Comment: The priorities of the LGBT community lie away from marriage

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Writing for, LGBT activist and SNP member Nathan Sparling says the UK Government has been putting too much of its focus on equal marriage – when the issue of health inequality has a far greater impact on the LGBT community.

In recent weeks and months, it has been exciting to be an LGBT activist. It’s inspiring to see many leaders, politicians and the news discuss equal rights for the LGBT community – it doesn’t happen often enough. Gay marriage has been on the top of the agenda for years now, however, I think our community has its sights on the wrong priority.

Scotland has been ahead of the discussion on gay marriage for quite sometime, in fact it has led the debate across the country – however the eagerness of David Cameron and his cabinet cronies is more than just a fight for equal rights. The UK Government seeks easy political wins in order to smokescreen real problems amongst our community – that’s the real motivation behind their rushing through of the legislation.

I support the Scottish Government’s programme of consultation on the legislation. It means we, as the community, have our chance to feed in to the legislation to ensure that it takes steps forward for the community – not backward. I believe that the Scottish Government has our interests as a community at heart, whereas Maria Miller et al simply do not.

The UK Government has systemically taken steps to cut vital services for the gay community in England and Wales. Gay marriage is a toxic issue, it is dividing those of religion and it gives the Cabinet a free pass to ignore the gay community in other aspects of life.

Across the UK there is a crisis. A health crisis within our community that needs to be addressed – yet campaigners focus on marriage as the final step to enshrining LGBT equality in the law. Rates of sexually transmitted infections have never been higher, whilst the statistics of self-harm and suicide amongst our community are frightening. Why then does the health of our peers take a back step, whilst marriage legislation is nodded through Parliament?

How is any government meant to best represent our interests when all the community does is shout loud about marriage equality and fail to address the bigger issues? I was once proud of our community of activists who took a lead in telling politicians what we wanted – an end to the discriminatory blood donation ban, equal treatment in our NHS, scrapping the ‘aesthetics register’ for trans surgery. I believe that community leaders and policy makers are failing our communities whilst voluntary sector sexual health services struggle to provide services on budgets that are put together with blue tac and shoe strings.

Our priority as a community, as peers who look out for each other, must be our health. A healthy community is a happy one. It leads to prosperity and achieving our full potential. Nothing should stop LGBT people shouting loud about our health. Mental health is almost never spoken about, whilst sexual health is hushed so as to hide our sexual activity. We’ve never been so silent about an issue that affects us.

There are many voluntary sector organisations across the United Kingdom that do amazing work. They engage in our community with those most in need of their services to protect the health of those that put ourselves at risk. Now, I’m not one to preach to anyone about not taking risks. Staying silent about my mental health problems in the past led only to a worsening condition. Not putting on a condom because I can’t be bothered going across the room in the heat of the moment only puts me at risk, but it happens. We’re a community made of human beings; we make mistakes and sometimes go forth to regret such.

We mustn’t let the decision about priorities be a mistake. Our community needs to stand up for our voluntary organisations. We need to host fundraisers in our bars and clubs, invite them on to our University and College Campuses and we need to promote their ethos amongst our communities. If we help these organisations, they will only help us in return. Quicker access to HIV testing, the information we need when we need it, mental health services and the free condoms that we more often than not take for granted.

These services don’t come cheap, but we’ve a voice to make sure they continue. A voice which must shout loud and make our health the government’s priority. A voice which we must use to protect our community – because be under no illusion – the Westminster Government seek not to help, only silence us.

I look forward to the forthcoming Scottish Government’s LGBT Strategy – it will give our community the chance to put forward our vision for an equal society. It’s a chance that community leaders must take, not to say that marriage is the be all and end all of the equal rights movement, but to say that our health matters.

There is a crisis on our hands, but we are the people that can stop it.

Nathan Sparling is the former National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland LGBT Officer and member of the Scottish National Party.

He was involved in leading the initial Equal Marriage campaign alongside the Equality Network and the Scottish Youth Parliament, as well as leading the fight against the cuts to Sexual Health provision in the Grampian region.

As with all comment pieces the views expressed do not necessary reflect those of