My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of interests and particularly thank Stonewall, Mermaids and the United Kingdom Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group for their advice. It is a delight to follow the wonderful introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and I thank him for initiating this important debate. As he started to outline, it gives us an opportunity to address the dangerous vacuum created by the failure to bring forward earlier the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act. Into this vacuum has crept myth, misrepresentation, hatred and the defamation of trans people, in particular trans women. It is therefore vital that, during consultation on the Gender Recognition Act, we move the debate back to facts and evidence.
I also unreservedly congratulate all those involved in the production of the action plan, in particular those rarely noticed: the civil servants. The action plan is based on the LGBT survey, which attracted more than 108,000 responses, making it the largest national LGBT survey in the world, but the survey shows that the fight for equality is far from over and in some areas—for example, the experience of hate crime—the progress made is being reversed. The survey paints a picture of a country where, despite almost legal equality for LGBT people, they still cannot be themselves. I say that in a personal capacity as a gay man.
Many face discrimination and live in fear of being harassed, outed or bullied. They are often unsafe on our streets and in their homes. In schools, they face bullying, misrepresentation and outing and feel marginalised in sex and relationship education. In that regard, faith schools should not be allowed to opt out of including LGBT in sex and relationship education. In the NHS, their physical and mental health needs are not properly serviced by the NHS or its practitioners.
The Government are justly proud of recent milestones, such as the same-sex marriage Act 2013, where a pivotal and dynamic role was played by the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, the Policing and Crime Act; and Turing’s law. We must also acknowledge the work undertaken from 1997 by Labour Governments—I do not say this in a partisan way—which helped transform this country into a much more equal and accepting place.
Above all, we must recognise that the rights that we enjoy today are because of the sacrifices of thousands of generations. Therefore, despite the plan, I believe that we can do more. The action programme needs to be better funded and the Government should address reform of the way LGBT asylum seekers are treated in the United Kingdom. Equally, they should commit to roll out PrEP to high-risk groups throughout England.
There is a danger that inequality could continue and that devolution will become the excuse for doing nothing. It is simply not good enough to allow parts of the United Kingdom to opt out from equality. Same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to an abortion are both denied in Northern Ireland. This cannot be right and must be urgently addressed. The provisions in the Policing and Crime Act to extend pardons and disregards of historic sexual offences must not be held up any longer. I look forward to my meeting with the Minister, but it is now 19 months and we are no further forward. All reforms are complicated, but I once again ask the Minister to produce a timetable to achieve these provisions and ensure that those affected can finally secure justice.
The Ministry of Defence must address posthumous pardons for historic homosexual offences. Professor Paul Johnson of York has supplied a comprehensive draft to the Ministry of Defence, but there is still no action.
On gender recognition, Stonewall and the Mermaids organisation remain concerned at the omission of any specific question relating to trans people under the age of 18 in the consultation document. Other key objectives for reform are: self-determination of legal gender identity, similar to systems successfully in place in Norway, Ireland and Argentina; legal recognition of non-binary identities; and the same processes for 16 and 17 year-olds, with access to recognition for under-16s with—I underline this— parental consent.
We must not forget older LGBT people, in particular when they need social or residential care. Of particular concern are those older gay and bisexual men who are HIV positive and may go into residential care homes. The stigmatisation and discrimination that they face has been well documented by the Terrence Higgins Trust, and it demands urgent action.
We need to ask ourselves why so many young homeless people are LGBT—often shunned by their families and friends when they come out, so the street becomes their final yet dangerous refuge. On this, too, we need urgent action.
Let me end on this. We must always remember that we as a society are only as equal as the least favoured or the least understood. We advance together or we do not advance at all.