The advances in equality for LGBT people over the last 20 years are some of the things that make me most proud to be Labour. When we were in office we made powerful choices that transformed the lives of many. Ending the hated Section 28, an equal age of consent, ending the ban on LGBT people serving in the military, the Gender Recognition Act, hate crime legislation, civil partnerships and adoption and fertility rights are just some of those historic achievements to speak our values and our vision of equality. In fighting for these policies, we not only changed the law but also society's view of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* people.
I was proud to vote for marriage equality and I will always fight to protect, extend and defend the rights of LGBT people. We've got more to do. We need to increase the number of LGBT people getting involved in the party and standing for election, and I'm excited about working with LGBT Labour to make that happen. We also need to wipe out homophobia and transphobia in our classrooms with a new focus on tackling inappropriate language and teaching about different kinds of relationships in schools. And we need to support LGBT rights around the world - including within our own asylum system and in our work on international development and human rights. These will be key priorities for me if elected deputy leader. I hope you'll give me your support so we can work together to achieve them.
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?
Many historic legal achievements were delivered under the previous Labour government, all of which I passionately support. As an MP since 2010, I’m extremely proud to have voted in favour of equal marriage, ensuring that the legislation was passed despite opposition from a majority of MPs in the Conservative Party. We should shout louder about the fact that it is only because of Labour MPs that we have equal marriage – both because the last Labour government laid the groundwork to get us here and because Labour MPs provided the majority of votes to see it become law. At a local level I have been proud to work with, and be a patron of, ELOP - the East London Out Project, which is helping deliver support services and activities for the LGBT community in Walthamstow. I have also helped young campaigners to develop and lead calls for PHSE in all schools including action on homophobic bullying at both a local and national level through the ‘our bodies, our futures’ campaign.
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?
Too many young LGBT people still grow up experiencing homophobic and transphobic bullying at school, and suffering the damaging impact of this experience. That is why I helped lead calls for age appropriate PSHE in both parliament and my local community. I’m proud of Labour’s commitment to addressing this in the 2015 manifesto and want to ensure that this remains a priority for us to campaign for even though we're not in office - all teachers should receive training on tackling homophobia and transphobia, schools should be challenged if they do not have robust anti-bullying policies in place, and governors and other school leaders should take an active role in monitoring this. Governing bodies could appoint an ‘equality champion’ to work with the whole school workforce to identify and challenge homophobic and transphobic language and behaviour and ensure that schools have the right support in place for young people who need help and advice.
The fight for equality for UK citizens is far from over. I also believe we must address access to pensions for LGBT couples and the investigation of homophobic and transphobic abuse and attacks by the police and local authorities, to ensure all have confidence in the outcomes achieved. I also want to ensure that we support LGBT rights around the world – both in our work abroad and at home. I work closely with those seeking refuge in the UK and believe that we must do more to ensure the UKBA does not discriminate against LGBT asylum seekers. I want Britain to be a strong champion of LGBT rights abroad, speaking out against discrimination in other countries and using our voice to ensure LGBT rights are at the heart of our policies and within the new UN development goals.
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?
We need a broad and representative cross-section of the population joining the Party and standing for office. We need to start by going to where people are and engaging them in political debate and encouraging them to join the party and then supporting them to stand for elected office. I’ve travelled the country organising training sessions with women members and non-members to encourage them to get active in their communities and in politics and we should do the same with other under-represented groups. A centrally funded pot of money to deliver events and training, or to provide support for innovative local schemes delivered by LGBT Labour, BAME Labour, Disability Labour and/or local women’s forums would be one potential way to reach out, ensuring that LGBT members who are also parts of other under-represented groups, such as black LGBT and trans women members are particularly supported. We also need to look carefully at the way we conduct internal selections to make sure a broad and diverse range of candidates are being put to members for any elected position, and to make sure that any reports of homophobia and transphobia in selection campaigns are dealt with swiftly and appropriately by the party.
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 Labour Party is the party of equality, and the previous Labour government’s development of equalities legislation that brought about the Gender Recognition Act has made real change in society for trans people. But if we are to have a diverse party that protects, defends and extends LGBT rights, we must show that we’re listening to voices from the trans* community and taking concerns on board, as well as reflecting them in our broader policy discussions.
If we are to engage trans* members then they have to see that we take their struggles seriously. As we focus on saving the NHS, we need to ensure we’re tackling the ways in which trans* specific health care, particularly waiting times for Gender Identity Clinics, is facing cuts and causing real damage to trans* people’s lives. When we are drafting legislation, we must ensure that trans* members are consulted, as such as with the recent Equal Marriage Bill. It is too often simply because of ignorance that trans* people face additional struggles on the pathway to equality.
As with LGBT representation as a whole, we need to ensure that we have a firm and strong response to any incidences of transphobia within the party, and that we’re listening to trans* members about the barriers they are facing and proactively responding to these.
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?
The disparity in rights for those who live in Northern Ireland cannot be ignored by the Labour Party, and it is vital that we find ways of supporting and standing alongside those working towards equality. However difficult and sensitive this may be, we cannot and should not let the possibility of progress stall because of political disagreement within our own movement, but must instead be a positive and powerful voice for change. To do this we should reach out to those in other political parties and wider civil society, to build a call for human rights to be upheld in Northern Ireland. In doing so we can support efforts not only to overturn this situation, but also to show that the use of the veto in this instance cannot be justified given the popular support for change, and so would be anti-democratic.
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?
I am in full support of the requests by LGBT Labour and Disability Labour to have reserved spaces on the NEC and would work with both organisations to deliver this if elected as Deputy Leader. If our party structures are a barrier to promoting equality then we need to change them and if elected I’ll sit down with LGBT Labour and other groups to discuss what needs to change. I would push for change at the grassroots level of the party too. Labour needs not just Future Candidates bursaries to directly support those who do stand, but a Future Members programme actively recruiting those currently underrepresented. We need to ask how we can work together to ensure Labour is the vehicle for equality for Britain, in both how it operates and the causes that it champions.