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?
So much progress has been made in changing negative attitudes towards LGBT people however I don’t think that by any means the battle for equality is over, and certain bits of the LGBT community are still sadly more disadvantaged and face more prejudice than others. We need to fight for equality for LGBT people so they have equal rights in all aspects of life from healthcare to employment.
I have been on the road since before the election meeting members and activists up and down the country and one of the issues that has come up most often is access to decent healthcare provision. Firstly LGBT people should be able to expect the appropriate level of care and understanding by the NHS regardless of which service they visit. I know this can be a sensitive issue for the transgendered community in particular, who often have complex healthcare needs.
For some members of the LGBT community coming to terms with their sexuality and deciding on whether or not to come out can still be a lonely and lengthy struggle. They should be supported by decent mental health services if needed, tailored to their specific needs. For example It is deeply worrying that suicide rates within the transgendered community are amongst the highest among young people in the UK. That is not something that can be ignored.
The truth is Conservative governments simply don’t regard the provision of healthcare to the LGBT community as a priority. It falls to Labour, as it so often has, to make sure they are held to account on these and other failings.
Access to good sexual health advice and contraception is also increasingly under threat since the Health and Social Care Act helped privatise and break up sections of these vital services. The Labour party has a good record on expanding sexual health provision. But we need to do more in opposition to protect such services and to support our colleagues in the devolved Welsh administration in protecting and defending the NHS.
I am genuinely interested in learning more from our LGBT members about what they feel are the most pressing issues they face and what they feel we can do as a party to ensure their voices and policy concerns are factored into how we run our party and develop our manifestos. A better dialogue between the party and all minority communities is essential for us to keep pushing ahead for equal rights for everyone.
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?
For me the Labour party is more than just a political party, it’s a movement. But if our movement is to be truly inclusive we urgently need to increase the diversity of those elected to local government and Parliament by increasing the number of women, BAME, disabled candidates and people from LGBT communities. Our elected representatives need to reflect the country they serve. I know that LGBT people face a number of specific barriers to inclusion and acceptance by society. We need better LGBT representation not just in politics, but in all spheres of the community including for example in schools as School Governors or head teachers and in business in Board Rooms.
If I’m elected I want to work with people to look at how Labour can do more to try to achieve this.
To increase the chances of people from more diverse getting involved in politics if I’m elected deputy leader I will introduce a bursary scheme to help members who want to stand for Parliament but struggle with the cost. I believe this will be helpful for all candidates and in particular those from minority communities who may not have the same access and routes into influential roles in society as others do.
I want to take a much more personal role in helping colleagues to do well. I will work with LGBT members to Identify specific training needs where relevant. Providing mentors for transgendered candidates will be a priority and I would love to help train and mentor candidates myself in the way I have informally done for colleagues from minority communities in the past.
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?
I think for too long there has been a silent ‘T’ in LGBT. I didn’t realise until I ran for deputy leader that the Labour party membership system has difficulty processing people who identify as transgendered or non-binary.
If the first interaction a transgendered or non-binary member has with the Labour Party is one in which they are forced to self-identify as something they are not then we have a problem. This is something I want to see fixed as soon as possible and it will be urgently addressed if I become deputy leader.
It is encouraging that we had Emily Brothers the first openly transgendered Labour Parliamentary candidate in the recent general election but we need to do so much more work to encourage more transgender people to stand as candidates and local and national elections. Labour should be the party for minority communities seeking an inclusive and diverse home. One of the ways I think we can remind people of this is to establish a very visible presence at the growing number of transgender pride events taking place around the country.
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?
There is a risk in assuming that now the Republic of Ireland has so overwhelmingly backed equal marriage that Northern Ireland will follow suit. I don’t think we can sit and wait for change to happen, the Labour party needs to make it clear to our partners in the devolved administration in Northern Ireland that LGBT rights are non-negotiable.
We need to use our reputation for neutrality in Northern Ireland to have a very frank conversation with all political parties and make sure the voices calling for greater equality are heard.
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 would gladly propose a rule change to the NEC to suggest reserving a seat on the NEC for both LGBT and Disability Labour however ultimately it would be a matter for the NEC to decide upon as to make rule changes of this nature are not within the gift of the deputy leader. I would however ensure there was a proper dialogue about the best way to make sure minority groups are listened to and engaged with through the NEC structures. In the meantime the LGBT community would have a strong voice in me for advocating for that change.
I also want to launch a bursary scheme for Labour members who want to stand for office but struggle with the cost of doing so. That will help get greater representation in Parliament and local Government for members of all minority communities including LGBT, disabled and BAME people. As a party we have always celebrated diversity but the fight for human rights for all is ongoing. Tory plans to tear up the Human Rights Act were recently scrapped, at least for now. We need to ensure they aren’t revived by defending the Act in the Parliament and in the country.