LGB&T issues on the agenda at the Labour Conference
Publish Date: 28/09/2011
Joining the Shadow Home Secretary on the panel was Nick Forbes - leader of Newcastle City Council, Maria Exall from the TUC’s LGB&T Committee, Ben Summerskill – Chief Executive of Stonewall and chairing the event - Hannah Blythyn – Co Chair of LGBTLabour.
Blythyn outlined that despite legislative change, cultural change still needed to happen to improve lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans representation in all aspects of public life.
Nick Forbes, the openly gay Labour leader of Newcastle City Council underlined the situation when he said that he was one of only three gay council leaders in the UK.
He went on to say that he knew first hand the challenges facing LGB&T people in politics.
He’d come up against smear campaigns at the hands of opponents – both aggressive and subtle. But said that his “proud constituents” had joined with him in the face of prejudice.
He highlighted the need to get more LGB&T people involved in politics and referenced that while Newcastle City Council is attracting MPs from a diverse range of backgrounds and ethnicities – he is still “the only gay in the Village.”
He said it was vital for the Labour Party to encourage people to “reach their true potential”, and said that he was living proof “that it can be done and it will be done.”
Maria Exall from the TUC’s Trade Union Committee felt that LGB&T representation in public life was improving – and that it was evident in increased visibility of LGB&T people and issues at Conference, but that there was still “a long way to go”.
She highlighted the importance of “visibility, mainstreaming and inclusivity” especially for people who are in the process of coming out at work, and those who are not yet publicly out.
Exall demonstrated that LGB&T issues were very much part and parcel of TUC life – with officers responsible for and aware of LGB&T pensions, pay structures and rights, and TUC Chair Brendan Barber raising awareness of LGBT rights on a national stage.
However, she felt that there was a long way to go, even for LGB&T organisations in not forgetting “the L, the B and the T”.
She highlighted that the TUC’s LGBT Committee “go beyond LGB&T rights”, and closed by quoting Nelson Mandela; “our struggle is part of everybody’s struggle.”
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper started by highlighting the devastation homophobia can bring to peoples’ lives, and said that “when you look across public life – still so much needs to be done in terms of representation.”
She said that she was concerned at the lack of openly gay Chief Executives of top companies and the number of out gay and lesbian MPs.
She said that the cultural change to combat homophobia, and promote understanding must start in schools. She praised the North London school, that embeds LGB&T issues in its curriculum; they celebrate LGBT History Month, the Head talks about LGB&T people in their welcome speech to parents and it has a “massive impact on behaviour”.
Chief Executive of Stonewall Ben Summerskill, commented that “we would have not seen what we have in the last 12 months had it not been for the 12/13 years that went before it.”
He highlighted three things that had gone well over the past year; “the commencement of the Public Equality Duty – which means fair treatment and respect for LGB&T people in the services that wrap around their lives”.
LGB&T asylum seekers not being sent back to countries where they face persecution, and having a Conservative Prime Minister commit himself to consulting on extending same-sex marriage rights.
He said, “we will be deluding ourselves, if we think this will sail through both Houses of Parliament.”
Summerskill urged people present at the debate to contact Lords and suggested that “people shouldn’t be appointed Labour peers if they are not willing to support equality.”
Like Cooper, the Stonewall Chair highlighted the role of education in later life, commenting, “if young people are being bullied at school, it’s highly unlikely that they are going to put their head above the parapet and enter into public life.”
He shared the story of Dominic Crouch with the crowd – a 15 year old boy who took his own life last year after rumours circulated at school that he was gay.
He also, highlighted Stonewall’s own research into bulling; 90% of secondary school teachers said they witness homophobic bullying, and 40% of primary school teachers say they witness homophobic bullying.
He ended by saying that Stonewall retain a vision that all young LGB&T people will be able to walk as tall and be as proud as their heterosexual counterparts, and said “I believe we will build that Britain in our lifetime.”
The panel were then open to questions from the floor, many were around areas of public life where people are still reluctant to come out like professional football, and one potential councillor from Leeds highlighted the homophobia she faced in public life.
Both Nick Forbes and Maria Exall highlighted the danger of being put in a box when out and in public life – but Exall told her to, “stand her ground and go for it.”
While Summerskill highlighted the work that Forbes was doing day in day out as an LGBT councillor and role model.
There was more discussion around gay marriage, Academy schools, and concerns around attracting more lesbians to stand for Labour.