This Saturday, Bristol will play host to the annual Pride Festival, where LGBT+ people from across the city come together to march, to show solidarity, and to celebrate progress, with friends, family and allies. There’s a fantastic line up for this year’s festival in Millennium Square, and over the past weeks there have been so many great events put on by the organisers to bring different parts of the community together.
From film screenings, performances of powerful dramatic pieces (such as the HIV Monologues), to video gaming events, and – of course – the Bristol Pride Dog Show! I’m so proud to represent a constituency where Pride is celebrated so prominently and I will continue to speak up for the rights of LGBT+ people in Parliament.
Pride is a time to celebrate how far we have come as a society. It has also always been a protest, a time to look at where we still need to fight inequalities based on sexuality. Sadly, health is still one area where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people still face unequal outcomes.
I was recently delighted to chair a Pride event in Parliament on LGBT+ health inequalities, as part of my work on the board of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST).
This event identified health inequalities for LGBT+ people and explored solutions. For example, some mainstream NHS staff would benefit from specialist training and changes to policies to help make NHS services more accessible to trans people, who found their GP could not understand their needs and gave unhelpful or inadequate responses as a result.
Another challenge comes from the fact that specialist LGBT+ health services have tended to grow out of specialist sexual health services, which is not always appropriate, though does help to innovate ways to meet specific needs. Audience participation in the event was excellent, with discussions ranging from mental health to end of life care.
We need many different approaches to address health inequalities. I saw other kinds of approaches on a recent visit to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, where I was investigating HIV treatment. This is an area where we are all so indebted to LGBT+ activists who have fought so tirelessly for further research and to challenge the stigma that surrounds HIV. My visit was in part inspired by the excellent work that Bristol organisations like Brigstowe and the Terrence Higgins Trust do to support people living with HIV in the city, organisations I’ve been very privileged to work with during my time as an MP.
Whilst visiting the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation I met with programme officers and managers coordinating their work to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of HIV/AIDS in lower and middle-income countries. They all praised the considerable financial contribution the UK makes to this work through the Department for International Development (DfID) and told me about how Foundation money, expertise and scientific knowledge is being used to develop radical programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa. Their goal is to accelerate the decline in HIV infection worldwide and save lives by ensuring expanded and simplified interventions to prevent and treat infection. This includes developing a vaccine – something which would save millions of lives. It would also reduce one aspect of LGBT+ health inequality and would benefit everyone living with HIV.
But while we celebrate the progress we have made here at home, there is still so much to do worldwide to eliminate discrimination and combat hate. There are 72 countries in the world where having a same-sex relationship is illegal, often carrying long prison sentences and in eight countries, it carries the death penalty.
Pride is about celebration, respect and inclusion. It’s about having a great time together. It’s showing the world, includingthose countries where being gay is a crime, that we are all better off when sexuality or gender identity is not a reason to discriminate or hate, or exclude someone from a job, community or family. It’s demonstrating the beauty of diversity. And I love it.