By James Morley
June is pride month – a time when the queer community can celebrate its icons, history, and progress, as well as look to the future and what changes still need to be made globally. In March it was revealed that the new £50 note would bear the image of Alan Turing: a queer icon, war hero, and victim of homophobic persecution and criminalisation by the UK government.
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This announcement is welcome in many ways. It is good to see official institutions celebrate a more diverse range of people from British history, including queer people. For years Britain had a habit of only celebrating the history of white, cishet men, and it is good to see that this is changing. Representation and awareness matters. It is a really positive experience for queer people, especially queer young people, to see other queer people and their achievements celebrated.
It is also refreshing to think how far attitudes have come. The celebration of a queer historical figures in such a public way shows how much has changed, even in the past decades. This is born out in statistics with 66% of British people in 2018 stating that homosexuality is never wrong, compared with only 18% in 1983. It is also demonstrated in the plethora of rainbow logos that fill media outlets during pride month. Alan Turing being featured on the £50 note is another good sign that Britain is continuing to move in the direction of queer respect and safety.
But it is not enough.
The featuring of Alan Turing on the bank note is as symbolic as multi-billion dollar companies changing their logos to a rainbow for a month. Whilst being nice to see it really doesn’t do anything to help or support the queer community, and in the UK that is a community that still needs support, especially support from its decision makers in government.
The first issue that needs addressing is that despite an improvement in social attitudes, hate crimes against queer people have actually increased over the past 5 years. In London alone there were over 3,000 homophobic hate crimes reported in 2019. The situation is even worse when you examine crimes specifically targeted at trans people as trans hate crime reports have quadrupled over the past 5 years.
It isn’t just violence and crime that queer people face in their daily lives. There is still a lot of support that queer people need, because they face discrimination through multiple ways and in so many aspects of their life. Queer youth make up 24% of homeless people and 69% of those have faced familial rejection. Homelessness and familial rejection put queer people more at risk of other types of crime and sexual abuse/exploitation. In schools, queer young people are more likely to be bullied than any other child. Queer people are more likely to suffer from mental illness and be less happy with their lives as a result of the discrimination that they face and the challenges that come with living a queer existence.
In the UK conversion therapy, where queer people are psychologically tortured into presenting as cishet, is still legal. Though the government has stated it is planning to legislate against conversion therapy, which is a step in the right direction, it is still beyond baffling that it has taken until 2021 for the government to intend to ban the hideous practice.
Globally the situation is more dire. There are 69 countries where it is still illegal to be homosexual, 13 where it is illegal to be trans, and 47 where it is not possible to transition. Some of these Britain counts as allies or friends such as Saudi Arabia, where Britain has sold, or authorised the sale of, £1.4 billion of arms.
Britain and its decision makers need to do better in supporting queer people at home and abroad. There needs to be investment in housing solutions, mental health support, and outreach programmes. There needs to be a change in education to ensure that queer issues are not overlooked but central to lessons in society, culture, and health. Queer people face unique problems and obstacles and they need to be consulted in what measures/resources would help them overcome or remove them. They should be given the resources (primarily financial) as a community to enact these changes. The government must also make it easier for queer people to seek asylum if they live in countries where they are criminalised and likely to be harmed, and stop selling weapons and providing financial and practical support to countries that discriminate against queer people.
It is not enough to plaster the face of a queer person on a banknote when there are real changes to be made and real support to be offered. Being an ally does not involve adding a rainbow to logos or changing a bank note, it means doing what one can to make real improvements to the life of queer people. The inclusion of Alan Turing on a bank note is a step forward, but it is only a small step forward that does not make the lives of queer people any better. In 2021 the suffering of queer people is avoidable and the British government should be doing a lot more to help end it.
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