The Snap Election

Parliament

On April 18th Theresa May took just about everyone by surprise by announcing a General Election, right after saying that the country shouldn’t have one on account of the very important Brexit work that we needed to focus on for the next couple of years. With a couple of chunky BCN articles lined up about legislation that was in the middle of being enacted it meant this edition got thrown into a bit of disarray!

Below are three of the candidates who might be out-bi MPs in the 2017 Parliament. In 2015 Westminster elected the largest group of out LGB parliamentarians of any chamber in the world: 32 of the 650 MPs. Will 2017 beat that record?

The Honourable Bi Members: Cat Smith (Lancaster) faces a tricky defence; Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury) looks safe; Simon Hughes is trying to regain Bermondsey.

Brexit Stage Left

So Article 50 has been invoked and this is real, we’re leaving. Does it matter for bis? Any more so than the average person living in the UK, that is.

Almost all the changes for the better we’ve seen on LGBT rights in the past 20 years have come from Europe – from an equal age of consent to workplace protections. Campaigners from the UK had to go to European institutions to establish our right to be treated equally and appropriately in law as UK institutions failed us.

Brexit doesn’t come with an immediate price tag attached saying something like, ‘leave the EU and the Single Market, oh and reinstate Section 28’ – legally it doesn’t have an immediate tangible impact like that.

But it leaves us a question of how much harder it might be in future to effect further change. Especially for bi (and trans) people, as the tide of change hasn’t brought us quite as far as lesbians and gay men – as reflected in a wealth of statistics on bi experiences from likelihood of experiencing domestic violence to feeling you can be out to workmates without it affecting your career.

We’ve seen a notable uptick in hate crimes since last June, including but not limited to racist incidents, and hard economic times always seem to bring an increase in that too. Two years of Brexit negotiations (surely accompanied by a growing tabloid whine of “it’s been so long, why haven’t we left yet?”) followed by a likely economic downturn triggered by leaving the EU is surely a recipe for just such hard times ahead.

There’s another unknowable knock-on effect in the likely economic downturn, that I’d describe as ‘what might have been’.

Bi support, unlike gay and lesbian focused work, has always been volunteer driven, by organisations without budgets and staff. The numbers have ebbed and flowed a little but over the last thirty years at any given time there have been perhaps twenty local bi groups across the UK with a turnover of a couple of grand between them of one shape or another. That, albeit limited, structure of support and bi space came about precisely because the big LG(BT) organisations like Stonewall, the London Switchboard helpline, Manchester’s LGF and the like were not taking bisexuality and biphobia seriously.
But now LGBT organisations are at last starting to understand the “B” and beginning to address our issues.

If funding for them falls away further due to pressure on public spending budgets thanks to Brexit, then that proverbial cake we bisexuals were on the verge of finally having and eating can still be snatched away.

The Edge of Change

It has been two months but the dust is still settling from the snap election for the Stormont Assembly on March 2nd.

Regular readers will recall that the Assembly has voted in favour of allowing same-sex marriage – it’s the last holdout of “Civil Partnerships Or Nothing” – but the DUP has blocked such proposals from coming into law through “Petition Of Concern” motions.

These are meant to be checks on legislation that would unduly favour either the nationalist or unionist community. They mean legislation can only pass if supported by 60% of the Assembly voting, including at least 40% of each of the nationalist and unionist designated MLAs.

When the votes were counted after the election, the DUP fell from 38 to 28 seats, taking them below the 30 members needed to bring forward a petition of concern.

However one UUP member and the sole TUV party representative are both pledged to block marriage reform – so it looked as though we were still one seat out of ninety short of breaking the block. It would just take one rebel, though. So near and yet so far.

But then marriage became a political bargaining chip as Sinn Fein insisted on it being part of the programme for a new coalition government at Stormont, and in response the DUP equally fervently declared that it could not be.

Talks stalled and attempts to restart them haven’t gone well thus far. Northern Ireland looked set to either have a third election in the space of a year, or to have devolved government suspended and direct rule from Westminster restored, when Theresa May made a surprise election announcement of her own. For now, it’s all on hold with a rumoured date of 29 June as the next crunch moment; watch this space.