As trade unions and community groups across Britain gear up for a national demonstration against the government’s austerity policies (in London on 20 October), I am preparing to speak tonight at a public meeting organized by Out Against Austerity.
I know it won’t be a large audience. An event that focused on similar issues, held during the Trades Union Congress’ (TUC) annual conference a couple of weeks ago, drew an audience of just 40 despite being in Brighton – a homeland for many of our communities.
At a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are suffering as a result of UK government cuts these turnouts are disappointing.
Let’s look at the bare facts.
Our voluntary sector has been decimated with groups, especially those supporting young people, closed down or ‘downsized’. Bodies challenging hate crime and domestic violence are under the cosh and cuts to police budgets may affect the work on hate crime that has only just got going.
Cuts in health services (don’t believe the propaganda about protecting front-line services) mean some trans people are facing greater difficulty accessing treatment and HIV services are under threat.
The truth is that every single cut has some impact on members of LGBT communities. At the same time we are seeing the weakening of the provisions of the Equality Act, cuts to the Equality and Human Rights Commission and to legal aid. All this is combined with the introduction of employment tribunal fees – making it harder for ordinary people to get justice.
Meanwhile, the TUC’s own experience dealing with UK Education Minister Michael Gove over homophobic literature in faith schools confirms tackling homophobic and transphobic bullying is becoming harder and harder.
Despite all these challenges, there is still complacency in our communities and an unwillingness to speak out in solidarity with those directly in the firing line. Just because the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government is promising to legislate for equal marriage (although of course what they are offering is not actually equality) doesn’t mean we can afford to be complacent.
The government’s austerity plan – designed to slash the national debt at any cost – is not working. Yet all they offer is something even worse. Beneath the simplistic ‘we must cut the deficit’ is an ideological attack on the idea of public service and the false notion that the private sector is better. Meanwhile, the people who caused this crisis in the first place, the bankers, are quietly continuing to stash away their millions.
The march on 20 October is for a different future, and LGBT people need to be part of it.
Peter Purton, is LGBT policy officer at Britain’s Trades Union Congress.