Decriminalisation of homosexuality, allocation of NHS resources to gender reassignment treatments, and civil partnerships followed by gay marriage legislation have all enabled LGBTI communities a greater degree of freedom and legitimacy.
While it might be argued the Brexit result and the election of Donald Trump to the world’s most powerful political office are signs of a backlash against liberalism, the rights of LGBT people are now a permanent and welcome part of our legal system.
Yet repealing discriminatory laws and giving everyone equal legal protection are just first steps. As human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who wrote the foreword to our ‘Rainbow Rising’ report pointed out, ensuring these laws are effectively interpreted and enforced are major challenges too.
And there’s no point having good equality legislation if it’s not put into practice: for example, in the police confronting homophobic hate crime.
What’s more, the way institutions like businesses, local councils, the NHS, schools, the church and the media win public opinion in favour of accepting equal rights for all is paramount.
One of the clear ways in which human rights can be embedded and protected is through assembly of up-to-date and pertinent information about ‘designated characteristics’ groups as defined by E&D legislation. Ethnic monitoring in public organisations, for example, was a vital part of tackling racism.
But LGBTI communities remain some of the most under-researched. The lack of a question about sexual orientation and assignment in the 2011 Census, and in the majority of official household surveys, make it difficult to evidence the attributes, needs and aspirations of this diverse group.
Our research with the Peter Tatchell Foundation three years ago summarised the state of play of LGBTI communities at that time in relation to housing. Our report concluded we need to know more about the housing requirements of LGBTI people of all ages to ensure they receive homes and services that meet their needs and boost their life chances.
Our research also revealed LGBTI people experience an array of interrelated problems including homelessness, domestic violence, relationship breakdown, harassment in and around the home, pressure from relatives to move out, and financial difficulties in maintaining their homes.
We further discovered some of these problems are intensifying as public service cuts have disproportionately affected LGBTI communities, especially in the areas of advice, support, health and well-being services.
LGBTI people face significant housing problems, especially youth homelessness and harassment of older LGBTI people in care and support schemes. Social landlords, despite a great track record, still need to offer much more help to LGBTI tenants and staff against the backdrop of austerity and retrenching local services.
In the face of social landlords being portrayed as house-builders only, equality should not be an add-on or luxury in housing provision and services. It is fundamental. Indeed, some social landlords are exemplary employers as measured by the Stonewall top 100.
Social housing plays a crucial role in the lives of more than 10m people in Britain. Since we estimate that at least 200,000 LGBTI people live in social housing, their needs, views, aspirations and life chance should be a central concern to the social housing sector.
That’s why the PTF and HCI are embarking on a new round of research across the social housing sector during 2016/17.
The forward-looking work of many social landlords on this policy terrain will form the bedrock of our new research.
Their knowledge of LGBTI issues will inform our final report in the autumn and their good practice will provide case studies from which others in social housing can hopefully learn.
First published in 24Housing magazine