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LGBT History Month: Angela Eagle, Will Young, Rebecca Root And More Talk About Progress Of Equality

01/02/2016 15:27 | Updated 02 February 2016

From popstars to politicians and theologians to filmmakers, there are virtually no communities without their own LGBT icons. Young and old, they have all experienced discrimination just for their gender or sexuality.

"Being trans is not a crime, or a disease, or something to be ashamed of and that a successful and happy life is possible as a trans person," says Rebecca Root, giving the advice she wishes she had received as a young person.

"I wish – dearly – that someone had told me at the age of thirteen that it was ok to be gay. That God would love and accept me as a gay Christian," says theologian Vicky Beeching, who came out in 2014 - at the age of 35.

Shadow minister Angela Eagle, addresses the concern that there's so much more to do to progress, "more action is needed to tackle homophobic bullying, it breaks my heart when I hear about people being bullied because of their sexuality" she says.

"The entire asylum system is rigged to fail as many people as possible, including LGBT applicants," human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell tells us, "the treatment of LGBT asylum seekers is mostly appalling".

As February marks LGBT history month The Huffington Post UK asked eight prominent LGBT figures questions on the future of equality.

angela eagle

Angela Eagle MP, Shadow first Secretary of State

Who are your LGBT heroes? Please pick three.

Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Sir Ian McKellen.

Why do you admire them?

Billie Jean pioneered women's tennis helping to create a financially viable women's tour and she was a great feminist beating sexist Bobby Riggs who had claimed that no woman could ever beat a man. Martina was one of the greatest ever tennis players. She came out - rare in any sport and pioneered new conditioning techniques which took the game to a new level.

Ian McKellen is a brilliant actor and equalities campaigner. He did great things in the 1980s when he helped found Stonewall and always contributed to the fight for LGBT equality.

What did they do that made them special?

All of them are pioneers of equality and great role models. They show young people that being LGBT is not a barrier to success.

What do you think has been the key moment for LGBT rights in your lifetime?

I was proud to serve in Labour’s last Government which transformed the legal position of all LGBT people making them equal before the law and doing so in the face of media scorn and hostility. The moment we passed the civil partnership law sticks especially in my mind.

Do you think it's easier or harder to be an LGBT person in Britain today than 10 years ago? What problems remain, if any?

I am proud to be part of the last Labour government that did so much to change the lives of LGBT people for the better. Civil partnerships, ending the ban on gay people serving in the military, introduction of lesbian fertility rights, scrapped the hated Section 28 introduced by the Thatcher government and implemented the Gender Recognition Act.

The positive action that Labour took has made a real difference. We’ve come along way but there is still work to be done to fight prejudice. More action is needed to tackle homophobic bullying for example. It breaks my heart when I hear about people being bullied because of their sexuality.

Do you actively campaign for LGBT issues? Do you feel you have to?

‘LGBT rights are human rights and human rights are LGBT rights’, said Hillary Clinton so eloquently recently – she’s right. I’m passionate that in every country in every part of the world LGBT people are treated equally and with respect. It is something I’m campaigning for. It can’t be right that in some places people can lose their homes or their jobs or face death for being gay, progressive nations have a duty to stand up and fight for change internationally.


Is the government doing positive things for LGBT people? If yes, what? If no, why not?

I suppose David Cameron has done well to fend off greater rebellions in his own party on equality issues. 128 Tory MPs voted against gay marriage. It would not have been carried without Labour votes.

What advice would you give to your younger self about growing up LGBT that you wish someone had told you?

All equality battles are related so just keep on fighting and never give up.

will young singer

Will Young, singer

Who are your LGBT heroes? Please pick three.

David Bowie, Elton John and Peter Tatchell.

Why do you admire them?

Bowie for his embracing of utter freedom, sexual freedom, artistic freedom and gender freedom. He worked within no restraints.

Elton for his tireless campaigning and fundraising for Aids and HIV, how he is completely generous, kind and giving of his time, and also for his music. if people haven’t heard his early stuff - LISTEN!

Peter because he is quite simply a workhouse for human rights. He works off a shoe string, has been marginalised over the years, ignored by government after government with funding and yet is a fulcrum behind so many movements. The man should be knighted.

What do you think has been the key moment for LGBT rights in your lifetime?

Civil partnerships really opened the door, to then adoption and gay marriage, it was and is a defining moment in LGBT rights.


Do you think it's easier or harder to be an LGBT person in Britain today than 10 years ago? What problems remain, if any?

The first half of the question I find difficult to answer. I like to think overall thought processes and views on difference have improved, the fundamental and endemic problem lies now in homophobic language.

Some 23% of young LGBT [people] will try to kill themselves, 53% DO self harm and yet the education secretary Nicky Morgan ignores this. Make it current and it is snapped up on, it is a simple fact that this government does nothing to aid the discrimination that occurs against young LGBT people in schools through the misuse of language.

It saddens and angers me and I will fight tooth and nail to get this changed.

What advice would you give to your younger self about growing up LGBT that you wish someone had told you?

Get out there and find friends. Your weakness is your greatest strength, and for gods sake swerve the trend for large cargo trousers.

rebecca root

Rebecca Root, actress

Who are your LGBT heroes? Please pick three.

Jan Morris, author, April Ashley, model and trans campaigner and Caroline Cossey, model and actor.

Why do you admire them?
For being inspirational role models in the public eye, standing up to discrimination and bigotry, and for showing that it is possible to transition and live an authentic life in an age when being trans was generally seen as something terrible.

What did they do that made them special?
Jan Morris transitioned in the early 1970's and later wrote a celebrated account of being trans, "conundrum".

Earlier than Morris, April Ashley fought for the right to marry (a male) but lost.

In the 1980's Caroline Cossey was a high profile model and actor in a number of films before being outed in the tabloid press, forcing her to give up her acting and modeling career.

What do you think has been the key moment for LGBT rights in your lifetime?
The introduction of the gender recognition act (GRA) which enabled a trans person to change details on their birth certificate, subject to certain conditions.

However the GRA is now considered somewhat outmoded and impractical in today's climate of trans rights and an alternative is being sought.


Do you think it's easier or harder to be an LGBT person in Britain today than 10 years ago? what problems remain, if any?

It is easier to be trans and LGBT in 2016 if only because there is far more visibility and acceptance of trans people in the public. Waiting lists for NHS gender identity clinics are ridiculously long forcing people to self-medicate or run up financial costs going privately.

Do you actively campaign for LGBT issues? Do you feel you have to?
Yes; I am patron of the charities all about trans and diversity role models. I see this work as necessary because the more people talk about LGBT and trans matters the more they will understand and ultimately accept us.

Is the government doing positive things for LGBT people? If yes, what? If no, why not?
The British government recently published the transgender equality report detailing a number of areas that gave cause for concern, including length NHS waiting lists, and certain aspects of the GRA.

What advice would you give to your younger self about growing up LGBT that you wish someone had told you?
That being trans is not a crime, or a disease, or something to be ashamed of and that a successful and happy life is possible as a trans person.

peter tatchell

Peter Tatchell, activist and campaigner


Do you think it's easier or harder to be an LGBT person in Britain today than 10 years ago? What problems remain, if any?

We have definitely progressed forward, but mostly only since 1999 when the first LGBT law reforms began. There are still unresolved issues. Trans rights and acceptance still falls short. The Gender Recognition Act is too restrictive and needs radical reform. There is pension inheritance discrimination in same-sex civil marriage and civil partnership law.

One-third of LGBT people have been victims of homophobic hate crimes. The kicking to death of a 62 year-old gay man, Ian Baynham, in Trafalgar Square in 2009 is a reminder that even in liberal London LGBT people are not always safe. Although homophobic murders are nowadays rare, violent attacks still happen in London and other big cities on a regular basis.

Fifty-five percent of young LGBT people say they were bullied at school – with some of them suffering assaults in the classroom or playground. Despite this, nearly half of all schools still have no anti-bullying programme that explicitly tackles homophobia and transphobia.

It’s no surprise then that suicide, self-harm, mental ill-health, substance abuse and HIV infections are much higher among young LGBTs than the national average.

Old age is a challenge for everyone but even more so for the estimated one million Britons over 55 who are lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB). They face the double whammy of old age plus homophobia in the NHS and care sector.

Is the government doing positive things for LGBT people? If yes, what? If no, why not?

Positive:
Since the Sexual Offences Act 2003, for the first time in nearly 500 years, we have a criminal code that does not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The introduction of same-sex marriage in 2013 ended the last major legal discrimination against LGBT people in the UK.

Less positive:
Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) is still not compulsory in all schools, and often does not address the needs of LGBT young people. The government last year refused to make SRE mandatory and inclusive of LGBT issues.

The entire asylum system is rigged to fail as many people as possible, including LGBT applicants. The government target is to reduce numbers, regardless on the merits of the individual case. Every refugee, no matter what horrors they have been through, is assumed to be a fraudster and a liar. The treatment of LGBT asylum seekers is mostly appalling. Their refusal rate is much higher than average.


What advice would you give to your younger self about growing up LGBT that you wish someone had told you?

Don’t accept the homophobic world as it is. Dream of a better world of LGBT equality that could be – and then help make it happen.

fox fisher

Fox Fisher, artist, film-maker and activist

Who are your LGBT heroes? Please pick three.

There are so many people I could list, like Jane [Czyzselska] who runs Diva magazine, Billy Tipton (Jazz musician born in 1914, discovered to have been born a Dorothy Lucille Tipton, discovered after his death) or Amos Mac: Founder, photographer and editor of Original Plumbing Magazine, featuring trans masculine people.

I choose: Jen Richards, co-creator and co-star of Her Story Web Series, Rebecca Sawyer, Spiritual Medium, and Munroe Berdorf, model, DJ and activist.

Why do you admire them?

Jen because I recently watched the fantastic new American web series, Her Story, which is co-written by Jen and she stars in it as well.

She Tweeted me recently saying that she watched My Transsexual Summer and how it gave her strength to come out. That blew my mind. I like that we are all inspiring each other.

Rebecca Sawyer, because she has a heart of gold and I feel very connected to her.

Munroe is going from strength to strength. She’s recently been signed for a new ad campaign for two high street chains which have never had a trans woman model for their brand. She’s being followed around by the BBC One Show at the moment, and really should have a massive ego because of all her achievements, yet somehow doesn’t. Humble is a very hot trait in my books.

What do you think has been the key moment for LGBT rights in your lifetime?

Trans Movement in general, it’s exciting to be part of this wave of change and see these integral moments that will go down in history. This includes the first ever Stonewall meeting, the first Trans Pride event and first ever Trans Pride march, all of which were documented for My Genderation, the ongoing film project Lewis Hancox and I set up 4 years ago.

Do you think it's easier or harder to be an LGBT person in Britain today than 10 years ago? What problems remain, if any?

I first came out as gay in the 90’s, but I was aware of a deeper issue, my gender identity. I was a really insular teen, really androgynous and I walked the line of gender for most of my 20’s. Back in my day was Section 28, which meant that no LGBTIQ issues were allowed to be talked about at school. These days, anyone with internet access has the ability to connect with others, relay information, and make purchases, it makes life a whole lot sweeter.

Socially, things are better although that depends on you’re living and financial situation. Brighton has a fairly small LGBT scene (pubs, bars and clubs) considering a much higher proportion of diverse people live here. My theory is that nearly everywhere in Brighton is LGBT friendly, so there’s less need to have that segregation. Globally, there’s still so much more awareness to be raised, but I am inspired by the compassion and change I’ve seen over the past 5 years.


Do you actively campaign for LGBT issues? Do you feel you have to?

Even today, merely being out as trans makes you an activist. I sort of fell into activism. Ever since taking part in My Transsexual Summer. My personal transition has been alongside the world transition towards greater understanding. I feel like the world has shifted. We are starting to be recognised as human beings.


Is the government doing positive things for LGBT people? If yes, what? If no, why not?

Yes. Getting there. Trans Equality Report. We’ll see.

What advice would you give to your younger self about growing up LGBT that you wish someone had told you?

Advise to younger self: Be kind to yourself. Be patient. You’re trans. You’re not a bad person just because you want to feel comfortable. Don’t give up. Try to find better ways to be good to yourself.

munroe bergdof

Munroe Bergdof, model, DJ and activist


Who are your LGBT heroes? Please pick three.

I have so many LGBT heroes, but the existence and words of three women have especially made a significant impact on my life. Marsha P. Johnson, Audre Lorde and Laverne Cox.


What did they do that made them special?

I’ve always looked up to strong women of colour, especially strong queer women of colour. Whilst growing up and even up until recently there really wasn’t a great deal of women that I felt I could relate to in the media, positive stories of trans women and even women of colour just weren’t being shared on the same scale as white cis stories. So the words, experiences and perspectives of these three women really stuck with me.

Marsha “Pay It No Mind" Johnson was an African American trans woman from New York, she played a key role in the Stonewall riots, a pivotal series of events that lead to the gay liberation movement. I remember watching a documentary on her life and falling in love with her resilience and strength. She stood up for what she knew was right in a time when all the odds were stacked against her.

Audre Lorde was a radical black feminist, lesbian and civil rights activist. I read her book ‘I Am Your Sister’ in University and finally discovered a branch of feminist thought that I felt I could relate to. She definitely urged me to think deeper, analyse the information and behaviour I’m exposed to as an LGBT person.

Laverne Cox is one of my favourite trans girls in the media, her eloquence, poise and talent are so inspiring. I love what she has contributed to the media in terms of trans visibility and diversity.

What do you think has been the key moment for LGBT rights in your lifetime?

The transgender tipping point has been such a joy to witness. The fact that we are finally speaking about trans issues, seeing trans people portrayed positively in the media, seeing trans actors playing trans roles, celebrities coming out as gender fluid. It’s all very exciting albeit overdue.


Do you think it's easier or harder to be an LGBT person in Britain today than 10 years ago? What problems remain, if any?

SO much easier, but we’ve still got a way to go. I think a great bulk of the problems lie in general acceptance of LGBT people, but that’s an outside problem. Ae as a community need to carry on succeeding, pushing forward and achieving new ground in all areas. One thing i think we could improve on as a community is listening to each other as a community. I think quite often it’s forgotten that it’s LGBT, not just G. We’re all in it together and the closer we pull together as a community and realise each others struggles the better.

Do you actively campaign for LGBT issues? Do you feel you have to?

Absolutely. I’m not the kind of person who just expects things to happen and not get up to help however I can. I speak on trans and racial issues out of frustration and hope. We should all do as much as we can to push for equality, no matter who you are.

Is the government doing positive things for LGBT people? If yes, what? If no, why not?

The government just released their findings of their trans enquiry which suggests that they are looking into making things better for us. However there are SO many things that need improving. Personally speaking, I feel that the NHS services for trans people are laughable, the waiting lists are long, appointments infrequent, correspondence is complicated and often you feel like a condition rather than a person when dealing with them. Trans people need support, our needs are pressing. Telling a person to wait two years before they can have an appointment is ridiculous.

What advice would you give to your younger self about growing up LGBT that you wish someone had told you?

Stop beating yourself up. Everything comes in time. There’s nothing wrong with you. Please love yourself more, it’ll make everything else easier as soon as you do.

angela crawley

Angela Crawley, Member of Parliament for Lanark and Hamilton East, SNP

Who are your LGBT heroes? Please pick three.

My LGBT heroes are the women who were both visible and gay in Scottish society when I was growing up. Comedians like Karen Dunbar and Rhona Cameron and the singer Horse McDonald – all three were vocal about being part of the LGBT community. Not only were they exceptionally talented, highly successful and well known individuals, they were champions for the LGBT community. They were trailblazers in that they were among the first Scottish lesbians in the public eye. It was undoubtedly a far more difficult time to be LGBT, but they led the way for future generations and I am forever thankful.


What do you think has been the key moment for LGBT rights in your lifetime?


There have been huge leaps made in policy for LGBT people but the biggest I believe is marriage equality in Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland. I hope Northern Ireland will eventually make this fundamental human right a reality across the whole of the UK.

Do you think it's easier or harder to be an LGBT person in Britain today than 10 years ago? What problems remain, if any?

I believe it is now easier to be an LGBT person in Britain today compared to ten years ago – and not only because in 2006 I was still a teenager when all sex and gender related issues are much more difficult! In the past ten years, being LGBT has become far more accepted generally. You can see that clearly in the media and in everyday life. Policy has moved on immensely in the past ten years and we are fast approaching equal rights. What remains is tackling homophobia and transphobia, including in the workplace and in access to services.


Do you actively campaign for LGBT issues? Do you feel you have to?


Being part of the LGBT community is a big part of my life, so of course I campaign for issues related to LGBT issues. If it wasn’t for LGBT activists, I would not be able to marry my partner, and likely would not be able to be open about my sexuality to do the job I do. I campaign for LGBT issues because I am in a position to make a difference, not because I feel I have that those with an opportunity to provide a voice for the LGBT community ought to do so.


Is the government doing positive things for LGBT people? If yes, what? If no, why not?

The UK government has made great advances in LGBT freedoms, and the Women and Equalities Committee on which I sit recently published a report on Transgender Equality. However, Scotland is now considered one of the most LGBT-friendly countries in the world, and I believe the Scottish Government will push even further ahead after the next elections on issues such as trans rights.


What advice would you give to your younger self about growing up LGBT that you wish someone had told you?


Be bold and unafraid to be who you are; because there is no greater feeling than being entirely who you are.

vicky beeching

Vicky Beeching, Theologian, writer and broadcaster


Who are your LGBT heroes? Please pick three.

One of them is definitely Alan Turing. It’s fantastic to see his powerful, painful and inspiring life story becoming more widely known through the Imitation Game film. Many people have watched that movie and been shocked by his tragic experiences and deeply moved by the exceptional way he helped our nation win the war. That film was actually something of a ‘light switching on’ for several of my more conservative Christian friends as they said it helped them experience the pain and the injustice that LGBT people face and left them with a different, more compassionate perspective.

Another hero would be Ellen DeGeneres as I believe she’s made a vast impact on how the general public in the States, the UK, and beyond, perceive gay and lesbian people. The media is so powerful and shapes many of our sociological views. Ellen has courageously been her authentic self in the public eye, long before most people found the boldness to come out.

Harvey Milk definitely inspires me too; the American politician and the first openly gay person in public office in California. He was assassinated the year before I was born - I find that fact a sobering reminder that the world I was born into was already on its way toward progress, but only thanks to heroes like him who paid such a price.

But my greatest LGBT heroes are the many unknown people who quietly – and at great personal cost - stand up for their right to be LGB or T in the most traditional and dangerous countries around the globe today. Many of them risk violence, persecution, prison and even death. Their remarkable legacy will be to shift their nations and cultures into a better place for future generations. But, for now, life is unthinkably bleak for many – and we must remember them and their suffering.

What do you think has been the key moment for LGBT rights in your lifetime?

One of them would be the recognition that a gay, lesbian or bisexual orientation is not an illness or a disorder. It’s shocking to think that the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases regarded it as a ‘disorder’ until 1990. In 1990 I was 11 years old, just starting secondary school and over the course of the next year or two I gradually faced the realisation that I was gay. It’s horrifying to think that the W.H.O.’s guidelines would, until that point, have viewed me as someone with a disease or a disorder. Attitudes have changed so much now in 2016 that we can hardly believe this was true only sixteen years ago. That shows how far we are progressing.

Another key moment was the passing of the Same Sex Marriage act here in the UK. I happened to be in the House of Commons for a work meeting on one of the days the bill was being debated. So I was able to sit in the Commons’ gallery and hear Maria Miller speak. That was a very inspiring moment for me.

The bill was finally given Royal Assent on July 17th 2013. July 17th is my birthday, so that felt like a happy moment – I’ll always know the exact date that the bill became law! This breakthrough was a key moment in our national history, especially as it was spearheaded by a Conservative government and would have seemed an unimaginable idea to those campaigning in the 1960’s and 70’s. It was a true milestone in our move toward LGBT equality.

Do you think it's easier or harder to be an LGBT person in Britain today than 10 years ago? What problems remain, if any?

Vastly easier – and all thanks to the heroes who worked so hard to make that possible. I love the quote that we “stand on the shoulders of giants” and that’s very true when it comes to the LGBT movement. The positive equalities and social attitudes we take for granted today were won by the blood, sweat and tears of those who worked over previous decades. Even just the past ten years have seen a dramatic shift.

For example, the current generation of teens are noticeably more affirming and accepting of LGBT people. For many, the concept of heterosexuality is barely even a ‘norm’ any more, as so many youth are viewing sexual orientation as a spectrum and rejecting binary labels of gay or lesbian in favour of a more fluid understanding. I think every generation ahead will have a more progressive and inclusive outlook, and the attitudes and prejudices of years gone by will look abhorrent to them.

Do you actively campaign for LGBT issues? Do you feel you have to?

Yes, since coming out in 2014 this has become a key part of my work. I’m delighted by all the shifts within politics, media and general culture. But my personal goal is to see that change come within the church. Traditional Christian teaching has been extremely anti-gay throughout history and that was the world that I and many of my friends were raised in. The church still holds a non-affirming view of same sex marriage today. Priests cannot marry someone of the same sex, and gay weddings cannot take place within the Church of England.

My campaign work is a mixture of public talks and panels, media debates, and opinion pieces for news outlets. But much of my work also happens behind closed doors. I spend time with Christian leaders and pastors, both in the UK and the States, helping them move toward a more inclusive perspective on LGBT issues. I think most of the work that’s changed history over the centuries happens quietly, hidden behind doors, so I’m a big believer in that as well as the more public platforms. I dearly hope change will come within my lifetime. Many of us are doing similar kinds of work and we hope our combined efforts will snowball into dramatic shifts.

What advice would you give to your younger self about growing up LGBT that you wish someone had told you?

That question is one I’m asked a lot and it usually makes my eyes well up with a few tears! It feels such an emotional question – perhaps because I only came out in 2014; it took me until the age of 35 to do so.

Feeling like I left it so late to come out has left me with vast regrets about all the years I ‘lost’ until that point, living as a shadow of a person and not feeling able to be authentically myself.

I wish – dearly – that someone had told me at the age of thirteen that it was ok to be gay. That God would love and accept me as a gay Christian. That I could have a happy future, the prospect of meeting someone amazing, and a successful life. I wish someone had enabled me to feel safe enough to talk about what I was thinking and feeling back then. Shutting it all up inside was terribly damaging to me emotionally and psychologically.

Most of all, I wish I’d had role models to look at; to make me feel normal and comfortable in my own skin. That motivates me to try and be a voice, and a role model, to people in their teens now; hopefully their generation will be treated with much more compassion and insight so that none of them have to go through the trauma that many of us have faced.

When I think of the radically inclusive attitudes among teens today – where pretty much every teen has a friend who is LGB or T and it barely even raises an eyebrow – that thought always makes me smile. The future is bright for them - they will create a better world where everyone is free to be themselves.

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