LGBT history month – Not all letters are equal

So it’s LGBT history month in the UK during February. Reading out the notices over the last couple of weeks to my form, in a college which “celebrates” this I was struck by the way it follows on from Holocaust memorial day. Remembering is vital; only through understanding the diversity of people who were scapegoated and killed by dictators of various descriptions, but particularly by Hitler, during those dark days of the 1930′s and 40′s can we understand quite what the dangers of being scared of “the other” or seeking to blame them for wider economic problems are. But hidden within the letters LGBT are silences and invisibilities. B and T are not equal to L and G – often as much in the minds of L and G people as the wider world.

Then there are gendered divisions that emerge a T who is M to F (male to female) is likely to be better “understood” than a F to M person and as for concepts of being gender queer these are beyond the comprehension of many. The gender queer face discrimination and misunderstanding for many of the same reasons as B people…we are taught to work in binaries, particularly where gender and sexuality are concerned.

Looking at the history of LGBT we can see that inconsistencies have always existed between them. The myths about lesbianism never being illegal because of Queen Victorias inability to believe in the notion of female homosexual practice have come about because gender differences in the treatment of males and females who were gay did exist, in law. The treatment and so history of L and G therefore differ in ways which need to be acknowledged.

We are now in the position where T is the category which faces most inconsistencies in the law, because of gendered assumptions and differences which exist between the status of heterosexual and homosexual people. The problems primarily exist in relation to the recognition of partnerships. The situation at the moment that if you are married and get a gender recognition certificate (i.e. legally change your gender to the one which you feel you are) you have get an interim certificate and within a specified period of time disolve your marriage and get a civil partnership; similarly if you enter a civil partnership as one gender but then go for a gender recognition certificate you have to then disolve your civil partnership and get married. This is something which the governments transgender equality action plan published in December does not adequately address. The government action point on this simply reads: “work with the transgender community to ensure that everyone with an interest has the opportunity to contribute to Government’s work on equal civil marriage and that there needs are considered as part of this work”. It then gives a window from October 2011 until June 2012 for opinions to be gained. What would be the ideal is that we end up with a situation where those who are currently married can remain married and those who are currently in civil partnerships can remain in civil partnerships. This in practice means that same sex marriage and opposite sex civil partnerships will be necessary, even if they do go against “tradition” and require state intervention to change the meanings. (Note I find myself sadly then disagreeing with Archbishop Sentamu by using my reason and reflecting upon the experience of transgender people I know as well as thinking back to the evolutionary history of tradition in regards to the legal status of relationships and scripture which doesn’t have anything directly relating to this difficult legal situation – but does have clear affirmation of loving, committed relationships and a spirit of compassion).

This differentiation between the status and visibility of LGBand T is something which is evident in the churches too. The Methodists documents on sexuality relate to LandG but contain silences on B and T. Similarly because the URC focuses on “same sex relationships” the nature of Band T are excluded from their discussions. The CofE are more interesting because whilst all their material on human sexuality and the moral complexities of relationships are based on the binary categories they do have material and guidelines relating to transgendered people – but only advice on what to do if they are offering for ordained ministry.

Admittedly the number of transgendered people is much lower in society and the church than gay or lesbian people and in terms of the discussions taking place around committed relationships the bisexual person will be jumping in one direction or another although their identity will not be as fixed as the social construction of meaning around their relationship. But the fact remains that the true situation, which the church should be seeking to understand, and so be able to appropriately pastorally engage with, is far more complex than the binary boxes they seek to use. The lack of clear material on these issues and legal categories of recognised relationship also presents problems for those seeking to engage not only with the letter of the policies but with their spirit. A same sex couple cannot have a civil partnership within a Methodist church, but they could it appears have a marriage once their civil partnership were disolved in line with the requirements of the gender recognition certificate. But would this be going against the original spirit of Conference decisions?

The complexities of these issues and the need to understand them are why I think LGBT history month is a good idea – if it is used as a celebration of all things LGBT and not simply LG.

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