As Olympians, media, and government officials from around the world stream into Sochi this week for the Winter Games, all eyes will be on the sport-packed action. Sochi's sporting feats, human courage, and exciting victories will be at the heart of the Games, but so too will the style of winning. Journalists are beginning to speculate that the suffering of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Russia will lead winners to accept their medals with gestures of solidarity with LGBT people.
Legislation passed last year by the Duma seeks to curtail the rights of LGBT people in Russia. This state-sanctioned homophobia is a reminder of how far we have come in the UK because of the hard work of our Labour Governments. But, for me personally, Russia stirs memories of my years working in parts of the developing world where, on occasions I witnessed homophobia.
I've always believed you're either equal or you're not. Nobody is half-equal. Working in the developing world from the 1990s, where kicking up a fuss about anti-gay slurs would have landed me in very tricky situations, I did the best that I could: I protested by walking out of rooms and privately challenging opinions.
I wish I could have done more while working in the developing world. That's one of many reasons why I strongly support LGBT rights and why I unreservedly backed equal marriage. I am proud of Labour MPs for supplying the crucial votes needed to pass the Equal Marriage Bill just as I am proud of the last Labour Governments for bringing in civil partnerships, lowering the age of consent, scrapping Section 28, and giving legal recognition to Trans people's true gender. I want to be a Labour MP partly because I want to advance equality and LGBT rights in our country.
Becoming a mother to two young children has also shaped my outlook on equality and deepened my unhappiness with Russia’s anti-gay laws. I want my children to grow up in a world where, whoever they are, they are equal, and I take my son and daughter to Reading Pride to make this point. I am proud that this message is shaping their outlooks.
On our way home from the LGBT Labour stall at last year’s Reading Pride, my son Benedict was stopped in the street by an older gentleman who wanted to know what his many, many 'Never Kissed A Tory' stickers were all about. With complete confidence, my son explained, "Well, some children have two daddies, some have two mummies, and that's alright".
I want to help shape our society to become even more inclusive and diverse. I am saddened by the abandonment of any effort to become an equal and inclusive society in Russia. Our Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities Gloria de Piero is right when she says that Culture Secretary Maria Miller must represent our values when she is in Sochi and show solidarity with LGBT Russians by raising the Government’s concerns about LGBT rights with Russian officials.
We have done so much in the Labour Party to promote LGBT rights at home and around the world. In the years ahead, we can do more to change social attitudes in our country and help LGBT activists in places holding out against the tide of history, like Uganda, Nigeria, and Russia.
I believe it is important to be explicit about where you stand, so when I discovered that I could sign up as a supporting member of LGBT Labour, I did so immediately. You don’t have to be LGBT to sign up and if you want to help LGBT Labour to keep doing its brilliant job of explaining why Labour is the best and natural champion of LGBT causes, please sign up here: http://www.lgbtlabour.org.uk/join.
Together we can help to ensure that every single person is treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of their societies. We should build a more equal and inclusive society in our country, not only because it’s right and proper, but because it gives those suffering in homophobic societies an example that they can draw on, a way to imagine a changed world where they too are treated fairly.
Victoria Groulef is Labour's PPC for Reading West & tweets from @victoriagroulef
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