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Drew Payne: The fight for LGBT equality is far from over

Gay people enjoy freedoms and rights today that would have been unimaginable 30 years ago. But Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US president make for an uncertain future. 
Homophobia-ALamy.jpg

Gay people enjoy freedoms and rights today that would have been unimaginable 30 years ago. But Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US president make for an uncertain future

I came out when I was 18, more than 30 years ago, and overnight lost nearly all of my friends. I was ostracised just for being gay, a shocking experience that had a lasting impact on me.

Today, I am married to my husband Martin and work as a community nurse in north London. Everyone at work knows my husband and no one has a problem with him. I have almost forgotten the last time I experienced homophobia at work, certainly in this job.

So much has changed since I was a teenager changes that, back

...

Gay people enjoy freedoms and rights today that would have been unimaginable 30 years ago. But Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US president make for an uncertain future


Almost all of Donald Trump’s new cabinet are on record expressing
anti-LGBT views.     Picture: Alamy 

I came out when I was 18, more than 30 years ago, and overnight lost nearly all of my friends. I was ostracised just for being gay, a shocking experience that had a lasting impact on me.

Today, I am married to my husband Martin and work as a community nurse in north London. Everyone at work knows my husband and no one has a problem with him. I have almost forgotten the last time I experienced homophobia at work, certainly in this job.

So much has changed since I was a teenager – changes that, back then, I would never have believed would happen. We have marriage equality, protection against discrimination at work, and the Equality Act 2010, which legally protects people from discrimination in wider society. 

Lesbian and gay characters can be found on many television programmes, and we have won so many protections and rights under the law this century that the world looks almost unrecognisable from the one in which I came out.

Homophobia persists 

So we can just sit back and relax, because all the work has been done, right? Unfortunately, no. Homophobia is still alive, it just isn’t as blatant as it used to be, and the NHS is still not an open and welcoming place for everyone.

In 2016, a BMA study found that more than 70% of lesbian, gay and bisexual NHS doctors experienced homophobia at work. Three quarters said they hadn’t reported this because they feared it would not be taken seriously, or were worried about reprisals. 

Last year also saw NHS England go to court over who should fund pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the HIV prevention medication. PrEP is 86% effective if used correctly, far higher than most vaccines, and if it prevented heart disease or diabetes we would likely be welcoming it with open arms. But PrEP prevents HIV, and NHS England’s attempts to avoid funding it tapped into the homophobia surrounding the condition. 

Following the European Union referendum result last summer, there was a shocking spike in race hate crimes. But what was less publicised was the 147% rise in homophobic crimes during this period. Homophobia hasn’t gone away, and the Brexit climate seems to have given it oxygen again.

Brexit also raises another challenge for LGBT people. When the UK leaves the EU, all EU laws that are also a part of our laws will be reviewed, and we may lose many of them. EU Article 10 offers protection from discrimination, including on grounds of sexuality, and the Employment Framework Directive 2000/78 protects people against discrimination at work on the grounds of sexuality. 

Worrying times 

With many in the Conservative Party having openly called for the repeal of the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act, what laws and protections might we lose as the UK separates from the EU? The government has given us no reassurances, and barely seems to know itself what it wants from Brexit.

Things have also taken a shocking turn in the United States, with almost all of president-elect Donald Trump’s new cabinet having gone on record expressing anti-LGBT views. Many people already fear that protection will be lost if Trump’s administration passes laws allowing discrimination against LGBT people in the name of ‘religious freedom’.  

It is no longer true that what the US does today, we do tomorrow. But those in the UK who have been campaigning for the repeal of marriage equality and LGBT protection will no doubt be looking closely at Trump’s administration. 

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell once said that LGBT people were the litmus test of how a society respects human rights. If a society doesn’t value diversity, how can it value anyone? And if nurses don’t worry about human rights, how can we nurse anyone with dignity?


About the author 

Drew Payne

 

 

 

Drew Payne is a community staff nurse in north London

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