What has sexual orientation and gender identity got to do with sustainable travel?

The answer in theory should be nothing  – but in reality for some people is it could be everything.

So before we start – just to clear up some acronyms – or alphabet soup as it often seems to look.

Most are probably familiar with Lesbian, Gay, Bi Sexual, Transgender – but some may have noticed the acronym now included Q and I and A and plus sign

Q can be for queer (which some people in the LGBT community don’t like) or Q questioning

A can be for asexual or agender  – who are people who don’t feel any sexual attraction or that their gender identity fits the male and female binary – or A can even be for someone who is an ally (or supporter) of the LGBT community

I is intersex – a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the boxes of “female” or “male”.

And plus is almost a catch all for anyone else who feels the “traditional” descriptions of sexual orientation or gender identity don’t fit them.

I’m just going to stick with LGBT – for expediency and to avoid tripping over the acronym

So what does this have to do with how people travel – well to understand that it probably worth a quick plotted recap of LGBT history.

In the UK 1967 it was illegal to be gay – a criminal offence – and it wasn’t until 2001 that the age of consent was equalised with that of opposite sex couples of age of 16 – meaning that a 18 year man could be put on the sexual offenders register for having a relationship with his 17 year old boyfriend.

And of course not forgetting while legal in the UK around the world today there are still 71 nations where there are laws against homosexuality.

In 1998 – section 28 was introduced and not repealed until 2003 effectively banning local authorities’ for supporting it LGBT constituents with education materials because they promoted an “alternative lifestyle”

LGBT people weren’t allowed to serve in the armed forces until 2001

And couldn’t adopt children until 2002

A homosexual relationship couldn’t have recognition as a legal partnership until 2004

In 2004 the Gender recognition act was passed giving trans people full legal recognition in their appropriate gender.

Not until 2010 and the equality act was the equal treatment in access to employment as well as private and public services, granted to people regardless of gender reassignment and sexual orientation.

2011 – the Department of Health lifts the lifetime ban on gay and bi men donating blood.

There is a saying; “if I’m not counted I don’t count” and it wasn’t until 2021 – that LGBT people were recognised and counted in the national UK census

So actually until those figures are released we don’t even know how many LGBT people there are in the UK – guestimates vary from 2% (1.1 million people) but within age demographics this also varies with suggestions that Generation Z only 66% of 16-22 year olds identify as exclusively straight.

So no one knows if that a true reflection of the population as a whole if it’s now the case that its easier for people to feel more at ease with their identify. But for many LGBT+ people living through the timeline I’ve outlined – you kind of feel that as a LGBT you aren’t liked or included very much – which is further highlighted by verbal and physical abuse that many LGBT people suffer – whether that the bullies in school playground to verbal and physical attacks which still happen on our streets – but often go unreported.

The impact of this can be significant – in terms of physical and mental wellbeing – and as a means of self-protection LBGT people can be cautious about being themselves around others, self-censoring themselves from activities or spaces they don’t feel safe in.

So for starters public transport and walking might not be a very appealing option or feel safe for LGBTQIA+ people – especially on late nights out after last orders has been called.

The impact of this history and lived experience for some LGBT people also leads to isolation, alcohol and drug abuse, depression, and suicide – all of which have documented evidence to say this occurs disproportionally higher in LGBT people than then general population.

Similarly there is survey evidence to show much higher proportions of physical inactivity in LGBT people compared to the general population.

So against this backdrop – how many LGBT people participate in physical activities linked to sustainable travel such as cycling? The answer often seems to be – we don’t know?

Organisations seem comfortable and able to collect data age, on the number of women, ethnic minorities and disabled participants – and funding rightly so is directed to projects and initiatives that target these groups with the aims of increasing participation amongst this demographic.

However it would appear there is very little, if any, data collection around sexual orientation or even necessarily a recognition as to the need as to why this might be an important area of work to consider or to fund. Which potentially is missing a gap in the market for a demographic of the community less physically activity than the general population and whole also could reap the health, wellbeing and active travel benefits that cycling brings.

So do we have any positive role models in cycling sport for example to demonstrate that LGBT people are considered and included. In May 2021 Cycling Weekly ran an article to say;

‘There is a conspicuous absence of openly LGBTQ+ riders in the pro peloton … of the 978 riders in the men’s pro peloton, none are gay … the probability that all are straight is one in ten trillion’

It wasn’t until 3 months ago in August 2021 that of the 415 men who make up the U.K.’s most elite professional bike riders, that Clay Davies came out as gay.

And sadly his experience doesn’t paint a great picture of an inclusive environment in the world of cycling – which probably explains the reluctance for those who are gay to come out, or may be a reason why gay riders leave or potentially never join in the first place.

So do LGBT people rides bikes – well yes some do – but given their lived experience  – the space they feel safe to do this is often within specific LGBT friendly organisations such as PrideOUT, Cycleout London & SpokeOUT. Groups were there isn’t going to be that awkward assumption that you have a partner of the opposite sex or where the banter has homophobic (and sexist) undertones often associated with groups of straight men asserting their masculinity. But these grassroots groups are often under-resourced and are run by volunteers who have to raise their own funds to support and encourage the LGBT community to participate in cycling.

In the world of sustainable travel we have seen some brilliant projects reaching out to women, to ethnic minorities and to the disabled.

Are we confident those same initiatives are also reaching to the LGBT community? And how do we know that?

So for example – Do our cycle hire centres, country parks, public transport providers fly the rainbow flag or even the Pride Progress flag on May 17th for international day against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia – the date coincidently chosen to recognise that it was only in 1990 that the decision was made by the World Health Organization to remove homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseased.

Do our “family bike rides” publicity materials feature same sex couples?

Do we take our sustainable travel and adult cycle training publicity materials to local Pride events, to local LGBT charity groups that support young people or provide opportunities and places for members of the LGBT community to meet.

Indeed does anyone collect sexual orientation data on participation in events or on new schemes when completing an equality impact assessment do we put “not applicable” in the box that says “sexual orientation”?

So to end my question and challenge to everyone is can we be the A for

ally in LGBTQIA+ to make sure we count and include this community in the work that we do.

This article was written and delivered at the Annual Modeshift Convention by our current East and West Midlands Board Member, Rob Bounds. 


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