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50 Years Since The Partial Decriminalisation Of Homosexuality, And What Has The Government Done For Our Queer Youth?

15/08/2017 17:10
Paulo Amorim via Getty Images

Beyond the fanfare of pride and the shameless pinkwashing of Tory legacy, lies a history of apathy and political inaction, which is leaving behind our most vulnerable queer citizens: our queer youth.

In David Cameron's resignation speech in Downing Street in 2016, he cited the legalisation of same-sex marriage as one of his party's greatest political achievements. A sentiment which has since been echoed by Theresa May and a host of conservative MPs who have displayed rapid U-turns in voting intentions on LGBTQ issues. Yet as David Cameron gleefully accepts LGBTQ awards and tries to pinkwash the legacy of Tory history, it is more important than ever to remind ourselves of the large swathes of the queer population disenfranchised by this Tory press junket. Following years of austerity and a Tory education policy which has refused to enforce any credible form of LGBTQ sex education in schools, we are no closer to solving the issue of bullying amongst children or rooting out homophobia at its earliest conception. Our queer youth remain in the shadows; they are the boys and girls that pride has left out.

50 years following the partial legalisation of homosexuality, it is important to remember that The Sexual Offences Act 1967 undoubtedly represented a massive breakthrough for queer communities across Britain; it legalised homosexual acts conducted in private. Yet whilst this afforded the queer community freedom in the confines of certain contexts, the fight was by no means won. It was not until 1994 that the age of consent for two male partners was lowered to 18. And perhaps more shockingly still, it was not until 2007 that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was banned. The queer experience in Britain has been fraught and tumultuous, and the road to equality has been slow.

Queer hatred equally did not abate following the Act; institutionalised homophobia continued almost unchallenged throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Despite the brief moment of respite that queer individuals enjoyed, queer vilification soon reared its ugly head and spread throughout the British tabloid press following the onset of the AIDS epidemic. According to figures published by the Ministry of Justice, the number of recorded offences for gross indecency rose from 820 in 1969, shortly after the legislative act, to 2022 in 1989, in the height of the AIDS epidemic.

Partial legislative reform evidently failed to materialise the liberation which the queer community had for so long been seeking. With increased legislative freedom, came increased institutionalised resistance. Gay bars were raided, gay saunas were shut down, and in turn, gay subjectivity was once again curtailed.

Whether or not such overt examples of institutionalised homophobia continue to this day, systemic prejudice still undoubtedly simmers beneath the surface. With the MET police being forced to reappraise their approach to LGBTQ related crimes following their insufficient investigation into the murders of four gay men at the hands of Stephen Port a.k.a. the Grindr Killer in 2016, systemic homophobia is more prevalent than ever. Homophobia is not an issue of a bygone era, it is the lived experience of even our youngest generations of queer youth.

This is not to say that the 1967 Act did not create significant change. It did, and it laid the foundations for the legislative successes which we enjoy today. It has led to the proliferation of liberation movements, and the emergence of pride festivals nationwide. Pride itself is no longer the embattled protest it once was, but a veritable carnival enjoyed by gay and straight individuals alike. Gaydom itself is edging ever closer to the mainstream; we have gay figureheads in the media, and the "gayest" parliament in the world according to Plymouth Labour MP, Luke Pollard.

That being said, beyond the self-congratulatory posturing of the Tory grandees, what has actually changed for the individuals that pride has left out? Has the situation materially improved for our most vulnerable queer citizens; our queer youth?

The answer, quite frankly, is no. Whilst pride paints an image of a battle already won, the divide between childhood and adulthood for many queer youths could not be starker. Pride rarely filters down into the corridors of British schools, and we face a government frozen by inaction.

The ramification of years of homophobia in early life is, for many queer individuals, a string of psychological issues which are only resolved many years into adult life. A Stonewall survey across Britain concluded that 1 in 16 (6%) gay and bisexual men have attempted suicide in the last year, in comparison to only 1% in the heterosexual male population. Likewise, 1 in 6 (15%) gay and bisexual men have self-harmed in the last in year, in comparison to only 7% of their heterosexual counterparts.

Whichever survey you look at, the figures are bleak; our queer youth are suffering disproportionately from a system which is failing to protect them. Despite the newfound visibility of pride, the government is failing to acknowledge the root cause of queer suffering, and is failing to tackle homophobia at its earliest conception; in schools.

Some is indeed being done; a recent BBC documentary by Years and Years frontman Olly Alexander provided a snapshot of LGBTQ workshops taking place in British schools today. An important step forward, and something which was never seen during my school days, but initiatives such as this are too few and far between. The overwhelming experience of LGBTQ youth in schools today remains one of silence, isolation, and confusion. LGBTQ issues remain unspoken, and there is a distinct lack of visible role models.

Sadly, this cannot be seen as a social anomaly; it is rather the direct result of continued political inaction. Tory education reforms have created a haphazard environment in which any productive discussion of LGBTQ issues, let alone LGBTQ sex education have been dispensed with. LGBTQ youth are instead forced to stumble their way into sexual awareness alone, and often bear the scars of traumatic experiences as a result.

For the vast majority of queer youth who have no access to queer communities or pride events, the situation remains much unchanged. Minimal structural change has been implemented, and no real attempt has been made to shake the status quo. The government has simply conceded gay marriage at a time in which it is both politically and socially expedient to do so. In this context, marriage is only accessible to a subsect of the queer community who have already navigated the often fractious path to pride, by way of many years of suffering and homophobia. So if the government fails to act, homophobia will continue to thrive in schools, and being "out" will remain virtually impossible.

Pride, in many respects, is not a granted right, but a destination. It is a retrospective state attributed to a life lived through substitution. But if the government wants to create a society in which queer individuals are no longer forced to navigate this fractious divide, then they must start looking towards our youth.

With effective LGBTQ awareness and LGBTQ sex education in schools, the government has the chance to largely eradicate homophobia at its root. They have the potential of creating a generation in which queer youth are no longer forced out of the closet, or forced to sacrifice their formative years in denial. It is only through an effective youth policy, that the often insurmountable divide between the juvenile and adult experience of queerness may start to be eroded.

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