Owen Smith

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I am very grateful for the chance to answer the points you raise. And I am very grateful too for the role LGBT Labour play within our Party. Whether it be in standing up against discrimination, campaigning as part of our Labour movement for LGBT equality, or fighting for greater representation with our Party, your work is absolutely essential.

Labour has long been at the forefront of the fight for LGBT equality; from scrapping Section 28 to introducing Civil Partnerships. But there remains a long way to go. And if we want to change things, we need to be in government.

As leader of our Labour Party, I would want to work with you to tackle discrimination and continue the fight for LGBT equality – at home and internationally.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to answer your questions. There is much more I could say, and much more that we could do together. I would relish the opportunity to work with you as Leader of the Labour Party, to continue the fight for LGBT equality.

 

1. What are your views on the Government's response to the Women and Equalities Committee Report on Transgender Equality, and how will you work with LGBT* Labour to deliver on the reports recommendations?

While all LGBT* communities face discrimination, the fight for trans rights still has a long way to go. Transgender people face endemic transphobia, bullying in schools, worryingly high levels of mental health issues, the ever present risk of violence and hate crimes, and discrimination at work and in the provision of public services. It is utterly shocking and heart-breaking that nearly half of young trans people have attempted suicide.

This Tory Government have consistently failed to take action to address this. Their Advancing Transgender Equality Action Plan introduced 5 years ago was described as being ‘largely unimplemented’ by the Women and Equalities Committee in their report earlier this year. They called for a new action plan within 6 months, which the Government has failed to deliver. They are dragging their feet and letting down trans communities.

I would be a champion for trans rights. Working with LGBT Labour, trans campaigners and the wider trans community, I would ensure the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Report on Transgender Equality are fully and speedily implemented.

I would ensure that we have a serious focus on LGBT* equality more widely. We currently do not have a dedicated Shadow Cabinet Member for Women and Equalities. It’s not acceptable and it needs to change. I’d appoint someone to lead on this vital agenda on day one of my leadership.

 

2. Representation of LBT women is shamefully low throughout the party. There are only 3 out LGB women Labour MPs in parliament, and no out trans women at all. What do you think the issues are and how will you address this?

Labour has always been at the forefront of promoting representation of LGBT* communities in Parliament. The work of LGBT Labour and the Chris Smith List has been fundamental to this. But we need to recognise that we have a long way to go, particularly in terms of representation of LGB women and trans women. I want our Labour Party to be more representative of the communities that we represent, and of the country as a whole. This means more BAME MPs, more women MPs, more working class MPs, more LGBT* MPs, and more MPs who belong to more than one underrepresented groups.

As Leader of the Labour Party, I’d work closely with LGBT Labour to help encourage and support greater representation of LGBT* people in Parliament. We need to continue and strengthen the work of the Chris Smith List which supports LGBT* candidates. We need to identify talented LGBT* members, encouraging people to get more involved by standing for CLP officer positions, as well as for Council and Parliament. We need to provide the support, training and mentoring they might need too.

We currently do not have a permanent member of Labour Party staff working on LGBT issues and representation. This has to change.

 

3. Men who have sex with men (MSM) are being denied access by NHS England to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication that greatly reduces the risk of contracting HIV. How you will you set about in changing this policy?

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a potentially huge breakthrough in the fight against HIV/AIDs. I very much welcomed the High Court’s ruling that the NHS has responsibility for funding PrEP and I congratulate all those who have campaigned for it including the National Aids Trust, the Terrance Higgins Trust, LGBT Labour and others.

4,000 people contract HIV every year. PrEP could help transform the lives of the men and women at risk of contracting HIV, dramatically reducing the spread of the disease. And yet Ministers have dithered and delayed on its funding and created months of unnecessary uncertainty. It is deeply disappointing that NHS England have appealed the decision. As Leader of the Labour Party, I would push to reverse this and ensure that PrEP is made available to those who need it as soon as possible.

The response to the ruling in some elements of the media was deeply disappointing. There is a problem with funding in the NHS, but the solution is not to deny life-saving drugs to people who need them. Indeed, evidence suggests that PrEP offers not just medical benefits, but financial savings too as it could dramatically reduce HIV infection rates. I have a fully costed plan to increase spending in the NHS by 4% a year, equivalent to £60 billion over a Parliament. 

 

4. How will you work to ensure that more people from the LGBT* community stand as Labour candidates for internal Labour positions, Councils, Assemblies, Mayoralties and Parliaments? What can we do to ensure selection processes are open and any reports of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in selection processes are dealt with robustly through a formal process?

Parliament has to be more representative of the communities we represent, and of the country as a whole. But the same is true in local government and devolved administrations.

As Labour Leader, I would work with LGBT Labour, and with our MPs and CLPs to identify talented LGBT* members, and support them to get more involved. This means providing the encouragement, advice and training needed to build up experience and confidence within the Party. We need also to look outside of our Party, working with community groups and trade unions to identify talented LGBT* campaigners and activists who could be future Labour members and representatives.

But LGBT* people need to feel safe in our movement if they are to get involved and stand. I’ve been deeply concerned by recent allegations of homophobia and abuse within our Party. As Leader of the Labour Party, I’d send a clear and unambiguous message; there is absolutely no place for hatred and bigotry, for homophobia and transphobia within our movement.

 

5. How will you tackle homophobia, biphobia and transphobia that LGBT* members of the party face at meetings, online and other events, and what will you do to make the party more inviting to attract more LGBT* members?

Let me be very clear; this sort of bigotry is not in keeping with our values, and it should have absolutely no place in our movement. As Leader of the Labour Party, I would have zero-tolerance for  homophobia, biphobia and transphobia within our Party. I would take robust action to tackle this abuse, and to make sure all our members feel safe, welcome and valued in our movement.

On tackling abuse, I would ensure that members feel safe to report any incidences, and I would ensure that such incidences are treated with the seriousness they warrant. Any members who are found to have engaged in homophobic, biphobic or transphobic abuse, should be banned from our Party for life.

Much of this abuse happens on social media. We need to send a clear message that any such abuse from Party members will not be tolerated. I’ve signed up to the Reclaim the Internet campaign, and I’d look to work with the group and others to tackle online abuse.

In terms of making the Party more inviting, I would look to work with LGBT Labour and others to engage with and support LGBT* members to get involved. I’d ensure our Party is speaking to LGBT* communities, active in those communities and addressing the issues they face.

 

6. Now that the UK has voted to leave Europe, what will you do to ensure LGBT* rights, formerly underpinned by EU laws and policy, are enacted in UK law in cases where they are not already?

The vote to leave the EU was a disaster for our country. Waking up on 24th June was one of the worst days of my life. Jeremy Corbyn just didn’t do enough to make the Labour case for remaining during the referendum campaign. His campaigning was lacklustre, and his case was confused, unenthusiastic and equivocal. When he did campaign, he didn’t look like his heart was in it. I’m afraid he let us down.

Labour needs a Leader who will fight for the best deal in the coming months, including protecting the rights hitherto underpinned by our EU membership. I would call on the Government to guarantee all of the current rights underpinned by the EU, including putting them in to UK law where necessary. This would include the rights under the Equality Act, and rights for protection against discrimination. I would stand up to the right-wing Tory Government and ensure that we do not see a hard Brexit that would strip rights and protections away from working people.

When we know what the deal looks like, the public should be given a say, either through a new referendum, or at a General Election.

 

7. Do you support compulsory sex and relationship education in schools? And will you commit to a strategy for tackling discrimination against LGBT* people in schools?

Yes, absolutely.

The previous Labour Government made great strides in tackling LGBT* discrimination and promoting LGBT* equality. Under the Tories, the vicious Section 28 meant that young LGBT* people were made to feel abnormal and excluded. We repealed it, and promoted sex and relationship education in schools. It shows the difference a Labour Government can make.

But we need to go further. Schools today are far more accepting places of LGBT* students than they were when I was at school. But we need to recognise that homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse still exist. And we need to take tough action to crack down on it.

I would work with LGBT* Groups, teaching unions, the NUS and others to introduce a comprehensive strategy for tackling discrimination against LGBT* students in our schools. Key to this strategy would be modern sex and relationship education. The biggest driver of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is ignorance. We need to tackle this.

The fragmentation of the school system, the financial pressure on schools and the narrow focus on exam results is squeezing out sex and relationship education. Every child should have access to proper sex and relationship education. So I would introduce compulsory, age-appropriate sex and relationship education in every single school in the country.

 

8. A quarter of the UK's homeless youth are LGBT*. How would you set about changing this?

The scale of LGBT* homelessness is truly shocking and heart-breaking. Today week I visited the Albert Kennedy Trust to hear about the great work that they do in tackling this problem. I heard about how young LGBT people are particularly vulnerable to homelessness, often as a result of their families not accepting them for who they are. They told me too about how the housing crisis, cuts to local authorities, and the plans to withdraw Housing Benefit from 18 – 21 year olds are making the situation even worse.

As Leader of the Labour Party, I would work to tackle LGBT* youth homelessness. I would work with the Albert Kennedy Trust and other groups to ensure young LGBT people get the support and care they need. And I’d seek to support the process of social change, so that more young people who come out get the support they need from their family and communities.

I would tackle homelessness more broadly too. We haven’t been building enough homes for decades, but under the Tories things have got far worse. David Cameron built fewer homes than any Prime Minister since 1923, and they have made further attacks on our desperately short stocks of social housing. As a result, rents and house prices have rocketed, and homelessness is on the rise again.

I’d tackle the housing crisis by building 300,000 homes a year, with at least half of them being social homes. Working with local authorities and homelessness charities, I would ensure that we have effective services in place to prevent homelessness and support those who find themselves homeless to secure a decent, stable home.