There’s a long way to go for LGBTQ activism in the UK

Marble Arch illuminated to support Pride in London 2019. Image courtesy of Marble Arch London BID, English Heritage and Westminster City Council. © Michael Pilkington

“As someone who grew up in Manchester and narrowly escaped homelessness when I was rejected by my family, akt’s mission will always speak directly to me,” says Tim Sigsworth, CEO of Albert Kennedy Trust. “However, it’s the incredible young people we see every day who inspire me, and us all, to continue the work that we do.”

February is LGBT History Month, a time to celebrate LGBTQ rights, to learn more about our history and the people who forged it, but also to look at ways of affecting change in the future. Tim Sigsworth has been at the forefront of the LGBTQ rights movement in the UK for many years, campaigning particularly for LGBTQ homeless youth. He is currently the CEO of Albert Kennedy Trust (akt) and was awarded an MBE in 2016 for his work with the LGBTQ community.

Shockingly, in the UK, a quarter of young homeless people are LGBTQ. Albert Kennedy Trust help LGBTQ homeless youth (16 – 25). Sometimes young LGBTQ people come out to their families and experience rejection. With their support structures removed, it is easy to see how they end up on the streets or sofa surfing. 

Tim has long been an inspiration of mine and it is a pleasure supporting the incredible work of akt. LGBT History Month, for Tim “is about recognising and reflecting on the journey towards LGBTQ equity and equality we’ve travelled as a community, in particular over the last fifty years. There are so many amazing people within the Queer and Trans community and so many go uncelebrated – we need to address that.”

This really resonated with me. We have seen tremendous legislative change in the UK. Tim emphasises: “For akt, it has to be the equalizing of the age of consent. Finally young people were no longer judged as criminals under the law for being who they are. This was a historic moment and changed the lives of so many young people, including those supported by akt.”

This legislative change has to be contextualised. Tim observes: “While we have achieved a certain amount of equality under the law, there’s a long way to go for LGBTQ activism in the UK, as so many people continue to experience rejection and discrimination in our society. We might have made political progress but socially, we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Tim Sigsworth

When pressed to choose one moment from his time working with akt, Tim reiterates that: “Young people continue to give us all at akt wonderful moments – they are inspiring. Their resilience, positivity and outlook are so inspiring. However, a highlight for me has to be when we first opened Purple Door, the UK’s first emergency support house for LGBTQ young people. We are so proud of Purple Door and those young people who have been helped through this project over the years.”

Albert Kennedy Trust has secured historic change around youth homelessness in the UK. Tim highlights that, going forwards, the akt has “three key policy asks of politicians: mandatory monitoring of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and homelessness services, preventing lifetimes of homelessness for LGBTQ young people and safe and affordable housing for LGBTQ young people. We work with parliamentarians and decision-makers to help take the steps toward ensuring these asks will become a reality.”

LGBT History Month provides not just an opportunity for us to learn about our shared histories, but also to grow as individuals. As an activist myself, I was keen to find out if Tim had any advice for other LGBTQ campaigners: “akt was established by an ally and today trans people in particular face so much hostility; so you may not be the one under attack but it’s still your fight.

“We need to work in partnership and support one another. Uniting together is vital for us to be strong as a community, and as a sector, and it’s vital we put our focus into social activism at this time where so many of us still face oppression and discrimination.”

Albert Kennedy Trust, under Tim’s leadership, has helped thousands of young LGBTQ people into accommodation, enabled them to access benefits, continue their education, find work, whilst also providing emotional support  and encouragement. In many cases Tim has probably saved these young people’s lives.

If you would like to learn more about akt, then please check out their website here.

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