The UK Government recently announced that it would be holding the nation’s first ever global LGBT conference in June 2022. The event, entitled ‘Safe To Be Me: A Global Equality Conference’, is scheduled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first official London Pride Marches, and promises to “increase international action to defend the rights of LGBT people around the world”.
Of course, this is an opportunity for LGBTQ+ people living in the UK to be excited and proud to host such an event, and we look forward to the benefits it might bring to their communities. But given the less-than-affirming approach currently taken by the UK, we can probably be forgiven a nagging doubt: is the UK really the best country for this?
The UK’s role as host comes from its membership in two international LGBT organisations, the Equal Rights Commission, which it shares with Argentina, and the Council of Europe’s LGBTI Focal Points Network IDAHOT+ Forum, which it shares with Cyprus. As the chair of these groups, the UK is expected to lead the rest of the world by example in the field of LGBTQ+ rights. Lord Herbert of South Downs, a former Conservative MP appointed to act as the UK’s Special Envoy on LGBT rights and the chair of the event, has hailed the opportunity for the UK to be a “force for good” in the international community, and to promote and protect LGBT-positive values worldwide.
However, you don’t have to look far to see that, as things currently stand, the UK isn’t exactly practicing what it preaches. Across Europe LGBTQ+ rights are backsliding, and while some nations are fighting the tide – Iceland, for instance, has recently added legal recognition for people who are neither male nor female and allowed 15-17 year olds to change their legal gender without parental approval – the UK continues to let down its trans population.
Transphobic hate crimes have quadrupled over the past five years, aided and abetted by media narratives that portray trans people as dangerous or predatory. The government has promised to improve access to trans healthcare and streamline the difficult task of changing legal gender, but these plans have largely come to nothing.
In public consultations on the Gender Recognition Act 70% of the public were in support of making it easier for trans people to self-identify, but the UK government dropped the proposed reforms and dismissed the majority as “an avalanche of responses generated by trans rights groups”. Ultimately the decision was made to lower the cost of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate, a tokenistic gesture that does little to improve the rights of trans people in the UK.
Meanwhile, Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss claimed to be “deeply concerned at the distress” caused by spiralling waiting times for access to gender identity clinics, but since then the situation has only worsened. The Tavistock vs. Bell judgement has made it harder for trans youth to get access to treatment, and a slew of investigations and attacks on GenderGP, as well as trans support services like Mermaids, has further stigmatised trans people who seek help and moved treatment farther out of reach.
It would seem that the UK is taking the stand as a world leader on LGBTQ+ rights and in the same breath denying those rights to its people. How is that going to look? When all eyes are on the UK to see how it treats its most vulnerable, what will they see? The hope – with exceedingly cautious optimism – is that this event is a catalyst for better things for trans people in the UK. There’s just over a year to go, which isn’t long, but it’s long enough to make a start.
What if we could say, when June 2022 rolls around, that the UK is a nation that takes its young people seriously, that gives them the support they need to navigate their most difficult and confusing times. That when trans people visit their doctor for help they aren’t told to ‘Prove it’, but instead they are asked ‘What do you need?’ What if the UK could proudly say that, instead of outdated and inconsistent protocols it follows world-leading standards of excellence in care for transgender people.
At GenderGP we help people explore their identities and get access to the treatment they need in a safe and non-judgemental way. We support people who have been failed by the current system, who have been turned away, or who cannot wait any longer. It would be nice if, by the time ‘Safe To Be Me’ comes to fruition, we were needed a little less. That would really be something to be proud of. Until then, it’s on us all to keep asking the UK: Who is safe to be who?