Why Can’t This Much-Needed LGBT Charity Survive?

photographed by Michael Segalov.
On Saturday evening, just after half past six, one of the UK’s longest running, and most-loved LGBT charities announced its imminent closure. Tomorrow, at the end of the working day, PACE will shut up shop for the final time, after over 30 years of serving London’s queer community. PACE originally opened its doors in 1985, a part of London’s Lesbian and Gay Centre. Back then, it was a group of volunteers providing counselling and support to LGBT people who faced discrimination and homophobia. You can see why it was vital; the political landscape back then was certainly different. Sure, in 1984, just one year earlier, Chris Smith became the UK’s first openly gay MP, but in 1987, Prime Minister at the time Margaret Thatcher told the Tory Party Conference that, “Children, who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values, are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay." Section 28 – a law banning the promotion of homosexuality in Britain – was just on the horizon, and the idea of same sex marriage was nothing more than a pipe dream. PACE therefore, somewhat unsurprisingly, soon found their workload growing to include youth work, training, research, advocacy and mental health support. A fair few decades later, PACE continued to be a vital support network for many living in London and beyond, until, that is, we learned of its closure. “The financial climate is very difficult for small charities,” a statement from the charity reads, “especially those delivering services at a local level with continuing cuts to local authority budgets. “Sadly, despite work to support the charity, raising the necessary income needed has proved increasingly hard and it has become clear that it is no longer financially viable for the charity to continue.”

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With all hands on deck ensuring that service users are as supported as possible after closure, it’s been tough to get hold of someone who works there. But speaking to Refinery29, musician and campaigner Will Young, who was made a patron of the charity in 2013, talked of his sadness at PACE’s closure. “It saddens me that PACE will be disassembling as a charity,” he said. “They have helped so many young LGBT people through direct contact, as well as affiliating with other charitable projects and initiating white paper research.” “Despite the closure, I will continue to strive to improve life for young LGBT people – especially to eradicate the shaming language rife in our schools, woefully ignored by our education secretary. I will not rest until this stops.” The closure of PACE comes at a time when LGBT spaces seem to be disappearing all too regularly. Broken Rainbow, the UK’s only LGBT domestic violence charity, was weeks ago on the brink of closure; a one year lifeline from the Home Office has kept it running for another twelve months, leaving the charity's future precarious. It’s not just organisations that are struggling; LGBT venues are disappearing left, right and centre, London establishments The Black Cap, The Joiners Arms and Green Carnation were lost in 2015, to name just a few. These once-adored places of refuge to those of us who don’t quite fit into the norm are no more. A combination of ever increasing rents in London, and cuts to local authority and central government budgets, is creating an environment that sees venues and support organisations out of action. After all, a chain restaurant or an over-priced cocktail bar are likely to be more profitable than a community space. With this, the provision of vital local services disappears. It’s all too easy to be blasé at moments like this, and undervalue the importance of spaces in which minority groups can feel safe to do as little as sit and talk. David Cameron, speaking back in August last year, exclaimed how “we should be proud to live in a country judged to be the best place in Europe if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans.”

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Only, being the best isn't good enough. Not when, according to The Trevor Project, LGBT young people are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts. Or when, according to the same statistics, nearly half of young trans people have seriously thought about taking their own life, with a deeply worrying quarter admitting to having made an attempt to do so. Stonewall’s 2014 research into homophobia in schools found 86% of secondary school teachers knew pupils in their school suffering homophobic bullying, while two thirds of LGBT people feel they face a bigger risk of being harassed than straight people. This list of statistics goes on. It's no wonder that the title of "best European country for LGBT rights" has been taken away from us since Cameron spoke last August. Without charities, ample provision of care and safe spaces, there’ll be a whole new generation of LGBT kids living without the real support that continues to be needed. Thankfully, groups like Stonewall are continuing to take this fight forwards, with campaigns to wipe out homophobia in schools, and their recent adoption of the trans struggle into their campaign – both important moves forward. Louise Kelly, Information Manager at Stonewall, told Refinery29 that she would “encourage users of [PACE] services to contact Stonewall for advice on other organisations that they may be able to approach.” But large charities can’t exist in isolation; localised support and places of refuge in our towns and cities are core ingredients in making the lives of LGBT people that little bit less tough. David Cameron has announced he’ll find £15 million to pay for a new museum for Margaret Thatcher this year, despite her homophobic rhetoric. It’s just a shame there’s not quite as much money available to keep groups just like PACE ticking along. @MikeSegalov

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