The British government has unveiled an "LGBT action plan" with dozens of pledges to reduce discrimination, hate crimes, and health inequalities by the end of this parliament while improving the experience of LGBT people at school, on the street, in hospitals, and at police stations.
But opposition MPs and campaigners have cast doubt on the budget allocated and the ability of the government to implement its promises.
The plan is the result of a vast survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people the government conducted last year, which took in 108,000 responses from the public – the largest in UK history.
As BuzzFeed News exclusively revealed last week, the government will also set about banning conversion therapy – so-called gay "cures" that attempt to make gay people heterosexual or make transgender people cisgender. The action plan does not, however, say how such a ban would be enforced, only that a range of legislative and nonlegislative measures would be considered.
The initial budget for all the government's proposals is £4.5 million between now and the end of 2020. The campaigner Peter Tatchell called this "derisory". Further money will be allocated after 2020, the government said.
The promises are divided into seven key areas: health, education, safety, workplace, data and monitoring, representation, and international. An "advisory panel" will be set up to assist Penny Mordaunt, the women and equalities minister, in the implementation of the plan.
Among the health proposals is a promise to hire a "national adviser" to tackle the multiple ways in which the wellbeing – physical and mental – of LGBT people is worse than heterosexuals. Such an adviser would oversee better training for medical staff to understand the needs of LGBT patients better. The action plan also promises to improve fertility services for LGBT people, improve the services for people at gender clinics, and improve mental health provisions.
The partial ban on gay and bisexual men from donating blood will "continue" to be reviewed, the plan says, with no specific outcome stated. Similarly, the pledge to tackle HIV- and AIDS-related deaths does not contain details other than the continued funding of PrEP, the HIV prevention drug. NHS England will "consider the impact" of extending the drug to more people, the plan said – without a commitment to do so.
In education, the manifesto cites ongoing commitment to tackling bullying against LGBT pupils, and an "update" to the guidance on relationships and sex education in schools. Rather than all schools having to include LGBT issues within that, the plan says the "guidance supports teaching that is age appropriate and relevant to all pupils, whatever their developing sexual orientation or gender identity."
The government's proposed ban on conversion therapy will include attempts not just by therapists and counsellors to "cure" LGBT people but also by faith leaders – but opposition politicians cast doubt on this being enacted.
Geraint Davies, the Labour MP who in 2014 attempted to introduce a private member's bill to regulate psychotherapy in order to ban conversion therapy, said: "I will be presenting my bill again in November to force the government into action. Otherwise the government's empty words risk continued persecution of vulnerable people at the hands of the Core Issues [conversion therapy] group and other gay-to-straight conversion therapists."
To combat hate crimes against LGBT people, the government promises to boost awareness and understanding among agencies such as the police, while improving the recording of such crimes, as well as LGBT domestic abuse. Currently only Greater Manchester police specifically records LGBT domestic abuse incidents, leaving a huge data gap. The action plan does not say whether this approach will be rolled out across all police forces.
Beefed-up services for victims of hate crimes, better monitoring of LGBT homelessness, and a commitment to improve the treatment of trans people in prisons are also promised in the plan, along with "guidance" – rather than enforcement – for social media providers on tackling abuse against LGBT users.
Among the more significant announcements is the commencement this week of the government's long-awaited consultation on the gender-recognition process for trans people. The action plan itself states only that the government will "consider ways to make it easier to tell the government if you have changed your gender".
One way to do this, the plan suggests, is for the government to look at how its current "Tell Us Once" service, which enables citizens to inform the authorities only once about a bereavement, could be applied to those transitioning.
For the first time, the government will launch a "call for evidence" for nonbinary people and separately for intersex people to better understand the plight of those whose gender identity is neither male nor female, or who physically have a range of gender-variant conditions.
Internationally, the government's plans include hosting a conference to amplify the experiences of LGBT people across the world, while seeking to "repeal laws discriminating against LGBT people", in particularly in the Commonwealth.
How effective some of these plans will be will depend, the government said, on where people live, as devolved matters in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales remain the responsibilities of those parliaments. Mostly the plans, therefore, "will have effect in England only," the government said. There is also nothing in the action plan committing to introducing same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, which remains the only part of the UK without it, and despite the Northern Ireland Assembly having imploded over a year ago.
Stonewall, Britain's biggest LGBT rights organisation, broadly welcomed the action plan. Ruth Hunt, its CEO, said: "We're really pleased that the government is listening ... and are investing funds." However, the charity's head of policy, Paul Twocock, called on the government to "respond to the Law Commissions' review into hate crime legislation as we need LGBT hate crimes to be treated with the same severity as those base on race and faith".
Tatchell, however, criticised the plan for "the lack of any pledge to end the detention and deportation of LGBT+ refugees fleeing persecution in violently homophobic countries like Uganda, Iran, Russia, Egypt and Jamaica". He also highlighted the "cuts in funding for sexual health clinics, which make it hard to get testing and treatment appointments. This is contributing to a rise in infections among gay – and straight – people."
A reception marking LGBT Pride will be held at Downing Street later today.
Patrick Strudwick is a LGBT editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Patrick Strudwick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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