Making sure that ‘It’s a Sin’ becomes a cultural reset for LGBTQ+ rights

What can we learn from this month’s celebration of LGBT+ History Month?  Joe Crocker (he/him) – an account manager at TMW UNLIMITED, looks at some worrying statistics and asks whether the much debated Channel 4 Series,  ‘It’s a Sin’ is likely to highlight the need for change – especially in terms of acceptance, awareness and culture.

Here’s some interesting stats you probably were unaware of:

  • One in six trans women experienced domestic violence between 2017 and 2018

  • One in 10 (10%) LGBT people who were looking for a house or flat to rent or buy in the last year were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

  • One in four black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT people (24%) accessing social services in the last year have been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

It’s LGBT+ History Month, and that usually means a multitude of things could be happening to celebrate the occasion. However the month and this time around, it has offered us a time of reflection and a new dawn of understanding thanks to the latest Channel 4 series It’s a Sin. While on the surface the lives of certain LGBTQ+ people seem liberated, supported and celebrated the month which kicked off in 2005 by Schools Out, aims  to bring queer history to centre stage after many years of being hidden.

With people spending increased time on their phones, in front of screens and becoming more ‘woke’ and we are now a year into lockdown restrictions, it seems finally the marginalised communities are being given the space and platform to finally get people to engage with their stories.

 

Will TV influence public opinion? 

LGBT+ History Month for the UK is not normally something taken much notice of, especially when you compare the international recognition for Pride from brands, consumers & organisations, however following the release of Russel T Davies’ ‘It’s a Sin’ which premiered on Channel 4 on 22ndJanuary 2021 there’s been a notable shift. It depicts a group of friends effected by the AIDS pandemic of the 80s/90s. As well as receiving critical acclaim and becoming the “most binged new series ever” on All 4. It has created a huge amount of discussion around HIV awareness, as well as awakening an era of the tragic past of the LGBTQ+ community, that for many of Millennials and Gen Z had gone forgotten or untold. Incredibly, It’s a Sin has been credited with being a key cause in more people than ever before having been tested for HIV during HIV Test Week. The current target is to end new HIV cases by 2030.

 

The LGBTQ+ Rights Paradox

Last month, we saw 17-year old YouTube and TikTok personality Jojo Siwa come out as gay and having a girlfriend, with an outpouring of support from the online community. In December, the actor formally known as Ellen Page announces that he is transgender, and was again embraced and supported. On platforms like YouTube and TikTok, we see are given this impression of young, thriving LGBTQ+ communities, and this is the narrative we are compelled to believe.

So does this mean the fight is over?

If we based our opinon on this from what’s seen online or heard in the press it could be seen that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is over, we’ve arrived at a solution, there’s acceptance from the majority in the UK, problem solved. However when we start to think in that way, or when we start to see generations coming in that haven’t seen the prelude, the essence of the LGBTQ+ journey is lost. Thus creating what could be coined as the “LGBTQ+ Rights Paradox” – the closer to equality or apparent equality you get to, the more the purpose of the cause is diminished. And this can similarly seen in the fight for racial equality as well. ‘I don’t see colour’ often means ignoring the problem for the marginalised communities.

So what’s the solution to the paradox: LGBTQ+ History 

What ‘It’s a Sin’ has proposed is a potential solution to the paradox. They’ve brought a key moment of LGBTQ+ legacy into the foreground of our current dialogue, re-illustrating the chronology of LGBTQ+ rights. It’s crucial that that we are educated of the history of LGBTQ+ rights, otherwise we risk the modern fight becoming apathetic. Starting in 1981, the series sets out a 10 year timeline to show how incredibly different life would have been for an LGBTQ+ person 30-40 years ago.

From being fired from work if you were suspected to be HIV+, to having “Gay Plague” written as the daily headline in national newspapers. From having questions on mortgage application about your sexual orientation and hiding your life from your family in fear of being rejected, to having to watch your friends die around you without any really knowing or understanding why. Life for a gay person seems completely different to the ones that we see in the media nowadays. It’s only been since 2003, when Section 28 was repealed, where if it hadn’t I wouldn’t be able to write or publish this article. This was a law created in 1988 where any promotion of homosexuality was prohibited.

Using key dates as a cultural reset in our understanding 

In times like this where LGBTQ+ issues are at the forefront of discussion, it’s so important that we use events like LGBT+ History month to make sure the purpose of our cause is not diminished. Yes, it is fantastic that we have come so far in Western culture, and the lives and rights for LGBTQ+ people has improved and been embraced so much since the dark days portrayed in ‘It’s a Sin’.

This time could provide an opportunity for LGBTQ+ employees to talk about their personal history, via a panel talk or video drop in centre. Listen to how this affects their personal and working life, and work on ways to move forward as a supportive workplace. For many it could be the first they’ve heard of the month, and there may have been a last minute scramble to get everyone to think about something we can do for LGBT History month in 2022.

Whatever happens, it is important to remember that that the fight is still ongoing, and for some areas of the world, and even in the UK, the lives of LGBTQ+ people are still hidden and full of shame. We need to put human understanding at the core of everything we do.

According to Stonewall, one if five LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the last 12 months. Often we assume statistics like that include gay-bashing or someone having a gay slur shouted at them at a bus stop. However, it’s the everyday discrimination that is often forgotten. Here are some tips to continue your learning:

  • This LGBTQ+ History month, access LGBTQ+ history where you can.
  • watch ‘It’s a Sin’ – and have a listen to Today In Focus’ interview with a nurse from that time here
  • Or listen to Queer Histories on the BBC. Or visit https://rlink.re/l/edd51940/be59/4405/9989/7a1d2c7125c3.
  •  Just by widening your awareness, recognising/acknowledging that legacy and being an ally to those around you will make sure we continue in the right direction, and will make sure that we don’t repeat the mistakes that were made back in 1981.