the uk’s lgbt charities are under threat
First they came for our saunas. Then they came for our poppers. Now they’re coming for our charities.
In recent months, an alarming number LGBT charities have been forced to shut their doors, with many others looking set to follow suit. Last month, Pace, a London-based charityworking on LGBT mental health unexpectedly shut up shop. Just last week, the UK's only LGBT domestic violence charity, Broken Rainbow, announced that it is once again facing closure. Now Mosaic Youth, a North London charity supporting young LGBT people with counselling, mentoring and a youth club will become the next victim.
As ever, the picture is even bleaker outside the confines of London. Since 2010, the number of LGBT youth groups in the North West run by local councils has dropped by a staggering 58%. Of the 35 charities once providing invaluable support to struggling queers, only 15 remain.
LGBT service providers aren't just comforting yet irrelevant safety nets now that #LoveWins. They're the ones supporting the trans kids driven to suicide by brutal, state-sanctioned hatred. They're the ones who are helping queers cope with the stigma of HIV as the pandemic rages on. They're the ones rescuing people of all genders and sexualities from life-threatening domestic abuse. They aren't a privilege, or a relic of a bygone era. They're saving lives on a daily basis.
David Cameron might have said that when it comes to austerity "we're all in this together", but the reality is that services relied on by this community are being hit especially hard. According to the LGBT Consortium, the largest network of LGBT groups, projects and organisations in the UK, only 0.04% of third sector funding makes its way to their membership. Claims that this is disproportionately small are hard to argue with when Stonewall estimates that 5 to 7% of the UK population is LGBT.
The problems we face aren't unique to our community, but their causes often are. In the toxic maelstrom of homophobic bullying at schools, marginalisation of trans people, and with the absence of adequate LGBT sexual and relationship education in class, it should come as no surprise that 34% of young LGB people and 48% of young trans people attempt suicide, that 24% of homeless youth are LGBT, and 80% of trans people will experience domestic violence at some point during their lives.
For young people, experiences of racism, sexism and xenophobia are all too prevalent, but within families there are places to turn. A racist slur on the school bus, or an Islamaphobic comment in the park can be devastating, but there's comfort and support to be found from those around you; parents and siblings will likely have shared experiences and can empathise. For young LGBT people, however, there's no such luxury. Sexuality isn't a point of common ground. It's places like Mosaic that give you somewhere to turn.
"Without these spaces, where can young people be supported and challenged, or educated about what it means to be LGBT?" says Lukasz Konieczka, Director of Mosaic, "Where will they go? Nightclubs? Grindr?" Clubs and hook-up apps have their place, but present an array of dangers for vulnerable young people.
From 1st April, Luckasz and his team will be made redundant, but contingency plans are in place. "I'll be working for free from then onwards, as will my team," he explains. "We'll have to work other jobs to support ourselves, but we can't simply turn over the keys. I wouldn't sleep at night."
"We'll have to fundraise hard, living hand to mouth," Luckasz continues, "it's hardly ideal, but we're committed to volunteering to deliver our core services, everything else is on hold."
A crowdfunding page has been set up with a target of £15k, just enough to keep the lights on while the team volunteer their time for free. If they can't make enough money to pay the bills then they'll have to shut down completely.
However, this is anything but sustainable. In recent years, LGBT charities have become reliant on contracts with local authorities for a variety of reasons. In interviews, many explained their work still had limited appeal for people outside of their community. According to Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids, a trans support charity helping young people with gender identity issues, "people still perceive kids questioning their gender identities as being different, weird, confused." This remains one of the barriers to broader public support.
The ability of queer individuals to donate privately to these charities must also be considered. Research by the Institute for the Study of Labor recently found that gay men earn on average 5% less than their heterosexual counterparts in the UK. Trans people too face a plethora of barriers in the workplace, from discrimination at interviews to harassment while on the job.
Income inequality is clearly still a problem, but the higher rates of disposable income in the LGB community - the pink pound - implies that there might yet be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Marriage equality campaigns in the UK, Ireland and the US raised funds on an unprecedented scale. Why hasn't that same money trickled down to grassroots service providers?
Where money is reaching LGBT charities, it's most often finding large organisations, notably Stonewall. While their lobbying work is invaluable, they don't provide vital services on the ground. In Susie Green's words, "Who's going to answer the phone to vulnerable people in desperate need of on-going support?"
"There's a big difference between a campaigning organisation like Stonewall and grassroots organisations like ours", says Mosaic's Luckasz. "Stonewall do a lot of corporate training, for companies that can pay, and this money goes back into their campaigns, but there's no local connection."
Smaller organisations don't have the marketing budgets to get their messages and needs out, nor cash in the bank to hold gala dinners at the Ritz, or swanky auctions at Christie's. They're simply experts in keeping our community afloat.
One possible solution being championed by David Bridle, Managing Editor at BOYZ, would be for these smaller charities to come together into a single organisation, cutting down on overheads and pooling expertise.
"I'm thinking we get the leadership and administrations of these charities, and bring them round a table to work together," explains Bridle. "In this new setting, we just can't rely on the state."
This might be an answer for campaign groups, but the reality of delivering counselling for trans teens in Devon and sexual health clinics in Aberdeen from under the same roof is dubious, and risks erasing the area-specific needs of LGBT people outside of London.
We're at crisis point, so what can be done? We need to push this Government to take LGBT issues seriously, not just to sing from the rooftops about same sex marriage, but to give these organisations cold hard cash.
Our own community needs to step up to the plate, actively seeking out those charities that are teetering on the edge; we can't just wait until headlines inform us of closure, because then it's just too late. As LGB people continue to forge out successful careers, thanks to those who struggled before us, we have a responsibility to pay something back.
It's not going to be easy. Research published by the TUC in 2014 was perfectly clear: LGBT charities are facing a reduction in funding at the very same time that demand for their services is soaring. If we don't start acting soon, and ensure these organisations have a future, then the next generation of LGBT people might well be worse off than we are today, with potentially devastating consequences.
Text Michael Segalov & Edward Siddons
Photography Archibald Jude