Unless you’ve been living under a rock, far away from the rows of heart-covered cards in supermarkets, and depressing conversations between student singletons on nightbusses, you will undoubtedly be aware that last Sunday (at the point of writing) was Valentine’s Day. And as I bought my boyfriend his tacky heart-covered card and token box of chocolates from Asda, it occurred to me that life for Lesbian and Gay couples is quite possibly better than it has ever been.
Not only is Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender History Month finding its momentum, with a large number of events being held nationwide, but couples like us have, in recent years, made a number of important gains. We have the prospect of civil partnerships; should we so wish, protection from discrimination enshrined in law; the right to adopt, an age of consent which is, at last, equal to that of our straight counterparts; and the list goes on… During the Labour government of the past twelve years, LGBT rights and protections have been an important issue, but with a general election looming and the major parties gearing up for their campaigns, it’s a good time to look at what we can expect from them.
The Labour Party has a sound history of promoting gay rights since it’s election in 1997, including the introduction of Civil Partnerships, adoption rights, the repeal of Section 28, and equalising the age of consent. Early in his premiership, Gordon Brown made IVF rights for Lesbian couples a key political issue, an issue which was voted against by a number of Conservatives, including leader David Cameron.
However, despite these progressive changes, there a number of areas in which progress is still to be made. Recent research by gay rights group, Stonewall, shows that homophobic bullying in schools is still widespread, with LGBT people in faith schools being around 10 percent more likely to be bullied than those in other schools. However, the Labour Government has greatly expanded schools of this type in recent years. The Labour Government needs to seriously evaluate how homophobic bullying can be tackled in faith schools, which are increasingly being financed by the tax-payer. Labour’s high-profile Equality Bill has also received criticism, with gay-rights activist Peter Tatchell pointing out that the bill fails to provide protections against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the same way that it does race, age, disability and sex.
The Conservative Party, which according to most recent opinion polls, is the most likely to form the new government later this year, appears to have made great progress in terms of its support of LGBT Rights. David Cameron has apologized publically for the hurt caused to the gay community by Section 28, a piece of legislation introduced by the Conservatives in 1988 which made illegal the promotion of homosexuality in state schools, or the use of materials which promoted homosexuality as an acceptable family type. The party has also seen an increase in openly-gay MPs, and candidates standing for the party in the upcoming election. However, in a recent interview with gay magazine Attitude, David Cameron was left to squirm when confronted with evidence that he had, in fact, voted against causes which he claimed to support, including equal adoption rights. The Conservative Party has also been criticised for its alliance with homophobic politician Michael Kaminski in the European parliament. While the party appears to have made progress, and David Cameron, as its leader, has expressed support for a number of issues, time can only tell if the Conservative Party as a whole is willing to support progressive legislation on LGBT issues.
The Liberal Democrats, led by Nick Clegg is widely accepted to be a liberal and tolerant party, and as Nick Clegg recently claimed, has the longest history of supporting LGBT issues. The party is critical of the current system of asylum, in which many gay immigrants are refused the right to stay in the UK, and told to return to their home countries, facing potential abuse, and in some cases violence and death threats. The party would also like to see civil partnerships extended to marriage in law. In many respects the most gay-friendly party, with a good history of voting in favour of LGBT issues, the Liberal Democratic Party appears to be a sensible allegiance for the LGBT Community.
However according to recent opinion polls and voting patterns, the party can most realistically hope to increase its share in parliamentary seats and reduce the majority of the other parties. However, speculation is high that the upcoming election could result in a hung parliament, in which no party has an absolute majority and therefore may seek to form a coalition. This could see a degree of power placed in the hands of the Liberal Democratic Party.
While election campaigns are so often based on “sound bites” and tactical choices, one thing is clear: with the election edging closer, and the gay-vote becoming increasingly sought after, this is shaping up to be a very interesting competition.