Jo Swinson: We still need to do more to tackle homophobia

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Writing for PinkNews, Equalities Minister Jo Swinson marks the close of LGBT History Month.

This is the tenth anniversary of LGBT History Month and I for one am delighted to break out the balloons and cake.

It’s 21 years since Beth Jordache took Margaret Clemence in her arms and sealed their Brookside romance with a kiss, sparking national debate. A fortnight ago Maggie and Jocelyn shared a kiss on the Broadchurch hill top and Twitter erupted. Sometimes it can feel like not much moves on.

Yet you only have to look at historical figures being celebrated as part of LGBT History Month to see just how far we’ve come.

At first glance 19th century diarist Anne Lister, actor Kenneth Williams and painter Frida Kahlo have little in common. But look a little closer and you see that they all had to lead a ‘coded’ life, unable to speak out about who they really were.

And then fast-forward to 2005, when LGBT History Month started – the year that civil partnerships were first introduced, allowing same sex couples to publicly celebrate their relationships before friends and family.

That was an incredible landmark. But the trouble was, it wasn’t marriage. And it wasn’t equal.

That is why I’m absolutely delighted that in 2014 we finally saw the first marriages between same sex couples in this country, and that within three months of the law coming into force, more than 1400 couples chose to celebrate their love and commitment in the way that other couples have done for centuries.

I know that this has meant so much to lesbians, gay men, bisexual people and their families, and has made our society stronger and fairer.

Last year we also made provision for couples in civil partnerships to convert them into marriages, so those brave pioneers from 2005 can now be married like any other couple. The legislation also ensured that couples can choose to stay married when one or both of them change their legal gender.

These are important strides towards true equality for the LGBT community and I’m incredibly proud to be part of government that has made them happen.

Introducing marriage for same sex couples sent a clear signal that our society values all relationships equally. But there is more to do, particularly at an earlier stage, when homophobic attitudes are still developing at school.

It’s completely unacceptable that LGBT young people continue to experience derogatory treatment, particularly in a place where they are learning and developing and trying to finding their feet.

We know that many schools are working hard to address this along with other forms of bullying, but that there’s more we can do to support them.

That’s why last year I announced a new £2m fund to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools.

This will help us to fully understand the issues behind this devastating behaviour and identify the most effective ways, rooted in evidence, of stamping it out.

It is initiatives such as these that I hope will help us hang on to our highly-prized top ranking in Europe on LGBT rights.

So, Happy 10th Birthday LGBT History Month. I wish you very many happy returns. The cake’s on me!

Jo Swinson is the Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women and Equalities.