On 25 November this year twenty-year-old Fraser Amos started a petition to save the LGBT+ youth group 2BU. In the run up to World AIDS Day, the group had been informed that it would lose its annual funding in March 2017. One week later, Fraser's petition had gained nearly 1,000 signatures and received the support of two county councillors and a local MP.
2BU is the only Somerset-wide youth group for LGBT+ people. In May, its leaders Andrew Wilson and Lisa Snowdon-Carr were invited to 10 Downing Street by David Cameron in recognition of their outstanding services to the community. The group receives an annual grant of £20,000 from Somerset County Council. It was due to lose its funding thanks to budget cuts, despite a promise of ongoing support.
After Mr Amos' petition gained 916 supporters Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane, promised her support to the cause, and subsequently Councillor John Osman and Councillor Frances Nicholson have committed to continuing 2BU. This result is thanks largely to the work of Kira Lewis, youth MP for Taunton Deane.
Whilst this news is fantastic, the question that we now face both locally and nationally is why did it take a petition? How ignorant are our MPs to the lives, mental health and dangers faced by LGBT+ young people?
In a 2016 survey, 2BU found that 86% of its members had suffered verbal abuse, 76% had self-harmed, and 47% had attempted suicide. Byron Gilbey, a former group member, stated: "this group saved my life. These leaders saved my life."
Yet Somerset County Council planned to withdraw its financial support, with no plan of provision for these people in crisis.
In a year when homophobic hate crime has risen by 147%, LGBT+ people are in physical danger. 2BU and its members are not unusual: Stonewall has found that two in five (41%) of lesbian, gay and bisexual students have attempted or thought about taking their own life directly because of bullying. The same number deliberately self harm for the same reason.
Rates of poor mental health are significantly higher again amongst LGBT+ ethnic minorities than their white counterparts, and among disabled LGBT+ individuals. These people are underrepresented and under supported.
The British Trans community in particular needs attention and support. The Scottish Trans Mental Health Study found that 88% of Trans people reported having experienced a mental health issue. Of these, 59% of Trans youth said that they had deliberately hurt themselves, compared to 41% of LGBT young people and only 8.9% of all 16-24 year olds.
These mental health issues can be linked directly to external threats. Bullying affects almost half of all LGBT+ young people. Meanwhile, 37% of Trans people have experienced physical threats or intimidation for being trans. One in four (25%) have been forced to move away from family or friends. One in five have been hit or beaten up. These are our children and we are bullying them, threatening them, hurting them, locking them out of our houses.
And again, we must consider LGBT+ people of colour and those with disabilities. If across the predominantly white and general population surveyed in the studies above these statistics are so high, and we know that people of colour and those with disabilities experience levels of prejudice which are higher again, what is happening to our trans people of colour? Trans people with disabilities? Who is providing for them?
Adding insult to real injury, our young people may not even be able to feel safe with their doctors. In 2015 YouGov performed a survey regarding unhealthy attitudes in health care towards LGBT+ people. One quarter of patient-facing staff have heard colleagues make negative remarks about lesbian, gay or bisexual people. One in five have heard disparaging remarks about Trans people. One in four LGBT+ healthcare professionals have been bullied or treated poorly by their colleagues in the last five years.
These attitudes are preventing a community in crisis from receiving the help that it needs.
Our young people are not receiving the guidance that they need from their teachers, either. In July this year, the Terrence Higgins Trust published a survey about Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) which revealed that 95% of people weren't taught about LGBT+ relationships in school, and 97% weren't taught about gender identity. The reason behind this national failure in schools' provision for LGBT+ young people is unknown.
It could be, and has been, linked to the infamous Section 28, enacted in May 1988 and repealed on 21 June 2000 in Scotland and 2003 in the rest of the UK. Section 28 did not make it illegal for teachers to discuss homosexuality, and no individual was convicted under the amendment. However what it did do, oxymoronically, was to promote the teaching of ignorance.
Poor provision of SRE in the UK has been linked to the sexual abuse of young people, high rates of sexual assault and domestic abuse. Laura Bates of The Everyday Sexism Project has teamed up with Sarah Green and Rachel Krys from the End Violence Against Women Coalition to campaign for SRE to be compulsory in all schools. Their petition, which will be delivered to the Education secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Justine Green, as well as Prime Minister Theresa May, has received 44,723 supporters so far.
What next? We support organisations like 2BU. They are what is saving young peoples' lives whilst we're waiting for the government to catch up. We work against the disturbing rise in homophobic hate crime by talking openly about LGBT+ affairs. We take advantage of our privilege to protect those members of our community who are more vulnerable than ourselves.
We sign Laura Bates' petition, and we talk to our children. Talk comprehensively, do research. Talk about consent, talk about sexual safety in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Talk about gender and identity. Do not make assumptions. Understand that even the most apparently entrenched of beliefs: pink is for girls, blue is for boys, can be the result of tyranny and violence, and that by supporting them you promote this violence in the world. You teach it to your children.
Fix that. Don't stop.