Pride and politics: Superficial or a show of good faith?


While Pride Month is in full swing, there is concern that government policy isn't entirely compatible with their gestures of support

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By Delyth Michael

As we entered the month of Pride in 2022, rainbow flags popped up around York and in the media. This was perhaps more slowly than usual, delayed by the flood of Union Jacks as the country celebrated the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee on the 5 June, before businesses replaced them with rainbows.

In 2022, the queer community face discrimination and prejudice. Hate crimes against sexual orientation and gender identity recorded by the police in England and Wales have both doubled since 2017, according to the Home Office report at the end of 2021. Whilst queer identities are given a rightful platform, people still fear violent repercussions against them for who they are. We have seen this across the world, as well as in York when one of the first gay club night’s in the city was marred by violent incidents in September 2021.

June has historically been a time of celebration for LGBTQ+ through Pride, with parades and campaigns taking place across the world. In recent years, in the UK and other countries, Pride has become more socially recognised as it gained more media coverage. What started as riots in New York City following a police raid on a gay bar, is now seen as a month to celebrate queerness. Questions have been raised, though, whether it is queerness this month is celebrating or a queerness diluted to suit social attitudes? As queerness (or at least parts of it) has become normalised in society, politicians and corporations alike realise the potential popularity gains from taking part in Pride month. As society becomes more accepting of the queer community, bigotry slowly begins to abate. Pride month could be seen as an ideal opportunity for those with power to show that they support the community.

In past years, there have been messages of support during June from across the political spectrum, including the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other cabinet members. This year, both the UK government and the 10 Downing Street Twitter handles (representing the Prime Minister, as opposed to Boris Johnson’s personal account) have changed their logos to have a rainbow background, as many organisations do during Pride month to show their support.

But even as politicians send messages of support and acceptance for the queer community, they are often going ahead with policies that will negatively affect queer people. Some have accused the UK government of only showing superficial support for the LGBTQ+ community, and cite their plan to send asylum seekers crossing the English Channel and other ‘illegal’ routes to Rwanda, given concerns that queer migrants will be in danger in Rwanda.

The legal and policy director for Rainbow Migration, a charity providing legal and wellbeing support for queer asylum seekers and migrants, Sonia Lenegan, pointed out that the Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) for the policy “accepts that LGBTQI+ people in Rwanda are subject to abuse, yet the government intends to send them there regardless”. The EIA says in regards to abuse based on sexual orientation, “investigations point to ill treatment being more than one off, but it does not appear to be systemic”. When the government announces this kind of policy, it’s hard not to wonder if their support for queer people is limited only to those in certain ethnic groups or nationalities – or whether it is all simply a political stunt.

Another recent example of anti-queer policy from the UK government is the changes in the proposed legislative ban on conversion therapy. The latest announcement from the government is that the ban will go ahead, but with an exclusion of trans conversion therapy due to a “complexity of issues”.

This has been criticised by many groups, including Stonewall UK. Stonewall pointed out that trans people are actually disproportionately affected by conversion therapy according to the government’s own National LGBTQ+ survey in 2018, with 13 per cent of trans respondents having undergone or been offered conversion therapy, compared to 7 per cent of cis respondents. Again, this casts doubts on how supportive this government actually is of the queer community, when they are seen as failing to protect a large proportion of it in excluding trans conversion therapy from this ban.

As well as these specific recent examples of policies seen as anti-queer from the government, there are also long-term policies seen as negatively affecting queer people, in particular in healthcare. Wait times for NHS mental health services can be dangerously long, with approximately 1.6 million people on the waiting list and another eight million not officially on the waiting list because they are not yet deemed unwell enough in 2020, according to mental health trusts and NHS providers.

Mental health issues are known to disproportionately affect queer people. A recent study by Stonewall found that over the previous year, half of LGBTIQ+ people had experienced depression and three in five had experienced anxiety. These issues especially affect trans people, almost half of whom had had thoughts of ending their own life in the previous year. Trans people also face long wait times for gender affirming care, especially those under 17 who are limited to only one youth gender identity clinic in London, limiting accessibility.

There is distrust between the queer community and the government, and it may take more than rainbow logos to heal the rift.