One of the most uplifting features of politics in recent years has been the huge progress made in the struggle for LGBT equality.
Across the world we’re seeing advances that felt like a distant dream only a few decades ago. Nineteen countries now recognise marriage as a legal right. But there are many countries where homosexuality is punishable by death, and many more where homophobic hatred and violence are commonplace.
As Labour leader and a future Prime Minister I would be committed to standing up for LGBT communities, both at home and abroad. It's a basic issue of principle: everyone has the right be treated equally and with respect.
One of my first political acts was defending the North London gay community centre as a Haringey councillor.
The National Front decided the centre was offensive to the entire community and tried to barricade the place and abuse anyone that was using it. They didn’t reckon that the local community would support the centre.
Government imposed austerity poses new challenges to that struggle for LGBT equality today. Specialist LGBT services are being hit because of the funding cuts to local government and NHS budgets. We have to win the argument that austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity.
I’m a great believer that through dialogue we can open minds, unite people, and change the world. We have many struggles to win – such as equal marriage in Northern Ireland, revoking the ban on gay men giving blood, and for real trans equality. I’m as committed to that struggle today as I have always been.
As a leading member of the Labour party, how have you contributed to furthering LGBT equality? What advancements in LGBT rights have you supported which you are most proud of and why?
I have always supported LGBT rights and it's encouraging to consider how attitudes have changed. It shows that we can win arguments, we can change opinions and we can make the world a better place - though there are many challenges and still a long way to go. Those of us who backed LGBT rights in the 1980s were denounced as 'loony left' but now those who oppose LGBT equality are an increasingly derided minority.
I was in Parliament when Section 28 went through - I campaigned against it and spoke against it in the debate. Section 28 was preventing local authorities using their public premises for anything that was deemed to be promoting homosexuality. We’ve moved on a lot since then.
To me it was therapeutic to be marching through the lobbies in support of equality of marriage legislation with some older Tories, who themselves had voted for Section 28 all those years ago. I was ungallant enough to remind one or two of them of the passage of history and they just smiled. But at least they were there voting for it.
As leader what will you do to ensure legal recognition and improved rights protection for trans* and non-binary people?
The important point for me is to listen to the trans communities because it’s important that their authentic voices are heard.
Protection for trans and non binary people continues to be a big issue. My former colleague Lynne Jones was a great advocate of trans equality - and there is a long way to go on challenging prejudice affecting trans people. That has to start in schools with sex and relationship education, and be backed up by legal recognition.
Effective training in all equality issues but especially in LGB and Trans issues is essential across all areas of public services if the rights guaranteed by law are to be secured, and if all those responsible for delivering those services are to be able to do so in such a way as to educate against prejudice.
People should be able to identify as they see themselves, not be forced to choose a binary choice.
LGBT rights around the world
The world is increasingly dividing into two halves on LGBT rights. More and more countries are improving their LGBT protections and legal rights. However many countries with poor LGBT rights records are introducing laws that persecute LGBT people. How would you ensure the UK protects LGBT rights around the world?
Ed Miliband appointed an international LGBT rights envoy, and that's an important role.
I would also put requirements on delegations of the UN Human Rights council, so that during every universal periodic review of human rights in every country in the world, we would question their record on LGBT rights.
Britain now does that with countries that carry the death penalty. I attend the UN Human Rights Council, and whenever there’s a universal periodic review coming up, if it’s a country that practices or indeed has the death penalty, Britain always objects to the human rights report and requires a special point to be written in about that.
I would want the same thing for LGBT rights and although it doesn’t solve everything, it is part of ensuring the acceptability of the rights of LGBT people to relationships, whatever their sexuality.
In the case of the most extreme countries, such as Uganda, I think we’ve got to be far tougher with them. Indeed, I’ve had meetings with Ugandan delegations and ministers that have been quite difficult, to say the least, but dialogue is essential.
Many LGBT young people experience bullying, discrimination and a curriculum which doesn’t meet their needs. How would you ensure we have an education system which support LGBT young people? Would you ensure sex and relationship education for all children in all schools? Would you change current exemptions to equality legislation in schools?
Yes, I believe sex, consent and relationships education should be compulsory in all schools, as I set out in the Youth Manifesto produced by young supporters of my campaign.
I do think we need to review equality legislation in schools. It cannot be right that the places where we educate our children have leeway to discriminate.
Immigration and asylum
How would you protect LGBT asylum seekers, ensuring that they are treated fairly and with dignity?
As a constituency MP I have dealt with several cases of LGBT asylum seekers, and supported their claims. There are several countries around the world where campaigning for LGBT rights or just being yourself is to risk your life. The major thing we need to do is to try to influence those countries so that LGBT people have equality and human rights but are not criminalised just for loving who they choose too. We cannot and must not try to shirk our international commitments under the UN convention on refugees.
How would you tackle the growing divide in equality for LGBT communities in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK?
What happened in the Republic with the same-sex marriage vote was absolutely seismic. It would not have happened without a lot of steadfast campaigning for a very long time by a lot of people, and congratulations to them.
This is a devolved issue, but we must put pressure on the unionist parties that have resisted this change - and support those people in North Ireland who are campaigning for equality. I recently met with politicians from different parties in west Belfast and will continue to raise this issue.
What action would you take to support LGBT Labour and LGBT people within the party? How would you ensure increased numbers of LGBT people are selected to represent the party at all levels? Do you agree there should be a reserved space for LGBT Labour and Disability Labour on the NEC?
My neighbouring MP in Islington South for many years, Chris Smith, did a lot to challenge prejudice and change attitudes at a time when it was very difficult to do so. It’s good that the first out trans candidate stood for Labour as a PPC in the 2015 election – and she has blazed a trail for others to follow. As a party we also need to challenge discrimination at every level – we have made good progress but can never be complacent.
We need to actively promote equality and the inclusion of all minority groups and understand the intersections of being LGBT and disabled, being LGBT and BAME, etc.
Most trade unions have reserved equality seats on their national executives, and so it’s hard to see why Labour should not too.