Neale Hanvey MP: There's never been a more dangerous time for LGB people in my lifetime

There hasn’t been a more dangerous time for young lesbians, gay men, or bisexual people during my lifetime than now. This has coincided with an equivalent threat to women and girls. For me this is a case of history repeating itself, but the risk on this occasion has been much more profound. It has been absolute and existential.

When Margaret Thatcher introduced Section 28 it made little practical difference to daily life, it merely reinforced and codified the then ubiquitous homophobia of the UK. Following its introduction those of us with the courage to walk out from the behind the blacked-out windows of the gay bars of Edinburgh attended nascent Pride events like Lark in the Park with some facing the very real risk of losing their jobs should they be spotted and word get back to work. Back then we had no rights to assert.

And while AIDS was still picking off young gay men who had so much to live for, some of us gay boys spent our spare time volunteering for Scottish Aids Monitor (SAM), but the greater number of my comrades on those dark days were women. Women from every social background and profession. They tended to be active in various projects from SAM to Women’s Aid and projects dealing with the drug and sexual health crisis then gripping Edinburgh. 

This week I have found myself immersed in those memories as women and LGB people faced down threats of being erased in law, and what a week it turned out to be. 

At the beginning of the week, I attended a private meeting with lesbians from across the UK who shared their experiences of queer theory’s impact on their ability to exist, organise or meet as a social group as their rights and identity are increasingly appropriated by males claiming to be lesbian. This is just one facet of LGB erasure at the hands of a corrosive movement. 

The following day I addressed a Westminster Hall debate on a so-called conversion therapy ban. I opened my contribution citing Søren Kierkegaard “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” 

Legislation is supposed to fix a problem, not create a new one. The true scandal in our midst is the medical and surgical conversion of young lesbians and gay males by using their gender non-conforming (GNC) behaviour as evidence that they were ‘born in the wrong body’ and affirming them onto an accelerated and irreversible pathway to ‘trans away the gay’.  

It is but one part of an assault on the sex-based rights of women and LGB people. At its heart are three legislative conceits, and each are the antithesis of what they purport to be. Self-ID is not about equality, its purpose is to erase sex as a material category from legislation and with it women’s and LGB people’s ability to define themselves with precision in law. Parallel amendments to Hate Crime legislation exerts a chilling effect on the raising of valid safeguarding concerns by criminalising them, and so-called conversion therapy bans promote the lie that vulnerable children and young people who may be GNC or are struggling with normal yet distressing pubertal body dysmorphia can fix this with hormones and irreversible radical surgical intervention. 

None of this is coincidental, the same laws are being promoted by queer theory radicals across the world. This is the greatest social and medical scandal of our lifetime. Healthy young people are being ‘affirmed’ and, in some circumstances, coerced onto irreversible treatments with scant information and little real psychosocial support. 

Sex Matters proposal for a ban on these modern conversion practices cite one young GNC man who was given an ultimatum to accept gender reassignment surgery. He goes on to say, 

“As soon as I was conscious, I knew I had made the biggest mistake of my life.”

“My sex ha[d] been lobotomised.”

I have no words for anyone who shrugs this off as acceptable. His bravery in speaking out is incredible, but he is far from alone. 

A few hours after that debate something momentous happened. A conservative Secretary of State, who I would struggle to agree with on much else, stood at the despatch box and spoke in defence of women and LGB people across the UK. She echoed my calls to stop ‘transing away the gay’ of a generation of young LGB people, she reasserted sex as a material category in law, she faced down the vacuous hyperbole of the Labour party and she made it clear that Stonewall does not dictate equalities legislation across these islands.

That they have been allowed to do so unfettered by our Scottish Government is an indelible stain on our democracy. 

When Friday morning rolled around, I was out and about in my constituency when a BBC report appeared in my news feed. The Scottish Government had lost their appeal to erase my sex-based rights, and those of women and other LGB people in Scotland. Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) was defeated by its own incompetence in law. Nothing more, nothing less.  

Over the last five years it has been incredibly dispiriting to have the history I lived weaponised against me by those who hid in the shadows during the hard shift of the 1980’s working alongside radicalised and self-righteous so-called-allies who haven’t the first clue about equalities, Section 28 or the lives we lost to AIDS.

It’s not been an easy road and the journey is far from over, but the era of no debate has ended abruptly. While many heaved a sigh of relief on Friday, the risk from a UK Labour government in thrall to the same dangerous Stonewall platform cannot be ignored.  

But without GRR in place the First Minister’s Hate Crime and Public Order Act has no coherent locus for its provisions – it should be repealed and plans for any so-called conversion therapy ban must also be abandoned. Likewise, the non-statutory school guidance on gender must be immediately withdrawn and those still left in government who were responsible for promoting this toxic policy platform should consider their positions given the damage they have inflicted on so many. 

It will take time to recover but as an independence movement, recover we must. Scotland should surely aspire to be a pluralist and progressive democracy, not a radicalised pseudo-theocracy where unbelievers are rendered non-persons by a baying mob of masked inquisitors. 

Truth, justice, and equality must seek to accommodate the needs and aspiration of everyone if an independent Scotland is to truly deliver meaningful change. 


(This story was first published in The National on 11/12/2023)

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