LGBT Rights Must Remain a Priority

2016 was a tumultuous year.

Phillip Christopher Baldwin

There were political shocks, such as the UK’s decision to leave the EU. There were the deaths of some of our greatest LGBT heroes, including David Bowie, Prince and George Michael. They achieved iconic status as musicians, but also contributed a massive amount to our LGBT history. These stars, and others, illuminated the lives of their many fans, blazing trails musically and challenging stereotypes globally.

For HIV activists, 2016 saw a number of successes. In December 2016, after a tremendous amount of campaigning, NHS England relented and agreed to roll out Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). This is to take the form of a 10,000-person trial.

PrEP is a pill which, if taken daily, is almost 100 percent effective at preventing the transmission of HIV. For HIV-negative gay men this has huge implications. Taking PrEP is another responsible tool to ensure your sexual health.

Furthermore, the trend over the last decade has been towards increased HIV testing. There are currently 101,200 people living with HIV in the UK and in 2015 there were 6095 new HIV diagnoses. Annual HIV diagnoses have remained fairly static, at around the 6,000 mark, for a while. However, just before Christmas, 56 Dean Street stated that, while in 2015, they had recorded 626 new HIV diagnoses, in 2016, they had recorded only 373 new HIV diagnoses. This bodes well for World AIDS Day 2017, when the national statistics for 2016 will be released.

HIV-positive people are starting HIV treatment earlier. Once an HIV positive person is on treatment, with an undetectable viral load, they cannot pass the virus on. 56 Dean Street is also an innovator in terms of PrEP, their health professionals at the forefront of the campaign to make the drug more accessible. Commencing HIV treatment earlier, effective use of PrEP, and a continued focus on condom use and testing, means that we may be reaching a turning point in terms of HIV transmissions in the UK.

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of sex between men in England and Wales, so this is an exciting year for LGBT people. The anniversary of the decriminalisation forms one of the components of February’s LGBT History Month.

The Sexual Offences Act 1967 was a key milestone, allowing an organised gay rights movement to develop. It was not until 1980 and 1982 that consensual gay sex was decriminalised in Scotland and Northern Ireland, respectively. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was in some ways the culmination of a series of legislative changes giving full equality to swathes of the LGBT community. However, some LGBT people are still the victims of discriminatory legislation in the UK.

There remains a significant amount of work to be done around trans issues, protecting the rights of LGBT asylum seekers, and revising the faith opt-out to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. Visiting schools, as a Stonewall role model, I’m proud to be able to say that sexual orientation is no barrier, whatever career you choose.

The exception to this is within some of our faith institutions. In the Church of England, LGBT clergy are prohibited from marrying. We need a Church which is reflective of Jesus’ message of radical and inclusive love, fit to serve our vibrant society and able to fulfil the pastoral needs of its diverse congregations.

In an ever changing world, we must ensure that LGBT rights remain a priority. 2017 is a time to celebrate, but also one where, as activists, we need to re-group to face the challenges ahead.

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