Village Drinks – Stonewall Hustings

Ben Somerskill and Stonewall sponsored by Village Drinks (network for Lesbian and Gay professionals) put on a hustings last night in the West End.

They do things really well. Well thought out. Well arranged. Well chaired. I think all the candidates did well and set out their stall – and the debate was interesting and the questions wide-ranging.

Chris Bryant represented Labour, Nick Herbert represented the Tories, Chris Smith the Greens – and obviously I was there for the LibDems.

The basic LibDem stall is that the clue is in our name – Liberal – through and through – and not just for elections. I started the campaign for the ban on gay men giving blood donations to be lifted. At first both Terence Higgins Trust and Stonewall declined to join me. However, Stonewall changed their position and have been campaigning too for this. The safety of the blood supply is paramount – but whether or not donations are given should be based on the risk from an individual’s behaviour – not a blanket ban. Neither the Tories nor Labour supported my amendment.

Then, I raised the issue of the Government’s intransigence during the Equality Bill and their refusal to change the protected characteristic of ‘gender reassignment’ to ‘gender identity’.  Trans issues are very different to gay issues in substance – but the discrimination and harassment they suffer is of the order of the early days of gay liberation. Sometimes the gay community can be a bit cross and feel that trans get lumped in with gay issues – but the suffering and quest for equality and freedom from discrimination and harassment is the same.

Anyway – in the Bill, the Government displayed complete ignorance of transgender issues. They showed relentless and ill-informed determination to keep it as ‘gender reassignment. They seemingly did not understand or even wish to understand the complexities of the range of the spectrum of gender identity. They had no awareness that many, many trans people never change sex nor even ultimately pass for the other gender nor even go on that journey nor that some people are just intersex in some form and that those who have gender identity issues will experience discrimination and need protection because they don’t fit gender stereotypes at all.

Over the years of campaigning for LGBT equality, Liberal Democrats have always led the field. We were first to civil partnerships, first to fight for gays in the armed forces, now gay marriage and the introduction and duty for schools, all schools, to talk about sexual orientation openly and as just part of life.

And what a furore it caused when Nick Clegg said that there should be a duty to talk about homosexuality openly at school. But of course it should – as just another normal way of being. It is absolutely crucial.

Homophobic bullying is rife as am sure you know with 6 out 10 children homophobically bullied. Burgeoning sexuality can be pretty confusing at the best of times, but to suffer any bullying let alone homophobic bullying is cruel beyond belief. This is one of the areas where this Labour government has really failed the LGBT community. In the equality Bill homophobic bullying has a different level of protection to any of the other strands. There is a lower bar of harassment for example – for race, gender and religion. Only sexual orientation is left to the more difficult protection of simple direct discrimination. Homophobic bullying should have exactly the same protection as all other protected characteristics. End of.

I could go on – but suffice to say was a very good event and a very important agenda and a very enjoyable evening.

0 thoughts on “Village Drinks – Stonewall Hustings

  1. Sounds like you gave an excellent presentation for the party. Wish I could have been there to hear it!

    The genderqueer stuff really does highlight well how different the Labour/socialist and Lib Dem/liberal approaches to equality issues are. They instinctively go for a top-down view of society, with this-or-that categorisation of people, whereas the liberal approach starts from the bottom up with the individual and so fits there being more than two answers to a question much better.

  2. Pink News is portraying the event as a cosy chat between like-minded people. However, as you point out, there are ways in which the Lib Dems have shown more support for LGBTs compared with the Labour and Tory parties.

  3. Yes – lots of differences. Labour has had to be dragged to most of the changes either by us or the European courts. They didn’t support my amendment on lifting the ban on gay men giving blood. They didn’t give the same protection to children suffering homophobic bulliying – and lots more! However, they are still not as bad as the Tories who may now talk a better talk – but when I was speaking in Second Reading of the Equality Bill about transgender issues – from the Tory back benches came – ‘wasting Parliamentary time on perverts’. No change there.