Revisiting homophobia, biphobia and transphobia analysis in the welfare system

17th May is International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). Last year I outlined some emerging analysis which highlighted experiences of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia within the social security system. A year on, with our analysis of the system complete, we can revisit this analysis and offer greater insights.

Depressingly, at the time of writing, the UK news is reporting on suggested changes to guidance to schools which, if implemented, will ban the teaching of gender identity to under-9s. The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reportedly suggested the new guidance will ensure children are not “exposed to disturbing content”. The shift in guidance echoes the significantly condemned section 28 – a piece of legislation which prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities, primarily preventing schools from talking about, let alone supporting, homosexual pupils (and staff).

The debate serves as a reminder that across the welfare system LGBTQ+ people can still be rendered invisible, support for LGBTQ+ people eroded, even removed, at the whim of politicians playing politics with the lives of the LGBTQ+ community.

Whilst only a small part of the UK population, some trans/non-binary people do have children, as do others within the LGBTQ+ community. For our participants with children, it is this parental identity which often “comes first” and can often be a way of presenting legitimacy within the welfare system:

“So from my experience is my identity as a single parent trumped any identity about my sexual orientation […] I don’t even notice it and so when I see my daughter being like, Oh there’s my mum and there’s my mum, and someone’s like, Oh you’ve got two- and I’m like, Oh, yes, oh, yes, I forgot.”

Diana, 40, Lesbian, She/her 

“like we’ve sort of legitimatised ourselves in the eyes of the state because we’re married and we’ve got kids, so I think we sort of make sense to the system. You know, a couple of times we’ve, you know”

Star, 35, Queer, Non-binary, They/Them 

In last year’s post, the focus was given to how welfare practices can invalidate one’s identity. This is especially true for trans people trying to navigate the system when they are exposed to a mixture of implicit and explicit transphobia:

“Yes, pretty heteronormative, I think. When women who’ve got married basically. And so, I noticed that any time I had to kind of like be like, I’ve changed my name. There’s no like system for doing that, or recognising that the massive community of people who do that regularly, who are just not catered to.”

Foot-Foot, Queer, Genderqueer, They/Them

“a person I had to deal with at the Job Centre made some quite unpleasant comments about my sexual identity during the time that we were working together ostensibly, so that is something that I really remember being quite upset about because I had a nasty experience being involved in like the LGBT society at uni and that kind of thing so some comments were made about that.”

Bellamy, 32, Queer, Non-binary, they/them 

Within the very interactions at the heart of the welfare system, a setting which should be supportive in its endeavours to engage with claimants and support them, we find that LGBTQ+ people are experience forms of discrimination often resulting from the unexpectedness and lack of awareness staff have as a result of their heteronormative upbringing.

It is of course important to note that this is not always the case. We have some examples of understanding staff and some good practice which is pursued to help and support LGBTQ+ people within the welfare system.

Yet much of the discriminatory language and practice results from lack of awareness and education, not some malicious intent. IDAHOBIT is an opportunity to expose, explore and eradicate the discrimination that impacts on LGBTQ+ lives. Regressive changes in early years education is a step in the wrong direction if we want to ensure adults, some of whom will work within the welfare system in the future, are able to offer supportive, non-judgemental and understanding environments.

Dr Lee Gregory

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