Conservative politicians in Wiltshire, England, are stamping down on funding for county-funded youth LGBT services.
Leading the charge is local Tory councilor, Mary Douglas, who is ‘uncomfortable’ with providing council funding to one particular project celebrating gay history.
The present, precarious status for LGBT youth support follows a progressive paring back of provision by Wiltshire County Council since 2014; to scrap what was once a comprehensive youth service including youth centers and specialist youth workers, and split the budget out into other areas.
LGBT funding went into the public health pot which, sources now say has now run out of money.
The only money left for this increasingly marginalized group now sits with Local Area Boards, of which Wiltshire has 18, with decisions on the allocation of funds in the hands of the councilors on each board.
In 2016, the Arts Council agreed to fund a project, the Fabric of Life in Salisbury, looking back, through the lens of fashion, at LGBT history over the 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalized.
Earlier this month, the project organizers approached Salisbury Area Board for a grant of £4,750. Over three-quarters of this sum would have gone to an artist.
Already vetted by council officials and the Local Youth Network to confirm that it complied with council guidelines and met local need, there was a strong case for backing this project.
However, last week at its meeting at Five Rivers Leisure Centre in Salisbury, the Conservative-dominated board voted the proposal down by 5 votes to 3. Two councilors present at the meeting tell GSN that Board Chair and Conservative Councilor Mary Douglas described the bid as ‘political’ and stated that it made her feel ‘uncomfortable’.
Lib Dem councilor and former chair of the Salisbury Board Brian Dalton said: ‘I understand the pressure for cuts and the need to meet local needs. However, when I was chair, we did not – as the Tories do now – have pre-meetings to carve up who would get what, and it is very clear that the Tories arrived at last week’s meeting having already decided they did not want money to go to a LGBT project.
‘Mary Douglas took particular exception not just to the proposal which, she said, made her feel “uncomfortable”, but also to its use of the word “ally” which, she explained, she had looked up in the OED [Oxford English Dictionary], and clearly meant the proposal was political.’
He went on: ‘I have emailed the Chair and complained about her handling of the meeting.
‘She should let people speak freely, especially members of the public who turned up to speak, but she just asked the Board to vote and moved on. She should chair the meeting, instead of treating it like a public platform.’
‘If they bring their personal agendas into the grant-giving arena, they are not fit to hold public office’
According to Ricky Rogers, a Labour councilor who, until last week was an adviser to the Salisbury Local Youth Network (LYN), the situation is even worse. He told us: ‘For last four years, there has been a small amount of money that young people have control over, through the auspices of LYN, and Boards have accepted whatever they recommend.
‘At this, the first board post-election [council elections took place 8 May in England], the Conservatives changed the rules, deciding that young people may propose, but the final say sits with them. They also attempted to vote down support for Life Rocks, an initiative for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.’
He went on: ‘If they bring their personal agendas into the grant-giving arena, they are not fit to hold public office.
‘The Area Board is meant to be there to support all of the local community, but now some sections are being marginalized.
Rogers resigned from Salisbury LYN at the meeting.
We asked Mary Douglas, who hit the national headlines in 2013 for her outspoken opposition to same-sex, about the criticism to the decision.
She responded: ‘The Area Board welcomes grant applications from every part of the community and is delighted to be able to contribute where we can.
‘In response to concern that reference to ‘allies’ suggested a political element, it was explained that the project’s purpose was to combat bullying. Salisbury Area Board has previously funded projects to directly benefit those who identify as LGBT.
‘The pot of money is limited, and has been reduced this year, so we are not able to guarantee that every application will be successful.
‘In this particular case it was decided to refuse the application as the small number of young people directly involved did not represent community-wide benefit, and the main project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (£36K) would go ahead anyway without SAB funding.’
Douglas did not dispute that she had used the term ‘uncomfortable’ during the board meeting.
Conservative parliamentary hopeful and, until last month, MP for Salisbury, John Glen is another individual who has previously expressed skepticism over gay rights – most notably over gay marriage. Last month he posted on Twitter his clear his support for the re-election of Ms. Douglas.
Stratford residents keen to see Mary Douglas returned on May 4th – Conservatives working hard for Salisbury pic.twitter.com/ujyM7Xko2h
— John Glen (@JohnGlenUK) April 22, 2017
We reached out to him in an effort to clarify whether he also is ‘uncomfortable’ with support being provided to LGBTI communities, but at time of publication have not yet heard back from him.