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.