International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:02 pm on 16th May 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate 4:02 pm, 16th May 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Ms Eagle. She is, of course, entitled to her perambulation back through history to a time when the records of our respective parties were perhaps not in the same place, but even then and throughout that period, there were champions in the Conservative party who had been working for change for many decades.

I grew up in a period of British history when it was hard to be gay, and I know the weight carried every day—that it was wrong to feel this way; that it was the secret part of me that no one could ever know. I understand exactly what it is like knowing that social and professional death would follow if the fact were ever discovered. But at least I do not have to live with the possibility of actual death, unlike 600 million of our fellow citizens on the planet who live in jurisdictions where they could be sentenced to death for their sexuality. Freedom from that fear is the most important event of my life.

I am a social liberal. For me, freedom starts with the right of individuals to be who they want to be—to be how we want to be, to love who we want to love, to form the relationships we want to form, and to create a family and home to share that love with others. I will no longer be party to a society where that is not possible.

Here in the United Kingdom, many of us now enjoy unprecedented freedom. There were 7,019 marriages between same-sex couples in 2016. In 2018, one in eight adoptions in the UK were by couples in a same-sex relationship, a civil partnership or a same-sex marriage. Furthermore, as the hon. Lady said, there are now, I believe, 45 Members who publicly identify as LGBT.

That said, there are many whose plight is only just beginning to be recognised, and here I will deal with the trans community. In July 2018, the Government Equalities Office published the national LGBT community survey. Of the 108,100 valid responses to the survey, 40% of people said they had experienced a negative incident in the previous 12 months involving someone they did not live with that was due to their being of the LGBT community or being thought to be a part of it.

For transgender people, however, their likelihood of experiencing threats of physical or sexual harassment or violence is double that for the rest of the LGBT community. We are just waking up to the fact that transgender people continue to face some of the worst discrimination in our society. Almost half of trans people in the UK have attempted suicide. Given that there are 200,000 transgender people in the UK, this means that an avoidable death is a threatening reality for many in our community—for our very friends and family.

Out of these 200,000 trans people in the UK, only 4,910 have been issued with a gender recognition certificate since the Gender Recognition Act 2004 came into force. The GRA enables trans men and women to update their legal gender by applying for that certificate, which allows them to change their gender and, if they wish, their name. It is required by trans people if they are to be recognised, legally and officially, as male or female. The Act was groundbreaking at the time but is now out of date. The process of obtaining a gender recognition certificate is intrusive, bureaucratic and medicalised. It also fails to make provision for non-binary people.

In 2017, the Government announced a welcome reform of the Act to streamline and de-medicalise the process, and after much delay the results are being analysed. I look forward to an update from the Minister on when these results will be published, along with plans for next steps. It would be a welcome conclusion to this debate. I can only hope it will help everyone to understand that being transgender, or indeed lesbian, gay, bisexual or intersexual, is not a lifestyle choice but usually an agonising realisation that no one would choose to go through. Accepting this crucial clarification is perhaps the biggest step towards ending aggression towards the LGBTI community.

That begins with education. My own choice had been to hide and to disguise myself. It was not until I got here that I understood enough about myself and everything else that I eventually found the courage to be open and to be myself. Education—the knowledge that it is not a matter of choice about who you innately are—is the cause that has to be won. The latest furore against the values of the Equality Act 2010 at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham was a stark reminder to us all of not only how far we have to go, but how easily we will backtrack on progress if we are not careful.

We have strong protections in Britain. The Equality Act is clear that people can be of different race, religion, disability and sexual orientation. This is non-negotiable. Homophobia exists, in part, because of a lack of education, and inclusive religious and sexual education is a cornerstone of ensuring that our children grow up to be some of the most well-rounded, inclusive, understanding and tolerant people in the world. We must remember and protect that.