Key barriers to growth of the LGB&T sector

These issues are identified as having direct impacts on the development of services within the statutory sector, and on the work of individuals within these organisations. They are also seen as barriers to growth within, and bringing funding into, the LGB&T VCS.

As a combination, these factors are often seen as being insurmountable and potentially leading to organisations no longer being viable.

The key barriers identified are:

  1. There is a limited knowledge and understanding of the needs of LGB&T people amongst decision makers, due, in part, to a lack of training. In addition, no effective evidence base exists, largely due to a lack of investment to facilitate monitoring.
  2. Invisibility and (mis)representation of LGB&T individuals and communities exists within each of these communities, in the media and throughout society generally in the UK.
  3. LGB&T issues are often given low priority by decision makers when compared to other equality strands. This affects the levels of engagement with, and strategic importance of, these issues.
  4. Focus is often restricted to the sexual health of men who have sex with men. This results in a lack of provision to meet the many other needs of LGB&T people.
  5. LGB&T equality is not yet established as a basic right, and applicable to all services. Changes that may lead to equality are still, at times, resisted.

Key Barrier 1 - Limited knowledge and understanding of the needs of LGB&T people

“Our first point is the lack of sympathetic and knowledgeable non-LGB&T decision makers. We need to equip key people with the knowledge and skills with relation to the LGB&T issues and the relevant legislation”

The lack of LGB&T knowledge and understanding of decision makers was mentioned at each consultation event. It was often mentioned that key people have knowledge and expertise in other equality strands and are assumed to be capable of understanding and promoting LGB&T issues.

The effect of this lack of knowledge is experienced by both statutory sector workers and voluntary and community organisations, and is viewed as a barrier to progress. It is often expressed as having to start ‘one step back’ in making the argument for services or funding. There is often no concept of why provision is needed and this is also reflected in the strategic plans and priorities of organisations.

Discussions often focussed upon the training and information needs of the key decision makers, particularly around the recent legislative changes for LGB&T people.

The particular problems for LGB&T communities in establishing an evidence base that could increase the knowledge of decision makers was also highlighted:

  1. There is no baseline data of the population size, as sexual orientation and trans status are not included in the national census (and the ONS has rejected inclusion of sexual orientation in 2011).
  2. Most services do not include sexual orientation or trans status in their service’s monitoring.
  3. The production of this evidence base has not been resourced in the past and is not being resourced now – and so the evidence base falls further behind other equality strands.

“Wherever you have got monitoring in relation to other areas, such as race, disability etc then we should be on par there”

Service providers must counter their lack of knowledge about the service needs of LGB&T people.

“People are just making assertions and basing policy on assertions… Even if we have data, we don’t use it and if you don’t use it, then you can’t tell what you should be doing… People should start taking notice and doing more”

There is very limited monitoring of LGB&T communities nationally, regionally and locally. It is likely that introducing monitoring of sexual orientation and trans status on a national level would encourage sub-regional and local bodies to collect similar data.

“In terms of regionally… [they] have to have baselines of the region’s residents. Councils have to start doing Equality Profiles of their residents including sexual orientation”

Recommendation 1:

The ONS should not continue to exclude LGB&T questions from the national census. If this is the case, alternative research needs to be funded that provides robust baseline data.

There is a lack of robust research within statutory and other organisations. The lack of this very basic data means that it is difficult to establish the needs of LGB&T individuals and provide a response; without acknowledging that there is a population that has specific needs, there is no broader context in which to place any evidence that is available.

“I get loads of anecdotal evidence from service managers [in mental health], and they say ‘nobody has ever asked’ – there is shed loads of information there, it’s not number crunching, but there is loads of anecdotal information about why we need to be addressing LGB&T mental health”

In addition, the collection of sexual orientation monitoring data can help to identify where there are gaps in funding and service provision. This can help to indicate where there is failure to provide services and funding opportunities to LGB&T individuals and communities specifically.

Recommendation 2:

Statutory service providers, commissioners, funders and others should seek knowledge and intelligence about their LGB&T populations and their needs. An important part of this is to introduce sexual orientation and trans status monitoring to all services, particularly those funded out of public monies.

Recommendation 3:

Decision makers, including those within commissioning and service planning, must commit to funding and producing the evidence base so that policies can be made on the basis of knowledge.

There are situations in which funders and commissioners may require evidence from small voluntary and community groups.

However, it is important to recognise that complex statistical tests are not appropriate for these groups. It is unlikely that they will have the knowledge and many of the groups are too small for the methodology to be acceptable. It has to be recognised that the LGB&T VCS infrastructure is under-funded and does not have the capacity to fulfil onerous expectations.

“We are not even a charity – there are 4 people… we’ve all got areas of expertise, but we’ve all got day jobs”

Recommendation 4:

Decision makers should engage with the LGB&T VCS to develop methodologies that provide evidence acceptable to commissioners. These must be achievable within small and often hidden populations and mostly with very limited VCS capacity.

The expertise within the community is of value – and its commercial value needs to be respected.

“I think there is a lot of willingness from a lot of agencies to engage with trans people and a lot of trans people who are willing to engage – but it has to be done in a very careful way… I think they have to be very, very careful… because that goodwill cannot be exploited”

Recommendation 5:

Consultation with LGB&T communities should be undertaken in a sustainable way for those involved, recognising there is a financial, as well as human value to their knowledge and involvement.

Key Barrier 2 - Invisibility and (mis)representation

LGB&T lives are mostly invisible and every consultation group cited the lack of accurate and positive media representation as damaging LGB&T equality. This is seen as reflecting, but also reinforcing the lack of priority given to LGB&T issues.

“The top of the headlines on the News at Ten [on] Thursday night was disability hate crime and that was big news, a whole bulletin on it … and I was watching it thinking ‘I wonder why they have done that when we have had a murder in London and [for] the first time it was recognised in statute that it was a homophobic murder’ – I couldn’t see that becoming the headline news on News At Ten”

“Disability hate crime gets a prime slot on the news… homophobic crime wouldn’t – it just would not make the headlines”

The dual issues of invisibility (“There’s nothing really”) combined with inaccuracy (“It gets sensationalised”) was cited in each group.

“It is not just about invisibility, it is also about trying to counteract the negative media and press. When does it get challenged? Who challenges it? There is nobody to challenge it”

There is also an issue around statutory bodies. Even where efforts are made to introduce equality, these are either misrepresented or ignored. This means that a lot of positive representation may be lost.

“The media has not helped the cause… because they have misrepresented the police”

Some suggestions were made that there is not enough done by statutory organisations to promote positive images of individuals, groups and communities that they are, ultimately, funded to serve.

It is also perceived there is a hierarchy in media representation and of available role models. This hierarchy is seen as being gay men first, then lesbians, then bisexual people and then trans people.

Recommendation 6:

Wherever possible, pressure should be placed on media sources for fair and equal representation of LGB&T people, with lessons learnt from the approaches taken to the public representation of other marginalised groups.

Recommendation 7:

Statutory services should ensure that their own materials are inclusive of LGB&T people, including positive and diverse imagery of the communities they serve.

Key Barrier 3 - LGB&T issues are often given low priority

“It is a hierarchy of equalities and we are very much at the bottom”

A recurrent theme of each consultation event was that the six equality strands do not receive equal standing, funding and are not even equally understood. It is widely seen that the LGB&T strands are at, or very close to, the bottom in terms of priority.

This was raised by those working in the statutory sector, where managers are seen as not giving LGB&T rights equal weighting within equality and human rights: for example, attending the consultation was seen by one person’s line manager as to do with her voluntary work and personal life – and not core to the development work within her role. She was clear that such a stance was not taken around other equality strands, citing in particular the support and time given to address race and disability issues within her role.

The effects of this hierarchy are apparent in funding for voluntary sector organisations, commissioning of services and the provision of paid workers. LGB&T people are seen as very low down the list and not getting a fair slice of the pie.

“When you are going in to meet a decision maker, or someone who has funding, you always have to try to make your work fit with their priorities and their strategies, etc., etc. – I wish I was able to walk into a room and have a conversation with someone who already knows that there is a North West LGB&T Strategy and they have already connected their work to it… [so that] when they redesign their criteria for funding that they actually take [us] into consideration… So, for me, it is at service delivery level, but also at strategic level”

Respondents often compared the situation with the perceived status of Black and Minority Ethnic programs. It should be noted that, in 1991 (the year that the first ever question regarding the BME population was included), the Census found the Black and Minority Ethnic population in the UK to be 6% (in 2001 this had risen to just under 8%). The Department for Trade and Industry (now the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) estimated the lesbian and gay population at approximately 6% in 2005. There is no current estimate for the bisexual population.

LGF research has identified 68 LGB charities (no trans specific charities were identified) across England. These receive a total of £10million per annum. This is equivalent to 0.0003% of charitable income to represent at least 6% of the population. Some equality strands, it would seem, are more acceptable than others to funders:

“Their distaste is shown within their judgments”

“As soon as you mention ‘gay, lesbian’ they don’t want to know. What they are scared of, I don’t know”

And some are more acceptable to managers in the statutory sector:

“At the moment we have to hide behind the others (other equality and diversity strands) to get a foot in the door”

Recommendation 8:

Statutory service providers, commissioners, funders and other decision makers should urgently recognise LGB&T needs in all their strategies, policies and actions in equal measure to other equality strands.

Recommendation 9:

Statutory service providers, commissioners, funders and other decision makers should actively adopt a quality assurance scheme which ensures that LGB&T equality is given the same recognition as other equality strands.

Key Barrier 4 - Focus is often restricted to the sexual health of men who have sex with men

“There is a hierarchy about who is allowed a voice and who is most important”

The consultation revealed a strong hierarchy within the funding for LGB&T communities and in policies that address their needs. Perceived to be at the top of this hierarchy are gay and bisexual male issues, in particular HIV and sexual health. These are seen as the priority for funding and statutory sector support. This is often explicitly linked to the dominance of HIV issues in the last two decades. This dominance and focus is understandable due to the epidemiological nature of the infection and the disproportionate effect that HIV has on the gay and bisexual male community over others.

It was noted that sexual health for gay and bisexual men is an area where historically a stronger evidence base has been developed and this has drawn in funding.

“We have used HIV to evidence the work in the past… so we have to change how we present our evidence”

There was no suggestion that HIV or sexual health are not of grave importance – but it is clear that these are not the only issues of concern and cannot define the needs of disparate communities. Reducing LGB&T people and cultures down to just (gay male) sex is offensively homophobic and absolutely ignores most trans people, lesbians and bisexual women – and the wider needs of gay and bisexual men.

“In my job…I get a lot of documents sent to me that say ‘LGB&T’ and it means LGB – you read through it and it says ‘homophobia’ – I feel like saying ’Either say LGB or say LGB&T but [then] include trans people’. Don’t just put it in the title and then ‘Oh we will forget about them now’ and just talk about, it’s usually gay men”

The impact is that it prevents appropriate LGB&T specific services, responsive to real need, being developed. Concentrating resources on one area of work, by definition, excludes others. A broader view would consider, for example, the exceptionally high rates of problematic substance use within the lesbian population – a population that is at the lowest risk of sexually transmitted HIV.

"I think it is a fair point that [people] have got different issues that you need to discuss… it is not just a big pot that everybody is in – that there are different issues for different people within the [LGB&T community]”

The sole emphasis upon sexual health also prevents an acceptance or understanding that LGB&T people have an equal right to all services – and this is not restricted to sexual health. Further, all service providers have a legal responsibility to ensure that this is achieved.

“[Recent research shows that] LGB people had similar issues [to trans people] in terms of…not going to get the [healthcare] treatment that they deserve and need because they anticipate being treated badly by healthcare professionals…So there are similarities and there are differences… For example healthcare for trans people is framed within mental health and that affect[s] the way trans people are treated even when they were accessing non-trans related healthcare”

Essentially there was a call for a more sophisticated approach that is more responsive to the real needs of the communities.

“There is something really key around diversity within the LGB&T community because there are very distinct needs”

Recommendation 10:

Service providers, commissioners and funders, both within and outside of the health sector, should continue to support the excellent work that is taking place around HIV and sexual health, but should not do this to the exclusion of other LGB&T needs. They should assess the full breadth of their activities and ensure they are relevant and accessible for all issues affecting LGB&T people.

Recommendation 11:

Policies that are jointly aimed at the LGB&T communities should take into consideration the distinct needs of each community and ensure these are addressed equally. Policies aimed at addressing LGB&T issues should be split into component parts, and address each of these communities seperately, where appropriate.

Key Barrier 5 - LGB&T equality is not yet established as a basic right

The basic premise that gay men, lesbians, bisexual and trans people have the right to equal services and equality of outcome across the board has not been accepted, despite the legislative changes. This attitude needs to be challenged at every level. To date, work on making all services of truly equal outcome to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or trans status, could be described as limited at best.

“I am sure that people would say that we have got [equality in law] now… but for me it is about how it is implemented… [for example] is the workplace environment welcoming? What language are you using? What messages are you giving out to the LGB&T community? It is those sorts of things really, that I actually think cuts across the board”

“It is about asking them what are they doing within their organisations about prejudice and discrimination which may be going on. Have they actually said… ‘Well, it is totally unacceptable within the organisation’”

Reluctance to develop services aimed specifically at the LGB&T communities was linked to a fear of a ‘backlash’ in many cases. This is both in terms of individuals’ careers and in terms of accountability to the wider community. It is unacceptable that implementation of LGB&T rights are still restricted in this way.

“We have got to use different language, we have got to take on the equality and diversity discourse and use, for example, Impact Assessments”

As part of this move to a basic human rights approach to LGB&T equality, there is a demand that the statutory sector accept two fundamentals:

  1. Achieving the legislative minimum is not acceptable – because this is not parity with the other equality strands.
  2. This lack of parity betrays an approach that does not recognise the positive value in promoting LGB&T equality

Until LGB&T needs are accepted as equal, people will feel excluded from mainstream services and this can result in them not seeking assistance and services when they are required. This increases the need for LGB&T specific services, which provide a safe and understanding delivery environment.

“The public sector needs to consider things not just to do with the victim narrative but recognising that there could be positive value to addressing LGB&T issues or involving the LGB&T community”

Recommendation 12:

Service providers, statutory organisations and others should urgently ensure that equality of outcome for everyone is accepted as a right throughout their organisation and that, through all their activities, this right is extended to all LGB&T people. The proper use of Equality Impact Assessments should be considered here.

Recommendation 13:

Service providers, statutory organisations and others should urgently recognise the need for LGB&T specific services to be provided to encourage individuals to seek assistance and access to services when they are needed.