Stonewall written evidence

Sexuality and gender identity

The UK has seen momentous progress towards LGBT equality over the past 20 years - from the repeal of Section 28 to equal marriage - and is now considered to have some of the best legal protections for LGBT people worldwide. However, LGBT people continue to face discrimination on a daily basis across our communities and public institutions, while trans people are still denied full legal equality.

Communities and workplaces

1.       Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic attitudes remain widespread across Britain’s communities, workplaces and public services. More than 100 LGBT hate crimes are reported weekly6, with many more unreported as LGBT people lack confidence to report or fear they will not be taken seriously7.

2.       In rural, faith and black and minority ethnic communities, LGBT people can face specific isolation, vulnerabilities and barriers to reporting. Increased hate crime reports and tensions across communities following the EU Referendum make it more important than ever that the Government sends a clear, strong signal that discrimination will not be tolerated, and is proactive in tackling prejudice through increased awareness, police training and reporting mechanisms for LGBT hate crimes.

3.       In the workplace, one in five LGB people have experienced verbal abuse8, while a quarter of trans people report being discriminated against9. Unsurprisingly, many LGBT people feel unable to be ‘out’ at work, stifling their ability to be themselves and perform to their best. Those employers committed to LGBT equality, including over 750 working with Stonewall, have embedded LGBT-inclusive policies, staff training, networks and support for employees, but many more – particularly small and medium enterprises – lack the knowledge, confidence or willing to do so, particularly in relation to supporting trans staff.

Legal equality for trans people

4.       The Gender Recognition Act 2004, through which people can access legal recognition of their self-identified gender, is outdated and in desperate need of reform, to remove intrusive medical requirements and to legally recognise non-binary identities. Stonewall welcomed the Government’s commitment to review the Act, which must now be followed with a full consultation process, ahead of a reformed Act in this parliament.

5.       Non-binary people also lack legal protection from discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 protects people on the basis of ‘gender reassignment’ rather than gender identity, leaving non-binary people unprotected in our workplaces, schools and when accessing public services. Additionally, exemptions in the Equality Act in relation to trans people accessing single-sex services, taking part in sport and occupational requirements seriously compromise trans people’s right to full and equal participation across public life.

Schools

6.       55 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people experience bullying in school10, while 28 per cent of trans pupils experience physical abuse11. Most LGBT young people leave school having received no information about LGBT people, including in sex and relationships education. These experiences have a deleterious effect on LGBT young people’s health, wellbeing and attainment, and leave them ill- equipped to make safe, healthy choices in adult life. YouGov polling of over 2000 teachers12, alongside Stonewall’s direct work with almost 1500 schools , clearly indicate that improving staff confidence to talk about LGBT issues is vital, and should form part of a ‘whole school approach’ comprising LGBT-inclusive staff training, policies and curriculum content.

Healthcare

7.       At a time when public services are under significant strain, it is more important than ever that they understand and effectively target service-user needs. Yet almost three quarters of patient-facing staff have received no training on LGBT issues. A quarter of all health and social care staff have witnessed abuse and discrimination towards LGB people and one in five have seen poor treatment or derogatory marks towards trans people. These training and knowledge gaps result in unequal treatment and poor health outcomes for LGBT people. Healthcare provision for trans people is particularly inadequate. Gender identity services, both for adults and young people, are chronically under-resourced, while primary care services often fail entirely to understand and meet the needs of trans people. Trans people routinely report transphobia, misinformation and inappropriate treatment from GPs.

What policies are needed to ensure equality for all LGBT people?

  • Improved reporting mechanisms and training for police forces on tackling and handling homophobic, biphobic and transhpobic hate crimes
  • A reformed Gender Recognition Act, removing medical requirements and recognising non-binary people
  • LGBT issues should form part of initial and ongoing teacher training, alongside guidance for schools on supporting trans students and statutory, LGBT-inclusive PSHE and SRE in all schools
  • Amends to the Equality Act 2010, replacing ‘gender reassignment’ with ‘gender identity’ to ensure all trans people are protected and addressing exemptions relating to trans people
  • Training for all health and social care professionals on LGBT health needs and inequalities. Mandatory equality and diversity training that addresses homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, for frontline and patient facing staff. Healthcare training providers should ensure that LGBT health needs are embedded across all health and medical curricula.
  • The Department of Health and NHS England should continue to review - in consultation with trans people - and implement wide-scale reform across gender identity services, including clinical treatment protocols, removal from mental health services and addressing capacity deficits
  • The UK Government should act on its commitment to deliver and implement a new cross-departmental strategy on trans equality

Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights

8.       Stonewall is deeply concerned at the Government’s proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act (HRA). The HRA, by translating the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and Court judgements into domestic law, has underpinned many of the legal protections and freedoms that LGBT people enjoy in Britain today, from the decriminalisation of homosexuality and removing the ban on gay people serving in the military to the Gender Recognition Act and equal marriage.

9.       The HRA has ensured that public institutions respect LGBT people’s rights, and, vitally, that LGBT people can defend their rights in UK courts.  A repeal would not only weaken human rights protections domestically, and threaten progress to eradicate the widespread discrimination faced by LGBT people, but would signal a deprioritisation of human rights, and so seriously limit the UK’s international standing and credibility to raise LGBT, and other human rights, concerns worldwide, including with the many states that are resistant to LGBT equality. Withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights holds the same damaging implications, both domestically and internationally.

10.   Criticism of both the HRA and ECHR are often confused and misleading, particularly in relation to parliamentary sovereignty, which the HRA is specifically designed to preserve. UK courts are not bound to follow European Court of Human Rights judgements, but to take them into account. While domestic courts should interpret domestic laws in accordance with the ECHR, where there is conflict Parliament decides if and how to change the law. The opportunity for British judges to interpret and, in fact, influence the development of human rights law across Europe has often led to progressions in LGBT and other rights, including equal marriage legislation.

11.   HRA repeal and withdrawal from the ECHR also have significant constitutional implications and would almost certainly lead to a problematic fragmentation of rights standards across the UK.

British Bill of Rights

12.   While it is as yet unclear what a British Bill of Rights would contain, Stonewall strongly believes that any dilution of the protections currently afforded by the HRA would signal that an individual’s right to be treated fairly and equally is qualified.

13.   On the other hand, if a British Bill of Rights is to offer the same level of protection as the HRA, there would seem little import in replacing the HRA at all, only a significant risk that the shift will be perceived both within and outside of the UK as deprioritising equality and human rights, with worrying consequences for how individuals and institutions will interpret their responsibilities to treat LGBT people, and others, equally.

14.   If Britain is to progress LGBT equality domestically, and retain global reputation and influence on human rights, the Government simply cannot afford to repeal the HRA or to sever links with the ECHR.

Foreign Policy and LGBT Rights

15.   Sex with someone of the same sex is illegal in 73 countries, and punishable by death in ten. That means 40 per cent of the world's population live under laws where gay, lesbian and bisexual people can be imprisoned, just for being themselves.

16.   LGBT peoples’ freedoms of expression, assembly and association are routinely violated by states. Since 2013, the parliaments of 14 countries have considered laws banning so-called ‘homosexual propaganda’.

17.   Only 50 states allow trans people the right to legally change their gender on official documents without challenges. Most of these laws are only accessible if trans people meet certain restrictive criteria, including that: (a) they undergo medical transition, (b) they are diagnosed under a specific mental health classification, or (c) they receive the backing of health professionals, judges, and/or their partners.

18.   Violence against trans communities is particularly acute. Each year, one in twelve trans people in Europe experience a violent hate crime. Of the 594 lethal LGBT hate crimes documented in the Americas by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in the 15 months to March 31, 2014, 276 (46 per cent) were committed against trans women.

19.   The LGBT rights sector remains severely underfunded, relative to other human rights and international development issues. An (April 2016) report by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Global LGBT Rights highlighted that for every $100 spent by US foundations, just 5 cents go towards supporting the international LGBT rights movement.

20.   Overall, Stonewall welcomes the UK Government’s continued support for the human rights of LGBT people worldwide, and is keen to see the UK Government consolidate its position as one of the few governments from which LGBT rights organisations internationally can expect strong, visible and routine support from.

21.   However, more can be done across the board, especially as regards: consistency in approach to LGBT inclusion at the country level and across departments; strategic development of the Government’s approach to global LGBT equality across departments; investment in internal capacity in key departments to deliver LGBT equality goals globally, and; a significant increase in funding to support LGBT rights initiatives worldwide.

22.   In line with the recommendations of the APPG on Global LGBT Rights’ inquiry, Stonewall recommends that:

  • The Government implement a cross-departmental strategy to protect and promote LGBT rights globally, across the FCO, Department for International Development (DFID), Government Equalities Office, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, including clear accountability mechanisms.
  • The Department for International Development assumes a leadership role in ensuring that LGBT people are included in international development, meaningfully implements its (February 2016) LGBT Approach, and guarantees significantly more funding for LGBT rights groups worldwide