Local Authorities

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2006 National LGBT Conference
19 November 2006

In the 1980s, a handful of mostly urban Local Authorities recognised the ways in which Lesbians and Gay men were discriminated against, and they took initiatives to address this. There were moves towards community involvement, same-sex tenancies, changes in adoption and fostering policies, education schemes, symbolic moves such as flying the rainbow flag, and public awareness raising events. However, the right and the populist press labelled these councils the loony Left, particularly in the second half of the decade; and Section 28, which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality by Local Authorities, was introduced.

However, time marches on and changes take place, thankfully often affirming the equity of the LGBT communities. Recent research by Communities Scotland examined the housing needs of older Lesbian and Gay men in addition to carrying out an audit of Scottish Local Authorities on how the issues affect LGBT community members. In addition, the Commission for Racial Equality has produced the Equality Standard for Local Government, which includes all strand of equality (including sexual orientation and gender identity), leading to the adoption of Equality Impact Assessments.

1.LGBT equality initiatives in local government are less controversial than they were in the 1980s. But they remain a marginal, often well-hidden aspect of local authority work, hampered by lack of resources and political nervousness. Councils often seem very reluctant to act in this area for fear of the media;

2.Overall, homophobia, bi and transphobia remains rife in many Local Authorities, as shown in a refusal to discuss sexuality issues – even, in some cases, to use the terms Lesbian and Gay; in watering down of initiatives; blocking of policies and, in a few, outright discrimination or harassment;

3.Since the mid-90s, however, councils of varying political hues have introduced initiatives and policies relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. These include community safety policies, anti-bullying initiatives, and developments in the fields of leisure, adoption and fostering, housing, HIV-related and youth services;

4.Local government modernisation, including abolition of committees in many areas, has removed an avenue for community representation. Backbench councillors are now less involved in policy-making, and sexuality issues rarely surface in cabinet meetings. However, many Local Authorities have taken action to consult with local LGBT communities, for example, under the Equality Standard and/or the duty on Local Authorities to consult with Local Authorities and promote well-being;

5.Functions which used to be carried out by Local Authorities are now spread across a range of agencies and often outside of the council. This creates particular challenges for equality work. However, it also provides opportunities, particularly in finding alternative ways of influencing policy when there is institutional opposition;

6.Significant changes to the legal situation have occurred, including the repeal of Section 28 in England and Wales and Clause 2A in Scotland; the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations and the Gender Reassignment Regulations; the Civil Partnership and Gender Recognition Acts and the forthcoming legislation covering discrimination in goods, facilities and services on the grounds of sexual orientation. The use by many Local Authorities of the Equality Standard, developed by the CRE but including all equality strands, the introduction of the new single equality body (the CEHR) and the forthcoming Single Equality Act means that all public bodies should be taking a much more systematic view about the need to promote equality and combat discrimination in all areas of equality.

Conference therefore instructs the National LGBT Committee, as a part of the broader Charter for Change campaign to:

A.Seek to gather evidence on the number of Local Authorities implementing the Equality Standard, or using Equality Impact Assessments across all equality strands;

B.Seek to publicise best practice examples of Local Authorities with regard to work on LGBT issues;

C.Work with the TUC LGBT Committee, UNISON Labour Link and the Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights to press for all Local Authorities to take a positive, proactive stance on the need to combat all forms of discrimination and actively promote equality across all strands;

D.Promote awareness of examples of how to successfully influence Local Authority equality practice so that it is inclusive of the needs of LGBT communities.