The vital fight for LGBT rights in Britain is being obscured by empty virtue-signalling
Thwack: the gavel strikes. Muttering fades across the House of Speakers as Lord John Bercow takes his pew. It’s been half a century since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales and four years since the passage of the same-sex couples act. From their gilt frames the frozen faces of old peers look down on the assembly below. As part of a commemorative event facilitated by PinkNews, Justine Greening, Jeremy Corbyn and Lord Norman Fowler – amongst others – have congregated in the historic seat of British government to pledge their commitment to building a more inclusive Britain. Today, gay people can get married but the struggle for gay acceptance in society continues. “We don't want to behave like it's all over, everything's been done and nothing remains,” Bercow proclaims from his ceremonial pulpit, “because that isn't true”. We don't want to behave like it's all over, everything's been done and nothing remains because that isn't trueJohn Bercow For many of those in the room, not least George Montague – who, at 94, is the oldest man in living history to have been imprisoned an account of his sexuality – this commemorative event would have been unimaginable even 20 years ago. Then, stable homosexual partnerships were lawfully decried as ‘pretended family relationships’ and any efforts made to accommodate sexual minorities within mainstream society were denounced by parliament as gay propaganda, under Margaret Thatcher’s Clause 28. But it’s 2017. Cities across the country are still wiping glitter from their streets in the wake of Pride, and same-sex couples are enduring the sufferance (afforded previously only to heterosexual couples) of the morning school run. What more could Britain's LGBT citizens want? It’s a question that’s being asked by many people, gay and straight alike, and not least because parts of the LGBT community continue to protest vocally against perceived injustices. London mayor Sadiq Khan joins revellers at London's Gay Pride parade Credit: Getty Sadly, these protests frequently take the form of virtue-signalling – an online culture that is reducing LGBT issues to white noise. In place of genuine debate and progress, we have rainbow-filters and unicorn emojis. Is there a more vapid and less effective means of political action than regramming ‘love wins’ or endorsing Facebook’s token Pride-flags? Worse, this empty digi-gesticulating is leaving the LGBT community open to parody. During this year's Pride festivities, #HeterosexualPride started to trend. “This is the greatest hashtag in twitter history!!” posted @hrtablaze, “Proud straight male here! RT if you're a proud heterosexual”. It's worth taking a step back at this point. Whilst the voices of persecuted gay men in Britain seem but a faint echo in the annals of history, as Speaker Bercow put it, we can't pretend that everything's been done and nothing remains. The path to LGBT equality may seem fabulous, but it's far from paved. Is there a more vapid and less effective means of political action than regramming ‘love wins’ or endorsing Facebook’s token Pride-flags? A few statistics point to the truth. In 2017, gay men are six times more susceptible to suicide – the biggest killer of British men under 45 – than their heterosexual brothers; half of LGBT students are reportedly bullied at school; gay men earn between 10 and 32 percent less than their heterosexual colleagues and homophobic attacks rose by 147pc in the three months following the EU referendum. Pair these figures with the horrific first-person reports from the Russian republic of Chechnya, the vigilante executions common in Jamaica, not to mention the nefarious claims made yesterday by the supposed leader of the free world and it's clear to see how far we've yet to travel. Less easy is figuring out exactly what steps need to be taken; issues that deserve genuine attention and debate, rather than a blithe rainbow 'like' on social media. Here's five things that must happen next in order to further LGBT rights in Britain. It’s not a choice, so let’s make it clear Whilst the jury’s out on whether homosexuality is the product of nature or nurture, it’s certainly not a choice – even if some of today’s celebrities might have people think otherwise. Miley Cyrus, for example, has done little to dispel the hard and fast truth that sexual orientation (and indeed age) is not a choice. “I’m pansexual” she told TIME, as her pupils mutated into dollar signs - a common symptom of popstars eager to capitalize on sexual ambiguity). One wonders how fluid she’d feel if same-sex relationships carried the baggage of near-certain death. Criminalise conversion therapy In 2015, the NHS made the executive decision to stop assisting those looking to be ‘cured’ of homosexuality and earlier this month the Church of England condemned the practice as having “no place in the modern world”. Despite this the government continues to deflect calls to criminalise conversion therapy. The treatment, often predicated on the assumption that homosexuality is the upshot of having been sexually abused as a child, typically includes the administration of electroshock therapy and has been proven to leave patients in states of severe mental distress. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the British Psychological Society and the Royal College of Psychiatrists expressed their opposition to the treatment through backing the UK Council for Psychotherapy's Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK but the message has, so far, failed to percolate through the halls of Westminster. Teach ‘em young Popstar Olly Alexander makes a compelling case for LGBT education in primary school as part of his BBC documentary ‘Growing up gay’. He doesn’t preach about the ins and outs of sex specifically - although a little diversion from the reproductive status quo wouldn’t go amiss in the classroom – but instead tries to open kids’ eyes to the traumatic consequences of bullying, the scars of which have been proven to last well beyond the playground years. Schools could start by openly acknowledging the presence of LGBT figures in history. Ancient Greek history is teeming with them: Heracles was reported by Plutarch to have an incalculable number of male lovers; Zeus couldn’t resist the wiles of Ganymede, the most beautiful man on earth; Apollo too couldn’t help falling in love with Hyacinth, the young Spartan prince. James I’s bloody attempts to suppress his male lovers and Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment at the hands of his lover’s father further paint a picture of history that’s not as straight as school textbooks might have children believe. Surveys show that anti-gay sentiments are not inherent but form in your younger years. Perhaps if such aspects of history were acknowledged, young people mightn’t feel the same need to exclude and bully children whose sexuality differs from their own. Popstar Olly Alexander makes a compelling case for schooling young people in LGBT issues Credit: Redferns A little less action, a little more conversation All too often the LGBT community are tarnished as alcohol-fuelled party animals. What hope do gay people have of disproving their critics if spaces which foster healthy relationships aren’t available? Outside of the boozy club circuits which manifest in modern metropolises, there aren’t many environments where constructive conversations can be had, or real relationships formed. According to Business Insider there has been a 58pc fall in LGBT venues in London over the past 10 years. Although London’s property market is largely to blame for such closures, it’s also indicative of an appetite for more salubrious LGBT hubs. Barry Whyte is co-founder of Series Q, a non-profit which holds bi-monthly networking events for LGBT members of the startup world. “Business is all about networking which is difficult enough for British people, who are prone to awkwardly wobbling around the fringes of a room, let alone those who are LGBT,” he says. “It’s important to create spaces which foster valuable connections and long-lasting relationships”. Businesses aside, local initiatives in Britain could look to The LGBT Community Center in New York - a popular drop-in center which provides rehabilitation, career support and family planning advice alongside a colourful programme of social events. Apologies are due Is pardoning enough recompense for those convicted in British courts of gross indecency? No. Well at least not for Jeremy Corbyn. “I think we should welcome an apology to every gay person who was ever persecuted,” he argued in Westminster last week. Alan Turing, a man who saved millions of lives with his enigma machine - the prototype for the modern day computer - is often held to light as a victim of governmental misconduct. But his story of criminalization, chemical castration and consequential suicide is not an isolated case. The act of posthumous pardoning has long been a point of contention in that it forgives the dead and fails to address the living. Last week, New Zealand and South Wales set a precedent by unanimously passing a formal apology for the country’s historical anti-LGBT laws. “We are acknowledging that these men should never have been burdened with criminal convictions,” said Justice Minister Amy Adams, “and we are recognising the continued effects that the convictions have had on their lives and the lives of their families”. After being convicted of "gross indecency" Alan Turing took his own life Credit: Getty Today, on the 50th anniversary since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, it’s time to take stock. The above concerns aside, it’s historically unprecedented for the government to stand in alliance with a group of individuals who have been perceived as a societal stain since the beginning of time. “Britain now is genuinely a much more inclusive country than we've ever been,” says Justine Greening to the rippling echo of ‘hear hear’. “But,” she continues, “there are too many pockets in our country where LGBT rights are something that are a mistake”. LGBT tolerance is only ever a Snapchat filter away from shifting on its axis In The Glass Closet, Lord John Browne’s treatise for LGBT inclusion in the business world, the former Chief Executive of BP offers a timely reminder of the delicacy of hard-won civil rights. “History suggests that successful and prosperous societies are more accepting of minorities, but that minorities are used as scapegoats when societies experience difficulty”. "We need to redouble our efforts to improve the lives of LGBT+ people at home and abroad," says Benjamin Cohen, founder of PinkNews. For all the energy expended and perseverance endured to achieve civil rights, progress can be repealed in an instant. So, as we celebrate the past 50 years of progress and look forward to the next, remember that LGBT tolerance is only ever a Snapchat filter away from shifting on its axis. It's time to stop pledging your allegiance and start acting. Swiping and regramming isn’t going to change the world, but conscientious and planned action can.