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Tuesday, 1 April 2008

What's getting worse for British gay people?

A couple of new reports show how life for many gay people in Britain is actually getting worse.
  • A landmark poll commissioned by Stonewall says school bullying is worse than twenty years ago - this ruins life chances
  • More gay men are acquiring HIV than ever before - ruining life expectancy.
Both of these run against the grain of assumptions: pass some laws and life improves. It's notable that Stonewall make a point of criticising 'smugness' over discrimination. It's certainly my experience than many people think that life for gay people isn't like 'what it used to be'. This isn't a 'glass half empty' argument, here's some numbers:
The YouGov poll of 1,658 gay adults found homophobic bullying in schools is more prevalent now than in previous decades. Two-thirds of lesbian and gay people under 19 said they were bullied at school on grounds of sexuality, compared with half of those aged 35-44 and only a quarter of those over 55.
Said Stonewall's Ben Summerskill:
Last spring we heard from a 14-year-old girl who had - incautiously - shared with a teacher at a faith school the thought that she might be gay. Subsequently the girl has been required to sit outside the changing room at the beginning and end of sports lessons while the 'normal' children get changed.
  • A significant minority of gay people expect to be treated less well at a GP surgery or during an emergency admission to hospital.
  • Around 30% of lesbian and gay people expect to encounter discrimination if they were to try to enrol a child at primary or secondary school, and 80% believe they would have difficulty if they were to apply to become a school governor.
  • One in four think they will be treated less fairly by police if they become a victim of hate crime.
  • One in five expect to find it harder than a heterosexual person to get social housing.
  • Nine in 10 expect barriers to becoming a foster parent.
  • Nearly nine in 10 think they would face such barriers to becoming an MP from the Conservative party, 61% from the Labour party and 47% from the Liberal Democrats.
The school experience chimes for me - I wasn't bullied, even when I came out (though my brother was). I had a experience last year around the housing issue when 'more houses for families!' was raised by a politician. This sounded exactly like 'there goes my slim chance' but when criticised the response involved the words 'political correctness'. Just because there are some gay families with kids doesn't mean most of us don't - and where does that leave us.

According to the Treasury's actuary department 6% of the population are gay, lesbian or transgender — 3.6 million people.

Last year Stonewall produced another landmark report which detailed not only how badly lesbians and gays fare in the BBC but just what that means — and it's linked to the school bullying issue.

What was notable about their report was that they interviewed as many heterosexual people and they wanted more characters and coverage.
  • Gay people are contributing almost £190 million every year towards BBC programming.
  • Gay people and their lives are five times more likely to be portrayed in negative terms on the BBC.
  • Gay life is most likely to appear in entertainment programmes, and is rarely featured in factual programmes, like documentaries and the news.
  • BBC programmes frequently use gay sexuality for making jokes or as an insult, and rely heavily on clichéd stereotypes.
Gay and straight people ... told us they wanted to see:
  • More documentaries to help everyone understand lesbian and gay lives - and not just ones focussing on negative issues.
  • More positive role models for young gay people.
  • More realistic and non-sensationalised/clichéd gay characters in soaps and drama.
  • A more diverse range of lesbian and gay identities, beyond the urban stereotypes.
The HIV numbers - highest ever in the UK - just make me scream. I'm not the only one, I've heard a number of gay men my age repeat on air that we can't believe we're going through this again.

One of the worst things I've seen recently which is not helping was a campaign on HIV last year by the BBC which was aimed at young heterosexuals - the focus, money and support for gay men is getting less, not more. That campaign (but most I see when I do see them) only vaguely addressed the persistent myth that 'well, there are pills for it now'. What's needed is much more hard-hitting.

My experience of the epidemic was in Australia and I still haven't dealt with it properly: I lost dozens of friends and 'survivor guilt' as a HIV- gay man of my generation is very real. Within the community here as well as there I was and am sick of hearing HIV+ men dominating the debate. Being HIV- is not a promoted identity here and never has been. By contrast in Australia they had a real debate and formed a proper relationship and coalition, as part of a prevention strategy. When I did this work it was impossible to raise the sort of issues Australia has since dealt with.

Here, there couldn't be a greater contrast. The horror of 'barebacking' is defended when it should be shouted down. I can well understand 'condom fatigue' and there should be wariness about blaming gay men (when straight men are just as bad about condoms) and especially blaming HIV+ men, but HIV kills people and neither is an excuse for avoiding hard-hitting.

All the drugs do is extend life expectancy from extremely low to less than average — I tried finding some figures and couldn't but from memory it's maybe 21 years, so if you're 21 expect to die at 42. When did you (or I) see a message pointing that out? And when, by contrast, did you see lots of stories about people walking around after twenty years. They should be proud of themselves because that takes work, but this emphasis makes me angry because there are many others who aren't walking around. HIV is a bastard virus.

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