beyondpositive’s Editor, Tom Hayes, was invited to sit down with Sajid Javid the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Equalities – to ask him some questions on his new equalities brief…
Sajid Javid thank you for taking the time to talk to us, and for visiting Birmingham’s new LGBT centre…
Despite changes in law (marriage, adoption, etc) LGBT people in the UK still face frequent homophobia. We’ve changed the laws, how do we change attitudes?
“I’m proud of what this government has done for LGBT rights in the last few years, especially equal marriage which I think was a big landmark change which I think should have been done a long time ago. Also I’m proud that the UK is leading, in Europe, on LGBT rights but this isn’t a reason to be complacent because sadly there is still discrimination out there.
Legal changes are one thing, but changing behaviours are hard. For example the work we’re doing tackling homophobic bullying in schools – it’s something that’s been there for years but we’re starting to tackle it properly now, with external partners and stakeholders.”
Whilst incredibly grateful for the new Equal Marriage laws many LGBT people would prefer to continue to enter Civil Partnerships – what are current thoughts on the future of Civil Partnerships? What about the mooted extension to all couples regardless of sexuality?
“This is an important issue, and as with any important issue the government should take in a wide range of issues and do a proper consultation – which we did. That consultation is now closed, we’re in the process going through all the responses we’ve had and those will inform us in terms of making a final decision. We’re aware of the strength of feeling on both sides – and we’ll announce our decision in due course.”
There are significant barriers to sport for young LGBT people, and a vanishingly small number of positive (in both senses) role models for them, especially in traditionally male dominated sports (rugby, football, judo etc). As both equalities and sports minister, do you think the present strategies for inclusion are working? What else can we do?
“I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen today at the Birmingham LGBT Centre, it’s what’s been described to me as the first ‘integrated centre’ and it’s impressive to see what’s been achieved in just 18 months. When it comes to sport, where there are incidences of homophobic bullying in sport we must say that these are totally unacceptable. The government is working hard to change these behaviours, that means working with the sporting bodies who are engaged with those sports every day.
What I’m looking at, personally, is what more can we do? I think for that we need to engage not just with the sporting bodies but the stakeholders – in sports, and in the LGBT community and listen to ideas that they have.”
Despite the many advances in treatment and care in the UK people living with HIV are still subject to wide spread stigma, and often discrimination. People who are part of the LGBT and/or BME communities can often face double, or triple strands of stigma – what can we do to tackle this?
“Wherever discrimination occurs it is completely unacceptable. This isn’t just a role for my department (Sports, Culture, Media and Equalities), but for other departments such as Health. One thing is important to remember is that HIV is just one of many health issues that face LGBT people, along side depression and self harm. I’d like to see a very integrated approach across government to see what can be done to tackle stigma on all fronts.”
How does the government reconcile stopping legal aid for work tribunals whilst championing equality? These changes have, and are, impacting heavily on LGBT and HIV-Positive people. With many finding it almost impossible to get lawyers to take up cases now.
“The issues around Legal Aid, and the changes being made really are around how can we get the best value for public money from the legal system. Of course theres a role for Legal Aid and making sure everybody has a proper defence, but at the same time the government needs to achieve the right balance between providing that and also making sure that it’s affordable for the public purse.
Where there are individual cases that are difficult, the best thing to is to make sure a local MP or the Department of Justice know when looking at cases.”
Given that people living with HIV are much more likely to be living in poverty, what is the government doing to ensure that the gap between the richest and poorest in society does not continue to become ever wider?
“For anyone in poverty, whatever the cause, the solution is paid work. The best thing for the government to focus on is making sure we have a growing economy that keeps on creating jobs – that does allow people to get a foot on the job ladder, or move up if they’re already on it.”