First Published: January 2004
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.
What's described as the greatest piece of guidance ever for local councils as to how best to embrace and serve the gay community in their areas has just been published. New legislation means that local government in the UK now has a legal obligation to treat gay and lesbian employees in a non-discriminatory way, but also places on councils a duty to encourage gay community participation and social cohesion.
Sexuality – the New Agenda, follows the introduction of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 which came into effect at the beginning of December 2003, placing a legal requirement on local councils and other employers to recognise lesbian, gay and bisexual people as equal citizens. It is a tool that should also help councils to fulfil their obligations in relation to community cohesion, social inclusion, best value and community participation in local governance.

The guidance has been jointly produced by the Local Government Association, who represent local councils across the country, and the Employers’ Organisation in partnership with campaign group Stonewall, trade union UNISON and the Association of London Government.

Cllr Laura Willoughby, Chair of the LGA’s Equalities Executive, said: “For too long, sexual orientation has been treated as the poor relation to other equality issues such as race and gender, and with the current patchwork of equalities legislation and the legacy of repealed section 28, local authorities have been unclear how to address discrimination based on sexuality and how best to deliver services to the lesbian, gay and bisexual community.

“New legislation means councils will need to ensure that they are recognising and complying with the rights of homosexual and bisexual employees and residents and this guidance should be the ideal toolkit to show good examples of how this can be done.

“Some authorities are already working well with lesbian, gay and bisexual communities, but there is still discrimination out there which we must tackle. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people do not conform to typical stereotypes and are not a visible community of difference. Councils do not even have census figures to know how large the resident population is. They need to reach those people that may really need the support and services they can offer, as well as make a valuable contribution to the work of the council as a whole.

“Just consulting with recognised bodies has never been and is not enough. Local authorities need to use their roles as community leaders to ensure that the issues that are important to lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are heard and that action is taken to include their needs.

“At all levels within a council, staff and councillors need to be aware of the sensitive issues surrounding sexual orientation, and be committed to wiping out discrimination. Regardless of political preferences, equality is a subject that we must all be committed to. Whether we talk about race, gender, sexual orientation or any other ‘community’, what we are really talking about is people’s lives, and local authorities, as community representatives, have an important role to play in improving the social well-being of their area.”

The Local Government Association is lobbying central government for a single equalities Act that would see all equality issues treated the same. Current legislation and limited resources has forced many local authorities to concentrate on certain aspects of equality to meet centrally-imposed targets at the cost of others. Local government leaders are urging the government to encompass all equality legislation under a single Act and provide the resources needed to tackle issues locally.

The guide produced for local authorities details some of the challenges faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual communities and provides a checklist of actions that councils should follow. It also includes examples of the work that councils are already doing across the country.


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