I am proud of Labour’s record on LGBT rights. It has been at the forefront of the legislative struggle towards equality over the past decades. As a movement we have given voice to the injustices faced when few others would, and our time in government showed that when Labour wins progress is made.
However, whilst our LGBT record stands as a pillar within Labour’s history books, we must never rest on past successes. Over the past years many have asked: what next after equal marriage? Well I can tell you, a lot.
From bullying in schools to sexual health, further protections in work to the need for openness in society, there are many arenas for LGBT activists to fight in. Further still, focus, visibility and activism on trans rights must be at the heart of what we do in order to achieve much needed progress.
As Deputy Leader, I will ensure Labour is fit for the next chapter of the LGBT movement’s story. I want a party truly open to all, proper process for reporting discrimination of any kind, and the support and resources to help the next generations of LGBT activists stand and be voices in our communities.
In 1997 I saw bigotry first hand, but I also saw what progress really means. As the homophobia of my Tory opponent was declared lost, I joined my colleague Stephen Twigg on the benches of the Commons. I will never let liberation become a fringe debate in Labour, and together Labour can continue to do the same in society.
As a leading member of the Labour party, how have you contributed to furthering LGBT equality? What advancement in LGBT rights have you supported which you are most proud of and why?
I was the first openly gay politician to be selected and elected in Britain. My opponent in Exeter in 1997 was a leading homophobe, Dr Adrian Rogers, who ran the "Conservative Family Campaign". It was a bitter and high profile contest and resulted in Labour getting the biggest swing to our Party in the South West. I was involved in and supportive of all the legislation delivering equality and ending statutory discrimination under the last Labour Government - immigration rights, equalising the age of consent, adoption, ending the military ban, civil partnerships, outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods and services and scrapping Section 28. I am proud of all of it and believe the progress that was made under the last Labour Government on LGBT equality is among our greatest achievements. I have always been a supporter of Stonewall, am a Trustee of the Terrence Higgins and support the international LGBT rights organisation, Kaleidoscope.
What do you think is the most pressing issue affecting the LGBT community and how would you want a future Labour Government to improve the situation?
HIV AIDS and sexual health is still a major issue, as is bullying in schools. We need mandatory sex and relationship education in schools. Trans rights is still unfinished business. We still don't have truly equal marriage, with trans rights having been sidelined in the debate and the legislation. Homophobia is still rife in many walks of life - sport for example and in our main faith organisations. The next Labour Government will need to pick up where we left off and address all these areas clearly and resolutely.
The role of deputy leader is particularly important in the structures and organisation of the Party. What would you do to ensure there is better representation of LGBT people as elected representatives in national and local government, as well as in European Parliament and London Assembly elections?
It was fantastic to see a record number of Labour LGBT candidates at the last election. However, it is clear that much more work needs to be done in attracting L and B women and Trans candidates to stand . The same applies to other elections. We must be a fully open and inclusive Party and we need proper procedures and structures to safeguard against discrimination. The Chris Smith list does a great job, but we should have more formal support and mentoring for LGBT candidates.
Trans* and non-binary people can face specific barriers to being active inside the Labour Party and in holding elected office. How would you reach out to and engage with trans* members and the wider trans* community?
The debate has for too long been dominated by just lesbian and gay rights. It must be broader, as must our accessibility and openness to trans and non-binary people. There should be a non binary option when joining the Labour Party. It was wonderful to see Emily Brothers standing, but, as I say above, we must do better at attracting and supporting trans candidates at all levels.
How do you think the Labour Party can best organise in Northern Ireland to tackle the growing divide in equality for LGBT communities in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK?
We need to work with all progressive forces in Northern Ireland on equality. I've spoken at LGBT events in Northern Ireland and LGBT Labour needs to continue to be active there. If we can make the progress have have in the Irish Republic, we can do so too in the Northern Ireland.
What action would you take to change the way the party is structured and organises in a manner which promotes equality? Do you agree there should be a reserved space for LGBT Labour and Disability Labour on the NEC?
Yes I do agree there should be reserved spaces for LGBT Labour and Disability Labour on the NEC. I have suggested other ways we can improve the organisation and structures of the Party to promote equality in answers above.