People often complain that governments don’t listen. If the fallout from the UK government’s latest listening exercise is anything to go by, perhaps they be should be grateful. The Government Equalities Office, a shadowy cross-ministry executive agency, has just released an LGBT Action Plan on the basis of listening to an alleged 100,000-plus answers to a special survey. The result doesn’t take long to read, and you quickly see the noxious mixture of the silly, the misguided and the plain worrying. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, with Penny Mordaunt, the Minister for Women and Equalities, proud to style herself a “Stonewall LGBT Ally”, whatever that is. But some of the survey's choicer bits are still worth a word or two.
Let’s begin with the silly, by which I mean empty gestures that cost peanuts, make for good soundbites and otherwise (apart from a minimal waste of public money) don’t do much else. An “LGBT Implementation Fund” will have £4.5 million pocket money to spend to “deliver projects to support LGBT people”. There will be a national LGBT Health Adviser, to “work with relevant statutory organizations and professional associations to embed LGBT issues into physical and mental health services” (read this carefully: it’s an excellent example of the gentle art of saying nothing in pretentious management-speak); regular government presence at Pride events, “allowing us to hear directly from LGBT people” (“Hiya, I’m the man from the Ministry: care to go clubbing?”); work to “challenge gender stereotypes” in the media (good luck) and steps to “develop the evidence on the cause and impact of gender norms” (second-rate sociology professors, please queue here).
Now for the misguided. What these proposals all have in common is that they’re very well-meant but, as anyone outside the public sector and the LGBT woke crowd knows, they will have unfortunate side-effects that no-one in their right mind wants. There is, for example, a proposal to prioritize the problem of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools. That’s all well and good: the result will be that, whereas schools ought to suppress all bullying ruthlessly without discrimination, some victims will now be privileged over others: if you’re bullied for the “wrong” reason, go to the back of the queue. Again, we need, it is said, to ”ensure healthcare professionals understand the benefits of asking patients about their sexual orientation and gender identity”. We don’t. If you go to your doctor with AIDS or hepatitis B he’ll ask anyway: if you go to him for varicose veins, the last thing you (and the NHS) need is time spent on a box-ticking question about whether you’re straight, gay, trans or two-spirit.
The litany continues. There are to be “regional hubs” to support LGBT teachers to “progress into leadership.” Translation: don’t appoint heads on a simple basis of how good they are likely to be at the job, but take into account irrelevant matters like whether they are gay (real non-discrimination is so twentieth-century, don’t you know). Hate crime awareness, and the police sensitivity to it, needs to be increased. Two results here. The first is more police diverted to the trawling of Twitter, to the detriment of their health and, more important, the clear-up rate of crimes that really affect the poor, such as assault, burglary and knife-crime. The other is more discrimination. If your child is beaten up because he’s gay, feel free and come in: if he’s beaten up because he likes classical music or doesn’t like soccer – sorry, we haven’t the resources.
We pass to the plain bad.
Exhibit 1: “The Department for Health and Social Care will revise surrogacy legislation so single people (including LGBT individuals) can access legal parenthood after a surrogacy arrangement.”
Translation: we will positively encourage the proliferation of families missing either a father or a mother. It’s so important, you see, to make LGBT people seem wanted, and if they fancy taking over someone else’s child as a lifestyle accessory we have to let them. Pity about children brought up in this kind of environment, but – well, it is the twenty-first century, and even if they didn’t ask to be raised in this way, they’ll just have to lump it.
Exhibit 2: “We will continue to review the blood donation deferral period for men who have sex with men.”
One might have thought that, with blood transfusion of all things, aimed at vulnerable and often very ill recipients, safety first was what mattered: if experience shows that any group is likely to give contaminated blood, you screen it out. No longer, it seems, enough. We must now spend precious resources on letting as many gay men as possible give blood: not, as far as one can see, for patients’ benefit, but so as to allow an NHS management body to tick one more equality box. Nice one.
Exhibit 3: “We will update Sex and Relationships Education guidance to support the Government’s reforms to this subject.”
This is actually sinister. Remember that the government has said it wants to make this guidance mandatory for all schools, including independent schools, and also take away the rights UK parents have always had to opt out by withdrawing their children. Net result: the government can now insist by law that all children are fed its views on such matters as sexuality, transgenderism, and gay parenting, and that schools which disagree are brought back into line.
Exhibit 4: “We will bring forward proposals to end the practice of conversion therapy in the UK.”
Now, it is true that a lot of of conversion therapy is snake oil, and a good deal of it less than beneficial: that’s why all the professional medical bodies in the UK have for some time forbidden their members to have anything to do with it. The problem is that as regards legislation the cure is very likely to be worse than the disease. The model, no doubt, is current draft legislation in Ireland. This would prohibit outright “any practice or treatment by any person that seeks to change, suppress and/or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression”, gender identity meaning almost anything (“each person’s internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance and, or functions by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including name, dress, speech and mannerisms”).
In other words, it potentially criminalizes anyone who tries to persuade a man that his feeling he’s really a girl is nonsense; not to mention priests (and, for that matter, rabbis and imams) who try to dissuade people from desires they see as wrong and suggest they channel their energies elsewhere. This doesn’t seem to worry the UK government. They make it clear they seriously want to catch all activities, whether “in a medical, commercial or faith-based context”. They then say, condescendingly, “We are not trying to prevent LGBT people from seeking legitimate medical support or spiritual support from their faith leader in the exploration of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” In other words, religious leaders have permission to ply their superstitions provided they don’t get serious about them, act like the other caring professions and support, of course in a non-judgmental way, the government’s views about LGBT identity.
Not that the process stops in Britain. A £5.6 million program, delivered through “civil society organizations”, will “advance the legal equality and rights of all Commonwealth citizens, regardless of gender, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity”; the Department for International Development will provide up to £12 million over four years for a “consortium of organizations to work together to promote LGBT inclusion”. What the benighted colonials, or the other misguided foreigners, think about the United Kingdom interfering in their democracy and pontificating about their internal affairs we’re seldom told: no doubt wisely.
Some people might wonder what happened to the old, well-tried view of LGBT equality: say what you like, advocate what you like, treat people on merit and let them get on with their lives.