It’s World Mental Health Day 2018. Around the world and across the internet those with an interest in mental health have been making their views known and offering their solidarity to everyone whose lives have been touched by mental health issues (hint: That’s pretty much everyone).
It has already been a heartwarming day; full of genuine human compassion and empathy for those who fight bravely each and every day. While some may be sceptical of this kind of awareness-raising exercise, seeing it as typical Millennial virtue signalling, there’s an excellent argument for its usefulness; especially when it comes to issues, such as mental health, that require a certain degree of myth-busting and open, frank discussion. After all, what good is arguing that ‘it’s good to talk’ without actually having a massive conversation?
However, while World Mental Health Day 2018 has been celebrated successfully, it has had to share the news cycle with another, most unfortunate, story; the news that the Ashers bakery case has been won and not by the side of progress.
While there is a certain degree of complexity to the story, it has gone through several courts after all, the general idea is that the Ashers objected to printing a pro-gay marriage slogan on a cake for activist Gareth Lee which the latter felt was discriminatory. Four-and-a-half-years and £500,000 later (the original cake would have cost just over £35) the Supreme Court has sided with the bakers and not Mr Lee. For those us who value humanism, progress, and harbour a desire to see all people treated fairly and equally, this is not the decision for which we had hoped.
While the court’s decision to back the bakers in this case would be objectionable under most ordinary circumstances - that it coincides with World Mental Health Day 2018 makes matters far worse.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, LGBT people are “at a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health”, “more likely to experience a range of mental health problems such as depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and alcohol and substance misuse”, and often feel “dissatisfied with health services, with mental health services most often perceived to be discriminatory”. There is barely a mental health charity or an organisation that looks out for LGBT folks which doesn’t conclude that LGBT folks need and deserve a better deal than they are currently getting when it comes to mental health.
That is why this decision is so appalling. Sure, in isolation it may just be a bakery clinging on to its outdated beliefs and not making a cake because of them, but in reality, where messages and narratives matter, the signal is simple; their views matter more than gay people being accepted fully by society.
To young LGBT individuals, who are already at risk of so many other injustices, the highest court in the United Kingdom, from which they deserve to expect to see justice metered out by our most learned judges, the message has been sent that they don’t matter as much as those who just don’t like them because of who they are attracted to or fall in love with.
If it is considered to be legitimate to deny gay causes service because the sexual orientation they concern clashes with the so-called ‘values’ of those providing the services then it sends the signal that denial of service based on sexuality is perfectly OK. While that is most likely not the intention of any of the judges who made the decision - it is certainly how it will be read by the LGBT community and especially by the bigots who would seek to strip them of their hard-won and much-deserved progress.
This message is dangerous. It tells an already at risk group of individuals that the justice system of the country in which they live, which has made some staggering progress of late (same-sex marriage, hell, even decriminalisation of same-sex relationships, is not an old concept), no longer has their back. This is a scary proposition for anyone in the LGBT community, and their allies, and cannot have a positive impact on the mental health of this at risk group.
There may be hope. In the future, this precedent may not be used. Perhaps we will see the religious communities of this country do what some already have and open their arms to LGBT people and welcome them in with a cup of tea and a sincere apology? However, decisions like this, that say that religious faith is more important than civil rights and equal treatment, make this even less likely. This is the difference between hope and optimism - and after this horrendous decision, the LGBT family needs both more than ever.