Queer activists are nervously entering this new era.
The queer community has been left in a state of flux since Brexit. There’s confusion about what impact the withdrawal from the European Union will have on equality legislation. However, between July and October last year, LGBT charity, Galop found that there had been a 147% rise in hate crimes.
Jen Yockney, the first person to receive an MBE for Services to the Bisexual Community, and who is Convenor of BiPhoria, the UK’s longest-running bi organisation, believes the referendum result has already had a clear impact on fueling prejudice.
“There’s the legitimising effect the vote and the rhetoric around the vote has had,” says Yockney. “The idea that ‘taking our country back’ is not just taking it back from Brussels, but taking it back to the 1950s, before ‘Europe’ happened.
“If you’ve believed the tale that all these brown faces on the high street and gays on TV are the fault of politically correct Brussels ruining your British way of life, then now you are free from the shackles of Brussels. If it’s down to ‘Europe’ that you can’t turn same-sex couples away from your B&B, surely now Europe is gone you are free to do what you will.”
Yockney also highlights the major role the EU played in advancing queer rights.
“Almost all the changes for the better we’ve seen on LGBT rights in the past twenty years have come from Europe,” she says. “From an equal age of consent to workplace protections. Equality campaigners in the UK had to go to Europe to establish our right to be treated equally and appropriately in law as UK institutions failed us.
“Brexit doesn’t come with a tag attached that says, ‘and reinstate Section 28’ or ‘end the ban on discrimination in provision of goods and services’—legally it doesn’t have an immediate tangible impact like that. But it leaves us a question of how much harder it might be in the future to effect further change.”
“Almost all the changes for the better we’ve seen on LGBT rights in the past twenty years have come from Europe,”
Nigerian activist, Adebisi Alimi, also shares his concerns about queer life post-Brexit. Alimi became the first Nigerian to come out on his home state’s television. His experience as a refugee and his years of advocacy work on HIV and LGBTQ+ rights have established him as one of the most respected voices within the community and he emphasises the need for queer activists to step up to the mark.
“I would love to see an active and not a reactive LGBT community as the negotiations take shape,” says Alimi. “We have seen homophobic and racist attacks on the increase since the referendum and we will see more of this, and in the face of more cuts, what does that mean to us as a community?
“More and more of our social venues are closing and many more will, how do we preserve those venues? Where are the discussions around immigration and the many other issues that specifically affect us as a community? I would want that we find a way of presenting demands and options as the discussions take shape.”
In 2015 the Financial Times found that local authority budgets had been cut by £18bn in real terms since 2010, and huge chunks of the cuts had fallen onto services that weren’t deemed vital—such as services for queer people. Broken Rainbow was the only charity that specialised in supporting queer victims of intimate partner violence but was forced to close when it lost funding. Nobody knows just what the queer community faces, but Yockney points to the fact that a real economic downturn is likely and that in poor financial times support services (especially for bisexual people) are often left to volunteers to keep afloat. Alimi also highlights that in recent years, queer services have faced cuts.
The community is treading water with political issues. The 2016 No Safe Refuge report published by Stonewall found that prejudice against LGBTQ+ asylum seekers was rife in detention centres. Yet this has drawn little attention. On major issues, the queer community is failing to stand up.
Action on Brexit has also been lacking from the community. The confusion over just what Brexit will mean has seemingly wrong-footed activists who are hesitant to jump into a debate without even knowing what topics are up for discussion. While overall acceptance of queer people in society has increased, conservative beliefs have hardened on the other side of the coin.
There’s a split between progressives who want change, and hard-line conservatives who are still angry about the introduction of same-sex marriage. In February, a YouGov survey revealed over 30% of British people still think being gay is a choice; and with attitudes towards other sexualities and transgender identities often lagging behind attitudes towards being gay, the queer community still has an uphill battle ahead.
This article featured in issue 1 of Stand Up Magazine, which you can order here