Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Born That Way

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Earlier today the Senedd marked LGBT History Month for the first time via the latest member's debate.

LGBT, as you all know, stands for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders. If you want me to go all Tumblr on you, the expanded version – LGBTIAQ+ - includes Intersex (people who possess biological traits of both genders), asexuals, queers (some prefer the term, other don't) and other designations like pansexuals etc.

The Issues

One of the things we can be proud of is sexuality doesn't necessarily hold people back as much as it used to and Wales has a large number of visible LGBT personalities and role models for a country of our size.

The 2016 Assembly election saw Wales elect three openly-gay AMs – a huge step forward. In addition, same sex couples have been able to legally adopt children since 2005, a ban on sexually active gay and bisexual men donating blood was lifted in Wales in 2011, while same sex marriage was legalised in 2013.

As recently as 20 years ago many of these things would've been unthinkable. So while it's right to focus on problems the LGBT+ community still face, it's also right to acknowledge that society as a whole has come a long way in a short period of time.

Nevertheless those problems remain: accessing preventative HIV treatments like PrEP; same sex spousal bereavement benefits; homophobic abuse in schools and sport; LGBT suicide rates, which remain above average;issues relating to gender identity.

Coincidentally, I'll be returning to some of these issues in a series of posts on sexual politics (for want of a better description) starting Sunday.

The Motion

Calls on the the National Assembly to:

  • Note that LGBT History Month is an opportunity to promote diversity and equality across Wales and mark the contribution of LGBT individuals to Welsh public life.
  • Recognise the role of LGBT icons and allies.
  • Welcome progress made on LGBT rights and acceptance, but also accepts that vigilance is needed to ensure those rights are protected.
  • Takes a lead in challenging discrimination.

Key Points

Hannah Blythyn AM (Lab, Delyn):

  • We might have come a long way on LGBT rights, but there's more to do and we shouldn't be complacent. We should celebrate our diversity and send a message of hope to younger LGBT people.
  • Schools that take a proactive approach to teaching about LGBTs see lower rates of homophobic bullying. We need statutory guidance on age appropriate sex and relationship education, while there was a commitment from the Education Secretary to address how teachers can deal with bullying.
  • An exhibition of 21 LGBTs and their allies in the Senedd is a chance to pay tribute to those who campaigned for equality, as well as providing role models to young people as visibility is important – "You can't be what you can't see".
  • The message must be, "You are valued and have a contribution to make to our country as you are and for who you are".

Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr):

  • Having a word for "who we are" was the first step for LGBT rights, but knowing LGBT history is the next step as LGBTs have "been written out of our own history".
  • Homosexuality was used as an "imperial smear" against the Welsh and treated as a "national sin", going back to the principalities and Gerald of Wales. It's ironic that Hugh Despencer, the Welsh lover of the first English Prince of Wales, Edward II, is included as an icon in the exhibition and was executed for his homosexuality.
  • Poets, artists and writers have a duty to tell the untold and invisible stories, and the likes of Emlyn Williams and Ivor Novello were ahead of their time by openly referring to "gay" in their works.

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales):

  • 55% of LGBT pupils have experienced bullying. He was once told by the mother of a bullied pupil she was frustrated at the amount of disinterest shown by the individual assigned to their case at the school.
  • Rates of STDs continue to rise, with gay and bisexual men bearing the brunt. Access to sexual health services continues to deteriorate, particularly in deprived areas.

Assembly Commissioner for Equalities, Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales):

  • Stonewall's Workplace Equality Index placed the Assembly as the fifth best LGBT-friendly employer in the UK and top public sector employer in Wales.
  • A workplace equality network was established in 2008 to make the Assembly more LGBT-friendly. It annually plans Assembly contributions to LGBT History Month, Pride Cymru and international days against LGBT abuse. They've also introduced gender-neutral toilets across the Assembly estate, a mentoring scheme for LGBT staff and work experience placements for young LGBT people.

Mark Reckless AM (UKIP, South Wales East):

  • Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 legislated against teaching the "acceptability" of same-sex relationships. It set back things back decades and he campaigned against it.
  • Section 28 was still on the statute books as recently as 2001; Scotland had already removed it. It wasn't until 2003 that it was removed in EnglandandWales.
  • He was proud to vote in favour of same sex marriage as a Conservative MP in 2013, even if UKIP opposed it at the time. Many MPs from parties like Labour and Lib Dems voted against it as a matter of conscience – but that doesn't mean any of them were any less committed to LGBT rights.

Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney):

  • Only 1 in 5 secondary school teachers 1 in 6 primary teachers said governors took a clear leadership role when it came to addressing LGBT bullying. Schools should recruit more LGBT governors to make use of their life experience.
  • We should ensure anti-bullying policies specifically include LGBTs; governors should be presented with bullying statistics and trained in LGBT issues.

Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth):

  • Rights and acceptance are different things. Tolerance and acceptance can only arrive with understanding.
  • Vigilance is as important as celebrating success as there are a number of holes in our acceptance – a "benign ignorance".

Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley):

  • 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of sex between men.
  • As a secondary school teacher she had to deal with pupils coming to terms with their sexuality, as well as facing challenges from peers, family members and within themselves. It's important schools teach acceptance of sexuality through PSE lessons, with teachers properly trained.

Julie Morgan AM (Lab, Cardiff North):

  • One constituent set up FFLAG after her son came out, helping parents relate to their LGBT children. When it was first established it was common for literature and banners to be sent back from printers because it had "gay" on it; things have changed a lot since then.
  • Another constituent became co-chair of Stonewall Cymru. Rhodri Morgan campaigned for the Canadian partner of the constituent's daughter to remain - one of the first lesbians to be granted leave to remain through a same-sex relationship.

Welsh Government Response & Summing Up

Communities Secretary, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside):

  • Grants have supported schemes to tackle bullying in schools and set up groups and action plans for transgenders.
  • There's been a demonstrable improvement in the quality of support for LGBTs, but there's more to do and AMs are ensuring it remains on the agenda.
  • The Welsh Government are committed to advancing LGBT rights; they effectively ended Section 28 a year before it was formally repealed. Under that law, LGBTs were never told it was OK to be who you are and a generation of young LGBT people were "opened to bullying sanctioned by the state".

Jeremy Miles AM (Lab, Neath):

  • Accepting he was gay in the 1980s wasn't a pleasant experience. There were no discussions, role models or support. We should all shed light on those still battling to accept their sexuality in the present.
  • Equality is indivisible and the same fight for everyone; quoting Harvey Milk, "We have to give people hope for a better world".
  • Some differences are easier to understand than others – divorce was once widely unacceptable; change only happens when people of conviction fight and "refuse to sit at the back of the bus".
  • A country without discrimination in its laws shouldn't be considered an end point but a starting point.

The motion was agreed unanimously.


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