I am proud that Greater Manchester has such a thriving LGBT community, rivalling London as the LGBT capital. But there is still much more to do if we are to achieve true equality.
While city-centre Manchester provides a welcoming and inclusive environment, the same cannot be said for all of our boroughs. Young people often feel the need to travel in to the city to escape the fear of abuse, bullying and even violence.
We need to work to change that and make all of Greater Manchester a safe and welcoming place. I am proud to have supported the first-ever Wigan Pride event which will take place in August. As Mayor, I will support young people and local groups who want to bring Pride events to some of Greater Manchester's smaller towns.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender matters run through every policy area affecting young and old, individuals and families. It is why all of our public services need to change - to move away from the one-size-fits-all approach, to services that respond to the needs of the individual.
For too many young LGBT people in school or college, homophobic bullying remains much too common. But it is not just confined to schools and colleges, it can continue in the workplace as well. Whether it is physical violence, verbal abuse, the derogatory use of language or comments directed at a young person with same-sex parents, all are forms of homophobic bullying that need to be tackled and ended.
Whilst we can all welcome the fact that most of the younger generation are not just far more accepting but openly celebrate with their LGBT friends at same-sex marriage ceremonies, Pride events and in their schools and work places, it sadly remains the case that not everyone is so accepting.
Education is key to widening acceptance and tackling discrimination wherever it exits. Teacher training needs to be improved to better enable them to identify homophobic bullying and provide pupils with the support they need. In truth, much of that education is delivered by voluntary organisations supporting the LGBT community, such as education theatre groups like Pink Triangle.
That is why, if I am elected as Mayor of Greater Manchester I will support those voluntary organisations to continue their vital work.
But homophobic bullying, whether at school or in the workplace, is not just confined to those physical locations. It can have devastating consequences on the mental health of the individual.
It is simply wrong that, last year, over a quarter of children who needed mental health services and support are being denied access. Some of those young people need support because they are being stigmatised because of their sexuality resulting in them leaving home, self-harming or suicidal thoughts and actions.
We need to ensure that counselling services, specific to the LGBT community, are widely available and that schools, GPs and others know how to access them.
That is why I have said that, as Mayor, I will ensure that no child in Greater Manchester who needs mental health services or support will be turned away.
But again, it’s not just children. Suicide amongst gay men is far higher than the national average and drug and alcohol dependency amongst the LGBT community are also above the national average. Support services for the LGBT community by specialist organisations, such as the outstanding LGBT Foundation here in Greater Manchester, are essential if we are to reduce those statistics. As Mayor, I will support them.
Homelessness and rough sleeping is another issue that disproportionally affects the LGBT community. Young people who leave home because of unaccepting parents, or the same-sex couple who split up leaving one with nowhere to go and left at the bottom of the housing waiting list, are trading one unsafe environment for another even less safe. It’s another example of how public services need to change to offer solutions and services built around the needs of the individual and it is why the work of the Albert Kennedy Trust is so vital.
Domestic violence between LGBT couples often goes unrecognised because it is between same-sex couples. More needs to be done to train and equip the police and other emergency services to recognise and deal with same-sex domestic abuse as well as providing greater awareness of Galop, which runs the National LGBT Domestic Violence Helpline.
But there is also violence and abuse towards LGBT people within different communities. Sometimes, for religious or cultural reasons, LGBT people have to hide their sexuality for fear of being ostracised by their friends and family or even of being physically assaulted.
There is an enormous amount of work to be done in this area to break down the prejudice and isolation as well as exclusion from their own communities.
And, in old age, many LGBT people requiring medical and social care often live in isolation because services are not geared to cater for their needs. There are examples of LGBT people in care homes being abused by staff and other residents because of their sexuality or living in isolation because they don’t have the family unit around to care for them.
These are all issues that affect the LGBT community in so many different areas of policy.
It is why I will establish an LGBT advisory board to ensure that LGBT matters are integral to all policies.
Under this Government, cuts are hitting the voluntary sector the hardest. But the voluntary and not-for-profit sector is an absolutely vital part of delivering services that are built around the needs of the individual - like the George House Trust which provides services to people living with, and affected by, HIV.
That is why I would change the relationship with the voluntary and not-for profit sector.
They need long term contracts to provide stability. We need diverse and specialist organisations and services to provide bespoke solutions, and by supporting and growing these organisations we can begin to change how the statutory public services operate.
As Mayor I would:
- Establish an LGBT advisory board to look at all areas of policy
- Support Pride events in smaller towns in each of the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester
- Take a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime
- Support organisations delivering educational programmes to tackle homophobic bullying
- Develop a new, long-term relationship with the voluntary and not-for-profit sector
- Ensure that LGBT matters run through all areas of policy - education, housing, health and social care, policing and throughout our public services.