It’s 2019, Yet Gay People Still Have To Fight For Equality

Emily Brown

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Illegal Blood BankUNILAD/Stonewall

It’s been more than half a century since homosexuality was decriminalised in England, and yet gay people are still not entirely treated as equals. This needs to change.

Sexual acts between two men ceased to be illegal in 1967 but those men still had to be over the age of 21 to abide by the law. The age of consent was then lowered to 18 in 1994, but it wasn’t until 2001 it became equal to that of heterosexual couples, which in 1885 was set at 16 years of age.

It was never illegal for two women to have a relationship, yet it took 116 years for gay men to legally be allowed to engage in sexual acts at the same age as their heterosexual counterparts.

So my question is, why is equality taking so long?

1979 gay pride marchPA Images

There’s no denying we’ve come a long way in terms of enacting equality in the UK, with Josh Bradlow, Head of Policy at the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, telling UNILAD the LGBTQ+ movement has had a lot to celebrate over the years.

He cites securing employment protections and parenting rights, being able to serve openly in the military and marriage equality, pointing out ‘there’s been a huge amount of progress that’s made a big difference to the lives of LGBT people’.

However, even though the LGBTQ+ community is now a common and celebrated part of society, gay conversion therapy is still legal, sex education doesn’t always include LGBTQ+ relationships and gay men can’t donate blood for three months after having sex.

It took six years for Northern Ireland to follow in the footsteps of England and Wales and legalise same-sex marriage, with the law only having been changed in October (2019), proving that while change is happening, it’s happening much too slowly in too many areas.

Josh, 26, speaks further about some of the discriminatory laws which are still in place today, saying:

Gay and bi men still face barriers when it comes to donating blood. It’s simply untrue that every gay and bi man is a high-risk donor, which is why we want to see a system based on individualised risk assessment of blood donors, rather than a blanket exclusion of an entire group.

There’s also no way for non-binary people (people who don’t identify exclusively as male or female) to have their gender legally recognised.

In addition, anti-LGBT hate crimes are currently not treated as seriously in law as hate crimes based on race and faith. It’s essential that this is addressed so that there’s no hierarchy of hate in our laws.

Unfortunately, change does not happen overnight and it’s clear there’s still a long way to go to establish true equality, but the push for progress needs to continue. As long as these kinds of laws are still in place, the LGBTQ+ community continues to be discriminated against.

Josh adds:

If you are not recognised as equal in the eyes of the law, it sends a damaging message that you will not be treated with the dignity and respect you deserve.

Josh goes on to discuss the process of change, emphasising it ‘does not happen in a vacuum’, but rather comes about through a culmination of ‘hard work, passion and determination from individuals, politicians, organisations and businesses across all areas of society’.

The charity worker, who is gay, adds change happens ‘because diverse groups of people come together to protest and demand it’. We see this kind of activism regularly, in annual pride parades, rights protests and charity work.

As part of this push for equality, UNILAD is opening the Illegal Blood Bank; a place for gay and bi men to donate their blood in protest and prove there is a safe supply of varied blood currently being ignored by the donation law regarding men who have sex with men.

The legislation is outdated and discriminatory; one which sends a ‘damaging message’, as Josh puts it.

He explains achieving truly equal laws ‘will send a clear message that LGBT people are worthy of being treated with respect’ and help challenge discrimination, because although ‘legislation is the foundation of equality’, the legal progress made over the years has not necessarily translated to equality in everyday life.

Though we might like to think society is becoming increasingly more accepting, statistics show hate crime is actually on the rise. Stonewall’s 2017 research indicated that as a result of nothing other than being who they are, 21% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people and 41% of trans people experienced a hate crime within the previous 12 months.

The worrying trend appears to be ongoing, as figures released by the Home Office in October show there were 14,491 offences linked to sexual orientation recorded last year; an increase of 25% from the year before.

Discussing the findings, Josh comments:

These alarming statistics should be a wake-up call to anyone who thought the fight was over – it isn’t.

We’ve made a lot of progress that we can be proud of, but the fight for equality is far from over and we cannot be complacent… many LGBT people continue to face discrimination in work, school or in their community.

We need to change hearts and minds across Britain. LGBT rights and equality needs to be something that matters to everyone.

Couple hugging at pridePA Images

Supporting campaigns like the Illegal Blood Bank and Stonewall’s push to reform the 2004 Gender Recognition Act is a key part of progress moving forward, but Josh advises we can also do our part to enact equality on a more personal level.

He explains:

What we need to make the world better is allies. Being an ally is about being an active friend or support to someone else. People who aren’t LGBT can be allies to our community, but we can also be allies to each other.

If we want to live in a world [where] everyone is free and supported to be themselves, we all need to be part of the solution.

When it comes to making a difference, the 26-year-old advises everyone to do research into the issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community to ‘confront your own assumptions, prejudices and biases’ and learn from other people’s experiences.

It’s great to acknowledge how far we’ve come in terms of equality, but we need to start focusing on how much further we have left to go.

Help us end blood donation discrimination and support our campaign to overturn the outdated law that prevents sexually active gay & bi men from donating blood.

To find out more about The Illegal Blood Bank, click here.

Topics: Blood Without Bias, Activism, blood donation, Equality, LGBTQ+, same-sex marriage


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