northern Ireland.
Last year in Stonewall’s School Report I was shocked to see that “just a third of LGBT pupils report that teachers or school staff consistently challenge homophobic or transphobic language when they hear it.”
Eliminating homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools is one of the areas of the action plan where funding is in place, well, at least until March next year.
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To really address this in the long term we need to give all teachers the skills to tackling LGBT bullying. Where was the action to make this a compulsory part of initial teacher training and CPD for those already in the profession? Unfortunately, this was yet another opportunity missed.
I was disappointed but not surprised that the action plan failed to tackle UK exports of arms and other goods used in civil defence to countries who violate the rights of their LGBT citizens. Last year the government was reported to have approved the sale of arms to 20 countries on their own human rights watchlist.
With Brexit nearing we will become more economically dependent on trade from outside the EU. This will mean an ethnical foreign trade policy will be more important than ever.
As a member of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, I will hold the government to account on delivering what is in the action plan. This action plan is a start, but what it contains does not take us near enough to the end of our journey to building the safe, fairer and more inclusive country for LGBT people.
Sarah Champion is a Labour MP representing Rotherham in the House of Commons. She is also a member of the Women and Equalities Select Committee.