International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:26 pm on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Labour, Enfield, Southgate 4:26 pm, 16th May 2019

I congratulate Nick Herbert, the hon. Members for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) and for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), and my hon. Friend Peter Kyle on securing this much-needed debate to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

This year, 2019, marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of Stonewall. Its founders had been active in the fight against section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. I welcome the new legislation that the House passed just a few weeks ago to extend relationship and sex education to include LGBTI issues. The backlash that we saw against LGBTI-inclusive education has faint but highly worrying echoes of the repressive section 28 from the 1980s. It is truly shameful that two in five LGBTI pupils between the ages of 11 and 19 are never taught anything about LGBTI issues in school. That does not create a healthy atmosphere in which LGBTI pupils feel they can talk to an adult about being LGBTI in school, and we know that being able to do so dramatically increases the mental wellbeing of LGBTI students.

The changes to RSE have taken too long to happen, and we cannot wait another 33 years for urgent reforms to be made. To start with, urgent reforms to the Gender Recognition Act need to be made sooner, rather than later. To put it in simple terms, transgender women are women. A reformed Gender Recognition Act needs to be committed to de-medicalising the process. The Government have consistently made it clear that being trans is not a mental illness, and the Act needs to be reformed to truly recognise that. Currently, transgender individuals must provide medical evidence from a mental health professional, with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, before their gender is recognised. The Government themselves predict that just 12% of trans people in the UK have a gender recognition certificate. There are too many barriers in place that stop trans people from getting gender recognition certificates, which has meant that although new legislation has been introduced to improve the lives of trans people, the majority of trans people have not benefited from that legislation.

It is important that the House recognises that this is Mental Health Awareness Week. It is important that we acknowledge that in this debate because of the vast amount of research that suggests that LGBTI youth are more likely to struggle with their mental health. Today’s LGBTI youth generally come out at younger ages, and public support for LGBTI issues has dramatically increased in recent years, but we must ask ourselves why LGBTI youth continue to have significantly higher rates of depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation than their cisgender/heterosexual counterparts.

I am proud to represent a party that has done so much for LGBTI rights in the UK, including through the repeal of section 28, the introduction of civil partnerships and the reduction of the age of consent for men in same-sex relationships to 16. In one of my first surgeries after I was elected as a Member of Parliament, a constituent came to see me about his status as a European citizen. It truly upset me that this constituent, who was in a same-sex relationship, told me that part of his anxieties about his immigration status were to do with him not feeling safe if he had to return home.

I am deeply concerned about the treatment of LGBTI people internationally. Very recently, we have seen the introduction of the death penalty in Brunei for men who choose to sleep with other men. Both nationally and internationally, we have to do better. Together we can create a world where men are not afraid to love one another, where women are not afraid to love one another and where trans people can live safely. But in order to do that, cisgender and heterosexual people need to stand alongside our LGBTI citizens and not speak over them on this massively important issue. I know that, together, we can overcome homophobia, transphobia and biphobia.