Each February we mark LGBTQ+ history month, an opportunity to reflect on our history and how far we have come. This LGBTQ+ history month, as the community came together at a vigil in memory of Dr Gary Jenkins, we reflect on how far we have to go.
Progress is not inevitable – legislation has changed lives but for far too many LGBTQ+ people fear, abuse and hate is still common place. The slurs, the snide remarks and the so-called ‘banter’. Online, on our streets and in our communities. The inferred, the othering and the outright physical aggression and attacks. Hate crime is on the rise and it is important everyone recognises the different forms it can take, where it can take us and the hurt and harm it can cause.
The horrific and homophobic murder of Dr Jenkins has had a deep impact on the LGBTQ+ community in Cardiff and beyond. It has been made clear in the cruellest possible way that more needs to be done to make hate history. As a starting point, the Welsh Government will bring together representatives from the LGBTQ+ community, the police and local authority to forge a way forward that has LGBTQ+ voices front and centre.
This will build on the work of the Welsh Government funded National Hate Crime Report and Support Centre that provides free, confidential support to all victims of hate crime, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Increasing education and anti-bullying work both in schools and through campaigns is also key.
It can be difficult to reach or speak out and many of our experiences are all too familiar – myself included. From wondering whether it is safe to hold my wife’s hand in public to dealing with the mix of misogyny and homophobia behind ignorant comments online and in person. Only recently, on the back of launching the Welsh Government’s LGBTQ+ Action Plan my wife and I have been subject to what has been recorded as a hate crime.
I was first elected in May 2016 – the European referendum took place in the June and then in the November Donald Trump was elected President of the USA. In recent years, it feels that the tone of political discussion has shifted, and not in a good way. What was once considered not ok to say, is now said out loud in public. Fake news and false narratives have become much more pervasive. This is not about political correctness – this is about treating one another with dignity and respect. That what is said by those in power or with a platform has consequences. It is clear, that we need to be better able to hold those with power and the platforms provided to account. Enough is enough.
At the same time, it is right that we recognise the progress we have made in the struggle for equality because much of that progress is part of our all too recent history. In my lifetime alone we could be fired, we couldn’t be mentioned in classrooms, we could be refused service and we could not marry the person we loved. When I was younger, I never imagined I would get married because I thought I never could.
I was bullied at school and given a hard time because other children saw something in me that I hadn’t even begun to reconcile myself with so had not yet learnt to hide. I can only begin to imagine the difference the LGBTQ+ inclusive education the Welsh Government is embedding as part of the new curriculum would have made to someone like me.
I never thought I would be a politician because politicians didn’t look like me. They weren’t people like me. The shy, nervous teenager who struggled with her sexuality could never have imagined that one day I would be leading the Welsh Government’s work to make Wales the most LGBTQ+ friendly nation in Europe, through our ground breaking LGBTQ+ Action plan.
This isn’t just politically important for me, it’s much more than that.
From improving safety and support to enhancing health services and making workplaces more LGBTQ+ inclusive. To using all our powers at our disposal to ban all aspects of LGBTQ+ conversion therapy and seeking the devolution of any necessary additional powers. And standing with our Trans community in Wales, including our Programme for Government commitment to trigger a request to devolve the Gender Recognition Act. Sadly, the Trans community today is facing an appalling avalanche of vilification, fear, and othering. There can be no free pass to sit this one out – an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us and we are always stronger together.
This year marks 50 years since the first Pride in the UK. Here in Wales, the Welsh Government is committed to supporting Pride across the country through a Wales-wide Pride fund. Pride was born out of protest and half a century on, the fight for our rights remains as important as ever. We deserve to be safe on our streets and to celebrate the richness and diversity of our community and history – “It is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.”