Leadership Spotlight: Paul Martin OBE, chief exec of the LGBT Foundation

The LGBT Foundation can trace its roots back 40 years when it was launched to provide support for gay men coming out following the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. Today they provide a range of support services to 40,000 people a year in the lesbian, gay, bi and trans communities. Their CEO, Paul Martin, spoke to Thomas Barrett about why hate crime is on the rise and when we might see the first trans MP.

What’s top of the agenda at the foundation?

Recently we’ve worked a lot with Government. There’s going to be an LGBT action plan launched soon and we’ve worked with them trying to shape that to the needs of LGBT people in Greater Manchester and the north-west. We hope it will promise significant movement, particularly around public services being more inclusive.

There needs to be better monitoring of sexual orientation and of the trans status of people using the services, because if you’re not counted you don’t count, and quite often LGBT’s people’s needs are absent from the public discourse because there’s no evidence to support the issues that they face.

Why are reports of hate crime against people in the LBGT community on the rise?

In part, police forces are much better at promoting how to report hate crimes and showing people that it’s not to be tolerated. Also, LGBT people are much less likely to accept discrimination and prejudice, so they are much more likely to come forward and report behaviour that’s abusive or inappropriate.

In a post-Brexit society, we’ve seen hate crime rise in the north-west, particularly against asylum seekers. We’re living in an age where we are encouraged to be wary of our neighbours.

We’re embarking on a progressive moment of social change and sometimes it moves a bit too fast for people. I never want to think that people are carrying hatred because of who people love or how they identify, but it’s true. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen some very vicious attacks that have been carried out against gay men or trans people for showing affection to their partners in public.

Overall, I do think it’s getting better. We’re becoming a more tolerant nation. My hope is that LGBT people will be fully accepted and embraced as we move forward with the equality agenda.

A lot of hate crime is now done online. How has the internet changed the LGBT community?

We’ve been able to reach out to many more thousands of people had the internet not been in existence. We have online programs that support people, including around dating sites and apps, and our social media promotes safe sex or how to report a hate crime.

The internet has helped to reduce isolation. For LGBT people growing up in areas where there are no LGBT positive role models around them, they often turn to the internet to seek friendship and solace and recognise that they are not alone.

The dark side of that is we have seen a significant rise in cyberbullying. Young people, in particular, have been targeted because they’re different. They’ve been victimised and bullied and we have seen a horrendous amount of online trolling. That’s not just aimed at LGBT people but anyone who puts their head above the parapet online can be shot down on sight.

Overall the internet has been tremendously positive because it’s significantly improved our ability and increased our networks. There are now many more opportunities for people to educate themselves, to protect themselves, and to have their voices heard.

When will we see the first trans MP?

We do have trans councillors and we have many trans people involved in politics. It will only be a matter of time until there is an MP. The public mood is improving all the time. But at the moment there are concerns about how trans people are being treated in the mainstream media.

Any step forward in terms of social justice or social improvement there’s often a rearguard that’s fought. We saw the same with the age of consent, same-sex marriage and now we’re seeing it again in terms of gender equality and trans rights. There have been a number of trans candidates but I suspect they’ve not been elected because of their political party as opposed to the fact that people wouldn’t elect an openly trans person. It will come.

A lot of the services provided by the foundation are based on addiction. Why are LGBT people vulnerable to these problems?

Any group of people who experience very particular discrimination can often turn to self-harming behaviours and self-medication. We can see from the evidence for some LGBT people they are much more likely to drink, to take drugs, to smoke, and are likely to do these things for longer than other people in the community.

The drug and alcohol services we provide here are phenomenally popular and we have an awful lot of people coming for these services, and we have many people who are engaging in very addictive and self-harming behaviours. What’s important with the work we’re doing is, we are providing a safe and affirmative space, and we are not pathologizing peoples sexual orientation.

What are your feelings about the Manchester terror attacks, 12 months on?

Manchester responded tremendously. It is incredibly sad that 22 people lost their lives and many more were very badly injured. We must never forget that there were over 60 people who were badly injured either, and they are still suffering from the consequences. That was tragic, but there has been an amazing coming together and the spirit of Manchester has been phenomonal. I’m incredibly proud of my adopted city. I think from real tragedy, amazing things have happened and will continue to happen.


Thomas Barrett
Senior journalist - NewStart Follow him on Twitter


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