LGBT+ history month

In the UK, February is LGBT+ history month, where we bring attention to the positive, and more difficult, aspects of queer history. I – the author of this blog post, Dr Peter Matthews – actually did my first degree in History, and have always been extremely interested in what is termed “social history” (i.e. the history of ordinary people’s ordinary lives).

This feeds into this project in a number of ways, which we’ve discussed in previous blog posts. For example, it is easy to forget how much has changed in terms of basic equality before the law very recently (equal access to marriage is less than a decade old). And we see the long-term impact of such discriminatory attitudes in society in the age profile of the population who define themselves as LGB.

We are also interested in whether this history of exclusion has impacted the ability of LGBT+ people to access financial products that might impact their welfare and financial wellbeing in the longer-term. It was widely known in the 1980s and 1990s that gay men could struggle to access life insurance products, and thus mortgages, due to the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. Barriers to women accessing mortgages also meant lesbians struggled to purchase homes, with this being associated with the growth of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire as the “lesbian capital” of England – lesbians who could not buy homes in Manchester bought the dilapidated terraced houses in Hebden with cash.

Older LGBT+ people might also be carrying the weight of past discrimination around with them. In a previous project I led, we did find evidence of this. Our analysis showed there was a disproportionate number of LGB people who lived in the most deprived neighbourhoods in Scotland. Further analysis showed this group were older, more likely to be single, and had poorer health than their non-LGB neighbours. This suggests a group of people might have experienced discrimination earlier in their lives, which had ultimately resulted in poorer outcomes across a range of areas, in particular their lack of choice of where to live.

Initial insights from the qualitative interviews in the project are revealing some of this, for example: truly awful examples of discrimination towards HIV positive people in the 1990s and early 2000s; people struggling to access financial products due to this discrimination. And it is also, sadly, showing how this continues to this day, particularly for trans people. Further, the welfare state is meant to be there for people when things out of their control affect their lives and they need the most basic level of support. Our interviews also reveal how threadbare that safety net is in the UK, and how, when people come to access it, it offers incredibly poor levels of support.

We still have to complete the full analysis of all our qualitative data, but we will be interested to pick-up these generational/historical shifts and how they impacted, and might continue to impact, LGBT+ people and their welfare. We are also planning advanced statistical analysis where, hopefully, we will be able to explore generational effects, and the impact of changes such as the equalisation of access to marriage rights, on LGB people, rather than just “controlling” away age (and history) as something we’re not interested in.

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