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The biggest wins for LGBT+ rights in the 2010s – and all the battles yet to be won

Reiss Smith January 1, 2020
Joe Schofield and Malcolm Brown from Tullibody, Clackmannanshire are married by Ross Wright, Celebrant from Humanist Society Scotland in the Trades Hall shortly after midnight in front of friends and family in one of the first same-sex and belief category weddings in Scotland on December 31, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Joe Schofield and Malcolm Brown from Tullibody, Clackmannanshire are married by Ross Wright, Celebrant from Humanist Society Scotland in the Trades Hall shortly after midnight in front of friends and family in one of the first same-sex and belief category weddings in Scotland on December 31, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

As the decade ends, we take a look back at the rights won by LGBT+ people across the UK in the 2010s, and the fights that continue on.

1. Legal protections against transphobic discrimination

At the start of the decade, on October 1, 2010, the Equality Act came into force, giving trans people explicit protection against discrimination. Under the law, “gender reassignment” is a protected characteristic, a move that James Morton  of the Scottish Transgender Alliance said has been”really effective in terms of encouraging employers and also service providers to take into account the needs of trans people.”

In 2016, Morton gave evidence for a Parliamentary inquiry on transgender equality, which indicated that protections for trans people “are not universally seen as legally complete and many trans people still face discrimination in employment and in other aspects of their lives.” It called for the act to be updated with a a broader definition of trans identities, one which uses more considerate language.

2. Same-sex couples in Northern Ireland can adopt children.

Same-sex couples in England and Wales have had the right to adopt since 2002, with LGBT+ people in Scotland given their rights in 2009. In Northern Ireland, same-sex adoption wasn’t introduced until 2013, after the ban was ruled to be unlawful.

In 2018 it was reported that just 30 same-sex couples had applied to adopt in Northern Ireland, with just two approved. This makes the success rate one in 15, compared to one in two for the rest of the UK. The Department of Health said that lower success rate may be because the adoption process can take several years to complete.

3. Equal marriage.

While same-sex couples have been able to enter into civil partnerships since 2004, giving them the most of the same rights as married mixed-sex couples, it took another 10 years for full marriage equality to be introduced – and even then, it wasn’t universal.

England and Wales were the first parts of the UK to allow men to marry men and women to marry women, with the first such unions taking place on March 29, 2014.

At the end of the 2010s, same-sex couples can marry nearly everywhere in the UK
At the end of the 2010s, same-sex couples can marry nearly everywhere in the UK (Rob Stothard/Getty Images)

Scotland followed suit on New Year’s Eve that same year, while Northern Ireland will see its first same-sex weddings take place on Valentine’s Day 2020 after an intervention by the House of Commons.

4. Married trans people can legally transition without having to divorce.

Historically, married people who wanted to change their legal gender marker were forced to divorce in order to do so.

The introduction of same-sex marriage corrected this wrong, meaning that trans people are now able to legally transition while remaining in their marriage. But – and this is a big but – they must have the consent of their spouse before a gender recognition certificate can be awarded, creating an effective ‘spousal veto‘.

5. Men convicted for their sexuality were pardoned.

In 2017, MPs passed the Alan Turing law to right an historic injustice and pardon the thousands of queer men who were convicted for “buggery” and other archaic, homophobic offences.

WWII codebreaker Alan Turing
World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency for consensual homosexual sex in 1952 (Creative Commons)

Almost 50,000 were posthumously pardoned, while those who were living were invited to apply for a statutory pardon through the Home Office’s disregard scheme, introduced in 2012. However in September 2019, it was reported that fewer than 200 wrongful convictions had been erased – a failure rate of 71 percent.

6. LGBT-inclusive education.

The most recent win for Britain’s LGBT+ community is the legal enshrining of an LGBT-inclusive school curriculum.

In March, MPs voted overwhelmingly to introduce new relationships and sex education guidelines which mean that from September 2020, every child in the UK will learn about LGBT+ people, relationships and families.

2010s
Victories during the 2010s mean that schools will teach about LGBT+ people

Stonewall’s director of education and youth Mo Wiltshire said that such lessons “have the potential to deliver real change in how LGBT families, people and relationships are taught about. This will help foster greater inclusion, acceptance and understanding in our classrooms, playgrounds and school corridors.”

LGBT+ rights that need to be won in the 2020s

1. Full and free access to PrEP.

Currently, PrEP is only available in England through a limited trial. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, it can be prescribed by any NHS sexual health clinics.

Debbie Laycock, head of policy at the Terrence Higgins Trust, told PinkNews that restricted access to the drug is putting some men at increased risk of acquiring HIV.

2010s: HIV-preventing PrEP drugs will be made available for free in the US
HIV-preventing PrEP drugs (Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty)

“In parts of the country PrEP trial sites have closed to gay and bisexual men due to being oversubscribed,” she said, calling for a full roll-out of the drug.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have all committed to giving universal access to PrEP in their election manifestos. The Conservatives and the Brexit Party both failed to make any mention of the drug in theirs.

2. Reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

When the Gender Recognition Act was introduced in 2004, it was a ground-breaking, trail-blazing piece of legislation. But 15 years on, it’s no longer fit for purpose.

In 2018 the government conducted a public consultation on reforms to the act, with most sensible people recommending the introduction of self-identification and legal recognition for non-binary people, among other measures.

Yet, more than a year after the consultation closed, we’re yet to see any results or official response. Again, the Conservatives failed to mention this crucial area of the law in its manifesto, while Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens have all backed reform.

3. A ban on conversion therapy.

In July 2018, then-Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to outlaw the “abhorrent” practice of so-called gay conversion therapy. However such a ban is yet to materialise.

None of the major parties mention the practice in their manifestos, however spokespeople for the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have all confirmed that they would end the practice.

4. An end to the blood ban.

In England, Wales and Scotland, men who have sex with men can only donate blood if they have been celibate for three months. In Northern Ireland, the deferral period is still 12 months.

2010s - Blood samples of people who took an HIV test
Blood samples. (Artyom Geodakyan/Getty)

This effectively amounts to a ban for men who are sexually active. Stonewall says that while it is statistically true that “men who have sex with men face higher rates of blood-borne infections, it’s simply untrue to say that every gay and bi man is a high-risk donor.”

The charity is calling for a system based on individualised risk assessment, rather than the current, discriminatory policy.

5. Changes to surrogacy laws

For gay men, the route to parenthood is fraught with complications.

While same-sex couples are able to adopt, the laws around surrogacy are somewhat more complicated. Commercial surrogates – a popular option in the US – is illegal in the UK.

Surrogacy is still restricted in the UK
Surrogacy is still restricted in the UK

Altruistic surrogacy is permitted, but the birth mother remains the child’s legal parent until a court grants a paternal order, a process which can take months and leaves all parties exposed to the risk that one or the other will change their mind.

It also means that if the child is taken ill after being born, only the surrogate mother is able to make decisions. NGA Law, which has campaigned for surrogacy reform since 2007, wants the law to change so that the intended parents are the child’s legal parents from birth, along with clarifications that surrogates can be financially compensated.

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