What you can do

Keeping up with the neighbours

The UK should be doing more to achieve full equality for LGBT people, as the latest ILGA Europe ‘Rainbow Map’ demonstrates.

Last year, the UK topped the list. This year, we’re third.

This is mostly due to our inadequate laws and policies relating to trans equality.

Every year since 2009, ILGA Europe (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) has released its 'Rainbow Map'.

The map measures the legal and policy situation for LGBTI people in 49 European countries, with a score from 0 to 100 per cent. The criteria are reviewed and updated annually and cover non-discrimination, family law, hate crime, legal gender recognition and asylum.

We can be extremely proud of our achievements so far in the UK. Since 2012 we have come top of the list; a testament to the strength of the UK’s LGBT rights movement, of which Stonewall is a proud part.

However, in the 2016 map we have fallen to third place, overtaken by Malta, which came first, and Belgium, which came second.  

This serves as a valuable reminder that we cannot afford to be complacent in our aim of achieving acceptance without exception. Bronze is simply not good enough when it comes to equality!

There are a few reasons we’ve slipped in the rankings. In 2015, we scored an exceptional 86 per cent. However, two new criteria were added for 2016, taking our score down to 81 per cent and demonstrating areas where we could be doing a lot more.

One of the new criteria is about age restrictions for legal gender recognition. In the UK, the current age restriction to begin medical transition is 18 – however, for many young trans people this is far too late, a fact recognised by several other European countries.

There are also areas where we have failed to progress as quickly as others. One example is the unnecessary and degrading requirement for a psychological opinion before trans people can obtain legal gender recognition. The UK also falls behind by not having a law ensuring freedom of gender expression.

The index highlights that progress for LGBT people in the UK is by no means universal. For example, many of our LGBT laws and policies do not apply equally in all four nations. Stonewall fully supports the organisations in Northern Ireland working to achieve equality for all.

At Stonewall, we are aware of the vital need to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004. No-one should have to go through the excessively bureaucratic process of achieving legal gender recognition that currently exists, or have to ‘prove’ their gender identity to medical professionals. The Equality Act of 2010 also needs updating to ensure that non-binary people are fully recognised and protected.

There’s a huge amount we can learn from other countries in achieving this. Malta has made great strides in equality, taking it from eleventh to first place in the last two years. They have introduced an exemplary new law which put in place a quick (30-day) process for gender recognition, based on self-determination and removing the need for psychological assessment. Examples like Malta could help the UK move forward in improving the legal and policy situation for all LGBT people.

Laws and policies are not the full story. Stonewall also knows there’s lots to be done to ensure existing legislation leads to practical improvements in the lives of LGBT people in Britain.

As the Co-Chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board has commented:

There is an inherent danger in thinking that our equality work is done when we achieve protection in one facet of life, such as equal marriage or parenting rights…What LGBTI people all over Europe need from their governments now is continual, committed and collaborative action.

BRIAN SHEEHAN