Following the implementation of new legislation equalities policy, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is now an aspect of staff training in local government according to research at the Universities of Newcastle and Huddersfield carried out by Professor Diane Richardson and Dr Surya Monro. The research project is the springboard for a workshop on LGBT equalities, which will take place in London on November 6 as part of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Festival of Social Science.
"There are many LGBT people - for example young homeless people, or those with mental health issues, who because of the additional impact of homophobia (fear of homosexuality), biphobia (aversion towards bisexuality) and transphobia (fear of people who are transgender) may be affected by the impact of austerity in profound and devastating ways," says Surya Monro.
The research charts the progress of equality measures introduced into local government following a raft of legislation which has obliged local authorities to develop equalities policies specifically focussing on sexual orientation.
"Our research found many examples of subtle discrimination at work - such as silences, giggling or not recognising civil partnerships. Some councillors and managers were reluctant to take forward initiatives. For example, in one council an officer was told not to develop a policy on sexual orientation, and reports came back from committees with red lines through the words 'lesbian, gay and bisexual'. In another council, there was reluctance to include information about how to organise a Civil Partnership in the council booklet on marriages, births and death" explains Surya Monro.
The research highlights the importance of leadership in implementing equalities legislation. In Northern Ireland the endorsement by a local mayor was very valuable in tackling hate crime. Elsewhere, the support of senior managers, who recognise the importance of inclusive policies, was invaluable in taking forward equalities work.
The needs of bisexual and transgender people are also often overlooked, according to the research. Bisexuality is still largely hidden and carries social stigma. And there is still a lot of discrimination about transgender people, according to Dr Monro. "For example, a transgender person using a public swimming pool was the object of complaints because she had visible scars."
The research also looked at the difficulties of third gender, androgyne or 'gender-queer' people who may identify as being somewhere between male and female, or as entirely genderless. "Current legislation doesn't cover these individuals who may be ridiculed. In some cases they can't even get passports," says Surya Monro.
The event will provide a forum for stakeholders, community activists, and service users to discuss current developments in the LGBT equalities field. Speakers at the workshop will include Alice Ashworth (Stonewall), Petra Davis (Bi.UK), Louis Bailey (Transgender Resource and Empowerment Centre TREC), Professor Diane Richardson and Dr Surya Monro.