The LGBT Experience in 2021: Are we moving backwards?
Updated: Oct 18, 2021
If someone had told me a few years previous, that I’d be sitting here in 2021 writing about the LGBT experience and examining the way in which progress has seemingly ceased and how we’re moving backwards, I’m not sure I would have believed them.
Since the introduction of same-sex marriage in the UK eight years ago, it had seemed up until recently that the only way was up for the LGBT community – with reductions in hate crimes, the introduction of LGBT-inclusive sex and relationships education in schools as well as a general increase in positive public perception and tolerance for the community. However, in recent years it's clear to see how that progress and tolerance, which was fought for with such determination and for so many years by groups such as Stonewall, has slowed and ceased. With growing numbers of prominent homophobic hate crimes, the government’s recent reluctance to ban conversion therapy, protests from religious groups opposing LGBT-inclusive education and continued casual homophobia and biphobia on social media, its not difficult to ask the question – are we moving backwards?
As a student studying in Liverpool, I logged onto Instagram and twitter and was horrified throughout the month of June to witness many people I knew reposting photos of young gay men who had been brutally injured in homophobic attacks across the city I’ve been proud to call home for almost a year. I struggled to comprehend that these violent hate crimes had been committed on the streets which I walked down myself on a daily basis, in a city renowned for its tolerance and left-wing politics. Whilst reading the experiences of these individuals who had been brutally attacked on the basis of being themselves, I recalled an experience of my own just a few days previous when I myself had been on a date with another man in Liverpool city centre. I remembered ironically paying attention to all the famous buildings in the city lit up in rainbow colours in support of pride month however, overshadowing this I was reminded of my own instinctive decision to not show any affection or disguisable display of ‘queerness’ when the date came to an end. My decision not to do this was not made based on the man I had spent my evening with but instead, an apprehensive feeling I felt from a group of young men who were stood on the other side of the road – it seemed so instinctive to me at the time that I had to be careful not to draw attention to myself in case those men, whose stares were already concerning me, would react negatively to our sexuality. It was the following day when I discovered, on the same evening, that two gay men had been physically hate-crimed on streets not far away from when I went on my own date – it was only then that I realised how flawed and intolerant our society remains and how far we still have to come.
This hostility towards the LGBT community is mirrored in the actions and words of our own government and elected officials. The Prime Minister’s supposed allyship is overshadowed by his past blatant homophobic comments referring to gay men as “tanked-top bum boys” and his government’s long-standing reluctance to ban conversion therapy which was only ended recently by an announcement to ban to practice in this year’s Queen’s speech. The government’s Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss, admitted “fundamental differences” between her own position on LGBT issues and that on the government’s LGBT panel which was disbanded shortly after, highlighting in itself the lack of interest this government has in tackling issues facing the LGBT community. Liz Truss herself doesn’t even hold the Cabinet position full-time, holding also the brief as International Trade Secretary highlighting further just how little the Government and Boris Johnson care about these issues.
The government’s introduction of LGBT-inclusive sex and relationships education which was met with opposition and continuing protests by religious groups, most prominently those of Islamic faith, acts as additional evidence as to how we are moving backwards. With protests beginning in the summer of 2019, they recent reared their ugly head again in the Batley and Spen by-election campaign which saw openly LGBT Labour candidate and sister of murdered MP Jo Cox, Kim Leadbeater, targeted by protests and homophobic confrontations of a similar nature.
The recent uprising of the so-called ‘trans debate’ and ‘gender critical feminism’ has led to a torrent of abuse targeting at transgender women online. Although it is a relatively small group of outspoken individuals holding these strong opinions, it is an outspoken group with prominent supporters such as Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling and Labour MP, Rosie Duffield. This ‘debate’ has spiralled from an initial discussion regarding the difference between sex and gender and women-only spaces to hateful transphobic exchanges online. The Labour party leadership’s reluctance to address issues of transphobia within its own ranks is further reason for concern amongst the LGBT community, the party which has largely been at the forefront of championing LGBT rights and issues to date.
Casual homophobia and biphobia is also still a prominent part of social media popularity, especially with the rise of TikTok over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Viral trends and sounds such as “Don’t act straight when you’re gay” and “But I just can’t date a dude with a V*g” can be harmless but have simultaneously been used to casually belittle the existence of bisexual individuals and prejudice men with feminine characteristics.
According to a briefing paper produced by the House of Commons Library, 40% of those who identify as LGBT have faced a negative incident based on their sexuality or gender identity in the past twelve months, with the figure rising to 43% amongst 18-24 year olds. 44% of those who reported hate crimes to the police based on sexual orientation or transgender identity expressed dissatisfaction with the way in which their cases were handled.
When these heart-breaking facts and figures exist, it's easy to beg the question yet again – are we moving backwards?
This is not to disregard how far the LGBT community has come in recent decades and the advancement of LGBT rights but one thing is crystal clear – we have a long way to go before tolerance transitions to outright acceptance and all-embracing.