Eyes on the prize: do we need to prioritise in the push for LGBT+ equality?

by Steve Wardlaw | Emerald Life
Wednesday, 27 February 2019 10:12 GMT

Opponents of "Section 28" burn their ballot papers in George square in Glasgow, May 8 2000. ARCHIVE PHOTO/Jeff J Mitchell

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Britain's LGBT+ community need to rediscover the anger they felt about Section 28, which banned the "promotion" of homosexuality in schools

Steve Wardlaw is chairman and founder of Emerald Life, an insurance company

Not that long ago, many of us thought that the world was heading in the right direction, with blips along the way.

But our optimism – and complacency – was misguided. There are many major issues of concern in the world today – Trump, Brexit, the rise of right-wing populism and “strong man” government, to name a few.

Citizens around the world are unhappy at current trends, and many of those are exercising their democratic rights to disagree and protest.

LGBT+ activism, as a single-issue campaign, has a narrow remit. We naturally tend to focus on areas that we can address (for example, marriage inequality in Northern Ireland). Those campaigns are great, and kudos to those who give their time and resources to help.

My question in this piece is broader. Being gay or transgender is an important part of who we are, but only a part. If our resources are limited (as they always are), is a focus on issues closer to home (or ones that only affect us) – or even LGBT+ issues more generally – inadvertently misguided?

For example, yes, marriage equality in Northern Ireland is important. But Brazil has the highest murder rate for transgender people in the world. If members of our community are actually dying in Brazil, could we justifiably ask LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland to come to Britain to get married – as a stopgap – so that we can focus resources on a reduction in trans murders?

Or should we look broader still? Given recent statements by Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, that if he had a gay son he would prefer that he died, should we be looking to support the Workers Party in Brazil for the next presidential election? That may have an indirect effect on LGBT+ rights, but clearly an important one.

This raises a related point. Although we talk a lot about the gay and trans community being truly global, are we giving equal weight to the needs of those community members outside Britain? If we talk about comments from the Democratic Unionist Party, not known for its liberal views of homosexuality, for example, to a British audience there is outrage. There’s some glazing over if we talk about Bangladesh….

We must continually remind ourselves of the need to think globally and look where our efforts can have the most effect – if you agree with that concept, of course.

For example, the work that the charity GiveOut does makes a real and tangible difference. It supports many grassroots organisations on the front line in countries such as Jamaica, India, Turkey and Iraq, where the work of those organisations educates, informs and also saves lives. Yet these grassroots initiatives are often less publicised and have greater difficulty accessing vital funds.

So, what should be our priorities when we have limited time and money? When I started planning this column, I genuinely had no idea how it was going to end. I had assumed that my emotional direction would be towards targeting campaigns and resources that stop the worst atrocities against LGBT+ people.

And indeed that may be the end point for many people.

However, we need a fresh approach in these troubled times. The way to manage this situation is to make the pie bigger.

Too many of us in the gay and trans community (and our allies) have been complacent. We have assumed that the big battles have been won. Porn star Martinis all round! Yet they haven’t.

In today’s world, we need to remember how angry we in Britain were at the introduction of Section 28, which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities and schools, the unequal age of consent and the British government’s willful ignorance over HIV/AIDS.

That anger needs to power us again.

Time and money would be less limited if we all spent more time being activists – perhaps an unreasonable goal – but if two or three times the number of LGBT+ people got involved, then we would have a huge increase in people (and money) to help.

There are too many things that need changing, so pick one and get on with it.