LGBT delegates hear of the need for more safe spaces

CEO of Touchstone charity addresses conference about the work the organisation does

In a busy afternoon session in Harrogate, delegates at UNISON’s LGBT conference welcomed guest speaker Alison Lowe to address them about the need to create safe spaces for all.

Ms Lowe (pictured) is the chief executive for Touchstone – an organisation providing mental health and wellbeing services to people in West Yorkshire that was created in 1982.

Explaining that Touchstone is “always inclusive, from the bottom to the top”, and is a “really safe place to work,” she said that that was a substantial part of the reason behind its having won a number of awards over the years.

Ms Lowe, who is also a Leeds City Labour councillor, pointed out that “one adult in six has a mental health issue.”

Women are more likely to have such issues and research shows that the figures are higher for lesbian, gay and bisexual people, while almost half of trans people in Britain have attempted suicide and more have thought about it.

As part of the organisation’s efforts to tackle this, all Touchstone staff to have mandatory gender awareness training.

Figures also show how mental health services let down Black people. “If you’re of mixed heritage, you’re 140% more likely to be admitted to hospital,” she said. “If you’re Black British, you’re 150% more likely to be admitted to hospital” than a white person.

And there are also problems faced by elderly LGBT people – particularly in care homes. Dementia and create situations where unsupportive relatives take the opportunity to say that the person is not really LGBT.

Touchstone has run an award-winning dementia service for Black dementia sufferers and is keen to continue promoting the creation of environments for people as they age, whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Delegates also discussed:

• Bi Pride, with Jake Armstrong saying that UNISON hopes to be at the first such event in the UK next year and Sophie Thompson from Northern region noting that it was important that “the ‘B’ [in LGBT] doesn’t get left behind”;

• Louise Ashworth for the disabled LGBT caucus cites a litany of problems faced by disabled people in the UK, as described by a UN report, noting that being an LGBT disabled person compounds the problems;

• the issue of London Pride being hijacked by a transphobic protest;

• ‘county lines’ – the problem of gangs exploiting young and vulnerable people to sell drugs.