Kevin Curley: The law has changed, but the work of LGBT campaigners is far from over

I couldn't be happier about my daughter's same-sex marriage - but widespread culture change will lag behind the new legal status, writes our columnist

Kevin Curley says equal rights is not a case of 'job done'
Kevin Curley says equal rights is not a case of 'job done'

Monday 31 March 2014 is a date that will stay with me forever. My oldest daughter, Hannah, phoned me to share her news: "I've just asked Jess to marry me and she's agreed."

Initially I was breathless, before a wave of happiness overtook me. Just two days after the first gay marriages in England and Wales, here was my first-born making the most important announcement of her life. Hannah's personal story prompted me to think about gay rights: have all the big battles now been won?

The law has changed, but cultural change usually lags behind. Back in the 1980s, two-thirds of people thought all same-sex relationships were wrong, but now - thankfully - the same proportion support gay marriage. There are now more openly gay MPs in Westminster, making our legislature more representative, at least in terms of sexuality. Stonewall's campaigning slogan - "Some people are gay. Get over it" - seems to resonate with most young people.

But those who work on the front line in support of LGBT people assure me that it is not a case of "job done". Vicky Worthington, membership and engagement manager at the LGBT Consortium, makes the point that legal equality does not remove discrimination and good policy does not mean that things actually change. Phobic bullying in schools remains a big issue for LGBT teenagers. The charity Stonewall reported in 2012 that 55 per cent of LGBT pupils had been bullied.

My daughter, elected last month as Glasgow University's sexual orientation equality officer, reinforces this point. Her top campaigning objective this year is to educate medical students and trainee teachers about the needs of LGBT school students. "For a teenager, coming out is a pivotal time," she says. "Teachers and doctors can make a massive difference."

Funding for member groups of the consortium is fragile. Seventy per cent of their 210 members have annual incomes of less than £10,000. Many cannot access the services they need from generic infrastructure organisations or are reluctant to do so, and the consortium itself has only two staff members. Surely we can assert that a specialist support organisation such as the LGBT Consortium is needed and deserves funders' support.

However, the challenges facing LGBT rights campaigners in this country are dwarfed by the dangers facing activists in countries such as Russia and Uganda, where gay people face imprisonment and worse. A chilling moment came for me last November when I visited a secondary school building project on behalf of the Tanzania Development Trust. The sixth-form boys - all aged over 18 - were keen to talk about gay marriage, which they had heard discussed on the BBC World Service. "How would you treat a student here if you knew he was gay?" I asked. After a pause, the calm reply came: "We would probably kill him."

Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser

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