The UK LGBT Action Plan: a look behind the celebratory rhetoric

In Episode 1 of Series 3 of the DIAL Podcast, Professor Yvette Taylor from DIAL’s CILIA LGBTQI+ project talks about her research with Matson Lawrence looking behind the celebratory rhetoric of the UK Government’s LGBT Action Plan published in 2018. She also discusses emerging findings from the project and  LGBTQI+ people say about their lives and how they view the ‘progress’ claimed in the plan and more widely by politicians. 

The UK government LGBT Action Plan: Discourses of progress, enduring stasis, and LGBTQI+ lives ‘getting better’ is research by Matson Lawrence and Yvette Taylor and is published in the Journal of Critical Social Policy.


In Episode 1 of Series 3 of the DIAL Podcast, Professor Yvette Taylor from DIAL’s CILIA LGBTQI+ project talks about her research with Matson Lawrence looking behind the celebratory rhetoric of the UK Government’s LGBT Action Plan published in 2018. She also discusses emerging findings from the project and  LGBTQI+ people say about their lives and how they view the ‘progress’ claimed in the plan and more widely by politicians. 

The UK government LGBT Action Plan: Discourses of progress, enduring stasis, and LGBTQI+ lives ‘getting better’ is research by Matson Lawrence and Yvette Taylor and is published in the Journal of Critical Social Policy.

Christine Garrington  0:00 

Welcome to DIAL, a podcast where we tune into evidence on inequality over the lifecourse. In this series we are discussing emerging findings from some of the projects in our programme. Our guest today is Yvette Taylor from the CILIA LGBTQI+ project. She’s been scrutinising the UK LGBT Action Plan published in 2018, to see whether the celebratory rhetoric around improvements over time and progress really hold up.

Yvette Taylor  0:27  

It’s a really interesting part policy part strategy document the LGBT Action Plan, which was launched in 2018. So, it offers a commitment to equalities, and it’s really situated as part of a  developing trends towards committing to LGBT equality so from the Equalities Act from 2010 and onwards. So it notes kind of key progressions and makes a further. I think over 75 commitments, across a range of policy areas. And these span: education, health, safety, the workplace and really seek to position the UK even as a world leader in LGBT equalities.

Christine Garrington  1:11  

Now you’ve recently written an article where you’ve cast something of a critical eye over the plan I think it’s fair to say, tell us what was your thinking behind doing this, why were you doing it? 

Yvette Taylor  1:21  

My project, and my interests really sits within a broader. CILIA, the acronym is Comparing Intersectional Life Course Inequalities amongst LGBTQI+ Citizens in Four European Countries, and I wanted to think about ideas of progression – are LGBT plus lives getting better? Are they getting better and these key areas – housing, education, health and so on, or despite the policymaking are we really where we have been for many years? Are things actually regressing? So really thinking about this idea of progression and how it’s claimed and positioned in policymaking.

Christine Garrington  1:59  

And I’m guessing that progress is something that’s both quite hard to define and measure so what was your approach to scrutinising the plan in the in this way that you wanted to?

Yvette Taylor  2:10  

When I think that progress for LGBT plus lives. I always have that question of who exactly are we talking about – I think there has been a tendency to group LGBT as one entity. And we know that there are diversities within that. The CILIA project involves mapping a lot of policy work across the different country contracts and this is key, in the UK. I want to think more about that, discursive construction of progress from policy makers from politicians in what has been invoked, who is been imagined as part of a UK LGBT equalities? And what life values, ideas have been brought forward? I wanted to think about progress and I think the LGBT Action Plan does this and it thinks about the progress that UK has made across time. 

Christine Garrington  3:01  

Can you give us some examples of some sort of concrete things that you would be focusing in on?

Yvette Taylor  3:04 

From the 80s a key policy then was section 28, which was the cause which bans the promotion of homosexuality, defend the family unit was the language used in that policy. So from those 80s policies which were very much anti LGBT lives to current times have we seen progression in the UK? Can it make that claim that things are getting better? Is the UK better than other country contexts? And that’s something that I think has to remain a question. I don’t think we can gage that from the LGBT Action Plan although grand claims are made there.

Christine Garrington  3:41  

So what did you actually go on to do then Yvette?

Yvette Taylor  3:44  

We looked at the national LGBT survey, which the action plan, draws upon it draws its data from that so in many ways, the national LGBT survey is quite a depressing document. It highlights that for example hate crime, is still an issue that people do feel unsafe with the same gender partner, there’s problems in schools and universities and so on. And so I tracked the usage of the national LGBT Survey, including an action plan. And when the action plan was launched it was launched with a lot of media attention. I was really interested in the way both Theresa May and Penny Mourdaunt who was the then Minister for Women Inequalities both positioned themselves as allies of LGBT community.

Christine Garrington  4:34  

Yeah and so when you scrutinise those key speeches from Penny Mourdaunt and Theresa May what what did you make of them? What did you conclude?

Yvette Taylor  4:40  

On the one hand it is quite celebratory rhetoric and it’s quite a happy story. So on the one hand it’s quite easy to be seduced by that happy story I suppose. But what I would say is that is quite individualising and desexualized rhetoric, so people are referred to as in terms of their sexual orientation that’s quite an individualistic language rather than members of an LGBT community, which has been political and active in policy making. Progress as measured through normative thresholds. So it is about being depoliticized, being recognised as a normal citizen, a good worker, a good consumer. So one of the examples, Theresa May and Penny Mourdaunt gave are just just couples getting on with their lives and being able to hold hands in public. Now it might not surprise members of the LGBT plus community that of course, I this is an issue in LGBT life but both, both women expressed surprise that people couldn’t just get on with living normal lives. And I kind of tried to interrogate what it meant to live a normal life. And what is with is becoming good future citizens where imagined in that document.

Christine Garrington  6:02  

You just mentioned there and a little bit earlier that the amount of debate there is around the use of acronyms in this context. So your DIAL research project refers to the LGBTQI plus reflecting a much wider range of sexual and gender identities, did the plan reflect this or not? Did you, did you, think?

Yvette Taylor  6:20  

I think that’s always a difficulty even in academic research. We know that these are not just discrete categories and will always surpass our categorization but nonetheless have political feelings, it was an interesting queer, in particular, was dropped and that maybe becomes a more sanitised and imagined. And when I think of LGBT community that queer is deliberately political and disruptive, and reimagines and contests gender, sexualities so beyond orientation, for example. Another option the dropping off the I – intersex which is increasingly being used and community context and contact academics to say, look, we need some more resources what attention. More interrogation of this. I think of an academic and I am appreciative that as an ongoing contestation, and what can never capture community but I think that’s on the other hand it does feel a bit of our reductions for it to be explicitly LGBT action plan.

Christine Garrington  7:26  

How clear an understanding, would you say the plan does show of the inequalities that have been faced by the many individuals and communities in this in these groups? And how those inequalities manifest themselves reproduce themselves and become really entrenched over the life course? And indeed across generations? I mean I think that’s the sort of the big question is that really in many respects.

Yvette Taylor  7:51  

So the national LGBT survey which the action plan draws on really samples a much younger than average UK populations so I think nearly 70% fall within the 16 to 34 age group. And so I don’t think there is that attentiveness to the enduring legacies of any inequalities, sometimes it is easier to focus on that story of hardship, particularly for younger people, and then that becomes a dominant story, and I really want to interrogate that and think about how older and younger people are imagining their past, present and futures beyond those kinds of go to areas in the action plan. Theresa May in launching the action plan referred back to Section 28 and said you know here in this room that I am in just now there was a key piece of legislation section 28 which is homophobic, and it shouldn’t. It should never have happened, and I apologise for that. But on the other hand, while it is a welcome apology, in some respects it is a key enduring sticking point and I think many of our participants talked about the legacy of Section 28, in imagining their past, the present and their future, so I’m really talking about how at school sexuality wasn’t really discussed and the affect that that had had on their lives. 

Christine Garrington  9:17  

So an apology doesn’t necessarily quite cut it and certainly doesn’t draw a line under under it, does it?

Yvette Taylor  9:23  

No exactly

Christine Garrington  9:25  

Yeah. So the plan again talks about progress made over time when it comes to changing attitudes, laws, better rights and positions the UK – as you said right at the beginning – as one of the best countries in Europe for this. It would seem that your analysis doesn’t doesn’t concur really with that.

Yvette Taylor  9:43 

Yeah, I think we have to be cautious of those claims. The action plan doesn’t do a lot of comparative work so these other risky, dangerous criminal places are invoked and of course, within that the UK’s quite bad legacy of treatment towards LGBT plus people isn’t raised and says okay well we are a world leader right now. I think that’s really an empirical question to investigate. What countries are doing better? Certainly this is quite a new statement for a UK government to say we are leading in this field and I think that should also, always be subject to testing. In the Scottish context there has been a lot of grand claims around Scotland being world leading in terms of LGBT equalities and that that is often pitted against specifically Englishness so, I think, yeah, I think there’s a bit of a battle and we can question that we can think actually are the resources following those claims? The action plan promised a lot of resourcing to tackle inequality. It can be asked, where that money goes? Is it going into a third sector, non-government organisations which are often tasked up with doing the work on the ground of equalities.

Christine Garrington  11:06  

Now, the other thing is of course the nature of policymaking. A great deal has happened between the launch of the plan and where we’re at now – we’ve got a new government, we’re no longer members of the European Union, where does that leave us to your think? And what should policy makers who are currently working in this area to take away from your critique of this plan?

Yvette Taylor  11:25  

I think we’re in interesting times many people did express a fear around what that could lead to. Would that lead to a retraction of rights? Where human rights have been enshrined and established really by the EU Charter for Fundamental Rights. Would there be a going back on legislation like the Equalities Act? Whether or not we think that would really happen that is a real fear for people. Against that, because my fieldwork was in Scotland so people did think is this an opportunity for Scotland to be more aligned to Europe?

Christine Garrington  12:00  

You have obviously you talk about like a critique of a plan but your research project more widely you’ve you’ve hinted at some of the things that are coming through but what’s been sort of done so far, as far as the wider project is concerned?

Yvette Taylor  12:13

It is really interesting. It is a project with Scotland, England, Germany and Portugal. Quite different legislative context. And now some of them are not in Europe working within the rapidly changing political context. Part of that with the policy analysis. Which we have talked about. Another crucial part, as the collection of interviews so we have each done between 45 and 60 interviews we are now going through the analysis of what people are saying is important in their lives. It is across the life course so rather than focusing on younger people in particular as these risky subjects and then kind of forgotten about it when the age, so particularly what does LGBT older life look like? How can you situate LGBT life beyond and beyond sexuality and gender? How do they also inhabit class, racialized positions?

Christine Garrington  13:05  

Like you said, it’s really very much still early days and we’ll have the chance to talk again I hope about findings from the study but you’ve hinted at some things but one if you can give us a taste of at least of what you’re hearing from the people that you’ve spoken with so far?

Yvette Taylor  13:19  

Sometimes the older people are saying things like younger people have it easier, there’s, there’s more places to go, there’s more recognition of rights and so on, but I think, quickly able to think about the continuations that are endured and inequalities and things to still be overcome. Many are pointing towards, friends and community, rather than just family so if you go back to the action plan it talks about living a normal life, being part of a workforce, being part of a family. And I think many of our respondents kind of stretch those normative ideas to think and so thinking about say friends and family, thinking about politics is still relevant in their lives. One of the things we need to know more about that is the way that class, for example, and race part of that story and living in the LGBT life.

Christine Garrington  14:16 

I was struck and it goes back to the very beginning of our conversation which works rather rather well I think this, the whole thing about Section 28. And you held an event where you invited people to write reflective postcards to people, including Margaret Thatcher, whose government, as you pointed out was responsible for Section 28. And on one postcard it said, quite simply to Margaret Thatcher “you lost”. And I wonder, did she or is it very much an ongoing battle?

Yvette Taylor  14:46 

The event was really interesting and it was really powerful, I think, to, to read people’s postcards back to key figures – Margaret Thatcher, but it was also postcards back to their younger selves so what would they have said to themselves at that time? So there were powerful and poignant and politicised as well. I think there were moments where people recognise, actually, there’s a lot of battles to be fort and unfortunately we find ourselves repeating ourselves as well. Arguing for more inclusive LGBT curriculum, arguing for Charter Marks and workplaces in universities. Having Stonewall or LGBT Youth Scotland, for example, provide training but these weren’t automatic that people did recognise there was a lot of work to do, across the across the UK I think that is true. I did attend our reception at the Scottish Parliament and it was to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of Section 28. And it was very celebratory again in tone but it led me to think about who is not at that event? What differences within the LGBT plus communities do we still have to attend to and you know it  was notable that was, I think, an all-white event. Older people that could be represented better at these events, disabled people could be represented more at these events. So who is not in the queue to get into that event? Who is not getting through those kind of doors?

Christine Garrington  16:27

The UK government LGBT Action Plan: Discourses of progress, enduring stasis, and LGBTQI+ lives ‘getting better’ is research by Matson Lawrence and Yvette Taylor and is published in the Critical Social Policy Journal. The work is part of the NORFACE funded DIAL project Comparing Intersectional Life Course Inequalities amongst LGBTQI+ Citizens in Four European Countries. More information is available on DIAL’s website at Please subscribe to the podcast to make sure you get our latest episodes.