OPINION: Theresa May’s LGBT Action Plan update? It’s a solid 'meh'

by Steve Wardlaw | Emerald Life
Friday, 12 July 2019 10:58 GMT

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is seen outside Downing Street in London, Britain July 3, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Image Caption and Rights Information

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

The British government’s latest update on its LGBT action plan does not deliver any real progress

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

It’s that time of year again, when we stick up rainbow flags, shops flog us over-priced LGBT-friendly merchandise, and politicians try to persuade us that they’ve always loved the gays.

The current government is no exception.

A year ago the administration announced its LGBT Action Plan, in the midst of Pride season, when the great and the good (and the wholly non-controversial) of the LGBT+ world attended a garden party at Number 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s residence.

Last week saw the 2019 Pride reception at Number 10, as well as the release of a progress report on the Action Plan. It’s not long, at 13 pages, and I think the most constructive thing I can say about it is that the font is very large. It’s a pithy overview of each separate area where the Action Plan saw issues – health, education, safety, policy, international support etc – but the report makes disappointing reading

It feels to me like that long-awaited sequel to your favourite book. I really liked the first one, and I wanted to feel the same about this update. But I can’t.

It feels like Theresa May’s team has run out of narrative, so has thrown together a few soundbites and rehashed some of the greatest hits from the original volume. Rather than a second smash, we wonder where the real meat is in this one.

And at a time when, even in the UK, we find our community more under threat than any time in at least a decade.

How could it be improved? Easily and succinctly, using existing tools and mechanisms. Here are some easy wins for a government and a prime minister keen to leave some (or any) kind of legacy, based on the update’s own headline points.

If the government wants to improve LGBT+ health, there is no need to appoint an expensive commissioner. Simply increase funding for mental health and addiction programs and make PrEP available on the NHS (yes, that means you, NHS England, as you are still dragging your feet).

The next boast is that 1800 schools have been reached with anti-LGBT+ bullying training.

Fine, but this was done by charities (shout out to Diversity Role Models and others).Yes there was some funding, but the official government response to the parents protesting against LGBT+ relationships education outside Birmingham schools was, literally, invisible.

If the government believes in relationship education, it should say so, often and loudly

Announcing a Law Commission on hate crime?

That's a kick into the long grass - the laws work okay now, but they aren't being enforced because of a lack of interest and resources.

Creating an independent LGBT panel? I'll give you that one - provided they are listened to and action taken. We've seen these ideas fall apart before.

An international conference on LGBT equality in London next year?

Why don't we use the Commonwealth better to push for change as most of the countries penalising homosexuality are members already. A global conference is supported by many of the UK’s LGBT+ charities but let’s also use our existing organisations to push home the equality issue.

Yet the biggest problem is not to do with the words written down. It’s the surrounding political swirl. This attempt at an update has attracted very little attention from the press - even the LGBT+ press.

And we all understand why.

Theresa May ceases to be Prime Minister in two weeks’ time. Her successor, likely to be Boris Johnson, will spend most of his time trying to navigate a path through Brexit.

Even with any spare time he has, Boris’ political views have tacked far more to the right then when he was Mayor of London.

If LGBT+ rights aren’t a priority for the next prime minister, what options do we have? In the current Brexit-sphere, who cares enough about LGBT+ rights and progress to produce even this thin gruel in 12 months’ time.

If I were a medical person, I would diagnose this Action Plan as terminally ill. There is some chance it might survive with the right care – if Penny Mourdant stays on as Minister for Women and Equalities, for example.

But without the right leadership from behind the door of Number 10, I’m not holding my breath that we will see even the plan mentioned during Pride season in 2020.