Friday, 1 February 2013

Standing on the shoulders of brave people - LGBT History Month matters

Some people get weary of 'awareness days and months'.  Lets face it there are, to all of us, many that seem unnecessary or ridiculous, but are the most important thing in the world to others.  Just like Easter Eggs appear in the shops on Boxing Day, so too red ribbons for World AIDS Day appear before the moustaches have been shaved off for Movember.  And so we pick and choose what matters to us for what ever reason.

LGBT History Month starts today and it matters to me.  I'd like to think it would matter to me if I was a straight man, but who knows because I am not.  It matters because I am gay and because I have the privilege of living an open, proud and happy life and I know that is only possible because I am able to stand on the shoulders of those that went before me.  It also matters to Brook in achieving our mission of enabling ALL young people to enjoy their sexuality without harm, and diversity is one of our core values.

But it wasn't that long ago that being gay was illegal.  When I was growing up the age of consent was 21 (feels a long way off at 16) and then 18 before it was equalised at 16.  Section 28 was still on the statute books less than 15 years ago.  And it still remains sadly true that boys and girls are bullied and hurt because they are gay, bisexual or transgendered.  Unbelievably people continue to be killed in the UK - in fact less than 1/2 mile away from my flat in Clapham - and around the world because they are gay.

In the UK gay rights progressed at an astonishing pace under New Labour - equalising the age of consent, repealing Section 28, the introduction of civil partnerships and the Equality Duties.  Wonderful progress, but frighteningly recent.

I was involved in the policy and advocacy work to equalise the age of consent and repeal Section 28.  At the Stonewall party to celebrate the age of consent there were two elderly men - as they danced tears rolled freely down their cheeks and I spoke to them later - they had never imagined seeing the day that the age of consent would be equal and their love would be validated.    

Last month I was in New York to celebrate the wedding of two friends.  We went to Stonewall, now a quiet, comfortable relaxed bar - less than 50 years the place that police behaved brutally and triggered a response that would radically change the gay rights movement.  On that same street we played Gay Bingo with Vodka Slinger, our wonderful drag host.  Later that night the streets were full after karaoke and there was rightly no hint of fear.

But that safety now exists because there were brave, principled, moral people who demanded recognition, who refused to hide, who said I am that person who can be in the top job and were willing to dedicate, and sometimes sacrifice, their life to achieving the civil rights so many of us can now enjoy.

And there is no room for complacency - around the world the death penalty still exists.  I know that in the UK I will not be arrested for loving another man.  More than that I know that I have almost the same rights in almost all situations (giving blood aside) even if not everyone feels able to realise those but sex and relationships education still fails to address diverse sexualities adequately and some children are being bullied mercilessly .

So, for me LGBT month is an opportunity for Brook to do our bit to raise awareness of LGBT rights.  And I am delighted that a group of our young volunteers have published a booklet called the ABC of LGBT that has arrived from the printers today (look at @simonablake to see it in all its bright loveliness); that our teams across the country will be working hard to help young people celebrate and enjoy diversity.

At a policy level Brook will be urging MPs to support the Same Sex Marriage Bill, urging people to be sensible about what and how we will teach children about equal relationships and marriage, and being clear that the myths the Society Protection for Unborn Children are peddling in schools is scaremongering nonsense.

So LGBT History Month matters because it reminds us to celebrate the progress that has been made; reminds us to be grateful to those who have gone before us, dedicating and sometimes sacrificing their lives to achieve equal rights. It is also a time for personal quiet reflection and to be determined to stand on the shoulders of many before us and confidently shout Stonewall's slogans from every roof top we want Some People are Gay: Get Over It. 

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