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Leadership Elections: Candidate's responses to LGBT+ questions

July 8, 2015 12:00 PM

LGBT+ Liberal Democrats asked our members for questions to put to the two leadership candidates - we've now received answers from both candidates, which you can read below...

What have you personally done to improve LGBT+ equality during your political career? (please note that I am talking above and beyond voting for equality bills, e.g. Same-Sex Marriage Bill) (Jake Basford)
Tim Farron: I'm old enough that at the beginning of my political career I campaigned against the implementation of Section 28. I supported the equalisation of the age of consent and the establishment of civil partnerships. Less tangibly, but just as important, I stood up for LGBT folks who were bullied when I was at university, including personally challenging those responsible for acts of bullying. I would always want to be the sort of person who does not walk on by. Norman Lamb: Very recently, in my role as Minister for Care and Support, I acted to end the outrageous practice of gay "conversion therapy" within the NHS. I brought together key professional bodies and leading NHS organisations, and secured agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding, which states that training for psychiatrists and counsellors must make clear that this practice is inappropriate, and instead include training on how to support those who are suffering mental health problems associated with their sexuality. It also made clear that no funding could be provided, or referrals made, for conversion therapy within the NHS.

There is more work to do in this field - the Memorandum of Understanding didn't cover the inappropriate treatment sometimes suffered by trans people in the NHS. I met with a group of transgender people while I was minister earlier this year to hear from them about the steps that are needed in this area, and will be pushing the new minister to make sure this now happens.
We all know that you have personal strengths, both in policy terms and in leadership qualities terms. How will you ensure that you are not held back by your personal weaknesses, and who will you get to help you succeed in overcoming them? (Jennie Rigg)
Tim Farron: Good question - thanks Jennie. One of my positives is that I'm quite self-aware so I know where my faults are. I have therefore tried to build a team around me from different backgrounds and with different skill sets. I always try and surround myself with people who will challenge me - 'no men' rather than 'yes men' if you like - and I will always listen to their arguments and if I've got something wrong will always change my mind. I've pledged that if I'm elected I will ensure all meetings I take part in - official or otherwise - have a diverse group of people involved, including 50/50 men and women, and representatives from the LGBT+ and BAME communities. I'd imagine as a result that LGBT+ Lib Dems could expect more calls from the Leader's office in the future…! Norman Lamb: First of all, it is important to surround yourself with people who will challenge you, and will tell you when you are doing things wrong! I have always tried to do this. And I am very willing to learn. I do not have all the answers but by engaging properly with people you start to understand better the challenges and it helps you find solutions.

You also need to make sure your wider team complements your own skills and experiences, and I would want to appoint a team of spokespeople and advisers who are as diverse as possible.
One issue with equality is that of internationality and "minorities within minorities" being left behind. In the LGBT+ sphere, examples of this include the discriminatory spousal veto being included in the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act and the huge disparity between the number of white gay/bisexual male PPCs for the party, compared to the remainder of the LGBT+ and BAME spectrums. What do you think the party and you as leader can do to address this, both for LGBT+ people and members of other marginalised groups? (Zoe O'Connell)
Tim Farron: This is a huge issue, and to go into a full list here would obviously risk leaving people out.

So, as an example, I want to create a Trans working group - firstly to allow politicians within the party to talk about the issues facing the Trans community (including the spousal veto that I would work to overturn) and second to reach out to Trans communities who don't currently engage with politicians. I think another role for this working group would be to look at our processes and things like conference to see what we can do straight away to improve our party.

I will also make it a priority to press for the full and total implementation of the Trans Action Plan created under the coalition.

We need a similar set-up for other communities to make sure all these issues are heard, and the work I've outlined elsewhere to increase diversity within the party (including of PPCs) needs to be done in such a way to make sure the party is properly representative of the people we seek to serve.
Norman Lamb: I have made clear that I support - at least in the short term - positive action to address the unacceptable imbalances in our parliamentary representation. We need to look carefully at how we ensure that LGBT+ and BAME candidates are also supported through this process.

But we also need to understand fundamentally why individuals from different communities are not being selected as candidates, and not getting elected. It is only by addressing the underlying obstacles that we will solve our party's unacceptable diversity problem in a sustainable way. Organisations like LGBT+ Lib Dems and EMLD have a crucial role to play in leading this process, and as leader I will make sure that we deliver the changes that are needed.

On policy development, I support the idea of a rigorous "equality impact assessment" for new policy development within the party, and would want to work with LGBT+ Lib Dems and other SAOs to make sure we implement this in a way that will protect the interests of all minority groups.

How would other countries' record on LGBT+ rights influence you when it comes to foreign policy decisions? (Dr Sylvia Knight)
Tim Farron: I was one of 100 MPs who signed the letter to the Ugandan President calling on him to drop the horrific legislation which outlaws homosexuality in his country. With our money - be that through aid or military support - comes an expectation, and in the case of countries like Uganda I would push for that expectation to be that the Ugandan Government abided by some pretty basic principles of human rights. Norman Lamb: We influence no one if we refuse to engage with them. We should see international trade and diplomacy and the scale of our investment in international development as powerful forces for liberalism and change globally

But we must also be consistent and clear in challenging unacceptable practices around the world, not keeping silent on the records of countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia or China but continuing to engage with them and to trade.
Studies show that transgender people attempt suicide at a rate of about 50% if they seek care and are denied it. Given this, what is your position on pressing for an end to conversion therapy on the basis of gender identity and not just sexuality? (Sarah Brown)
Tim Farron: Pure and simple, I want there to be a register of psychotherapists so that quack conversion therapists are dealt with, and people are offered proper help and support when they need it. Norman Lamb: Every suicide is a tragedy, but the high rate of suicide in the LGBT+ community - and among transgender people in particular - is a disgrace. When we introduced the Memorandum of Understanding ending gay conversion therapy in the NHS, I also met with a group of transgender people to talk about the changes that are needed to tackle inappropriate behaviour by psychiatrists and counsellors working with trans people.

I recognise that the issues around support for transgender people are complex - and there are a range of problems with access to support and treatment - and we need to look at the way the whole system works.

I am determined to make sure the new government follows up on this agenda, and will push for this to happen as soon as possible.
What do you think the main challenges for LGBT+ rights will be over the next few years, and what do you think the Lib Dem position should be? (John B. Grout)
Tim Farron: The Liberal Democrats are all about standing up for minorities - and regardless of the challenges facing any minority, including the LGBT+ community, I would want us to be standing up for their rights. Just a couple of the things I can see coming on the horizon that I am keen to get involved with is making Equal Marriage truly equal with the ending of the spousal veto and some other amendments; and ending the discriminatory gay blood ban that does so much harm when our Blood Service is crying out for more stocks. Norman Lamb: I have made it my mission as an MP to end the profound injustice of the unequal treatment of mental health in our society, and in our NHS. And LGBT+ people are statistically more likely to suffer from mental health problems than those in the wider population.

My view is that we did not go far enough when we repealed Section 28. As a society we should actively promote, in particular to young people, the fact that it is perfectly normal to be LGBT+. I want ours to be a society where young LGBT+ people growing up don't feel under pressure to conform, to pretend to be someone they are not. We need a concerted effort from schools, from broadcasters, and across society to challenge stigma wherever we find it and - crucially - to ensure that young people are exposed to positive portrayals of LGBT+ people in their day-to-day life. We must also keep working to challenge homophobia (as well as biphobia and transphobia) in the workplace and on the sports field, to eliminate stigma wherever it lingers.

There are specific legal changes that we must continue to pursue to secure equality for LGBT+ people - on issues like the gay blood ban, and the spousal veto.

And we also need to keep making the case internationally for reform on LGBT+ rights - recognising that most of the world lags far behind the UK, and that billions of people still live in societies where they can suffer incredibly harsh treatment just for the "crime" of being gay.
Could you explain your voting record on LGBT+ issues in previous Parliaments, including any absences, abstentions and amendments? (John B. Grout)
One of the most significant achievements of the coalition government was the bringing into law in England and Wales equal marriage for same sex couples. How did you vote on this legislation, and were there any points during the passing of the Bill when you felt that you might not be able to support it for, say, moral or personal reasons? (Ed Lord)
Tim Farron: I guess to save repeating myself - and I hope this is ok John and Ed - I'll answer these two together.

Obviously a huge amount of legislation I've voted on has an impact on both the LGBT+ community alongside many other communities - and the main tenant of my liberalism has always been to ensure equality of opportunity for all.

On the specifics of my votes on Equal Marriage (not that it's very equal) and the Equality regulations, which have been the main votes since I was elected that get asked about most often:

On Equal Marriage I voted in favour of the principle at second reading (and I am passionately so) but asked for more time for Parliament to debate the legislation to make sure we got it right, for a number of reasons. I was absent from the third reading vote (but would have voted in favour). After third reading I voted in favour at all the deferred divisions. Later I also voted in favour of a number of consequential amendments to other bits of legislation and to allow members of the Armed Forces serving abroad to marry.

In response to Ed's specific point, while I supported some amendments to the Bill during its passage through the House, there was never a point where I felt I was unable to support the Bill as a whole.

On the Equality regulations, again I'm very much in favour - but (and this is pertinent having answered a question above about minorities within minorities) I didn't think that the regulations gave enough protections for all minorities - had this been a bill I would have voted for a couple of amendments and then voted in favour of the bill, but in Parliament regulations are all-or-nothing which makes things much more tricky.
Norman Lamb: I was absent for one vote during the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, for a long-planned ministerial commitment overseas, but made publicly clear at the time that I would have supported the Bill had I been present. I was also absent during some votes on the Statutory Instruments finalising some details of the legislation while it was being implemented - for the same reason. If there had been any risk that the Act would not pass, I would have cancelled other commitments so I could vote myself.

The passage of the Act was one of our proudest achievements in government, and represented a huge victory for the sort of liberal and tolerant society I want to live in.
In January 2007 Tim Farron told the Salvation Army newspaper, "The War Cry" that "the Bible is clear about sexuality of all sorts" and "the standards that define my personal morality as a Christian are not the standards of public morality". This seems to suggest that he thinks homosexuality is a sin, but that his personal view shouldn't stand in the way of pro-equality legislation. Would both candidates accept that:
a) the equality legislation was a hugely significant step forward, and
b) while religious people in politics contribute a great deal, how they express their religious perspectives publicly can risk embarrassing the party and undermining their secular position as MPs? (Andrew Page)
Tim Farron: I would say - for all minorities in the UK - equalities legislation passed in the last 10 to 20 years has been a huge step forwards. Whilst I am and will remain a committed Christian, I take the same approach as Charles Kennedy did - I hold my faith firmly but impose it on no one. I am running to be leader of the Liberal Democrats, not to be Archbishop of Canterbury (which is lucky given that I believe in disestablishment of the Church of England!). Norman Lamb: First, I totally agree that the equality legislation amounts to a huge step forward.

Our party has a proud Christian tradition, and a key source of our support for generations was in religious non-conformist communities across the country. Gladstone said that non-conformism was "the backbone of British Liberalism" - and as a party we championed the separation of church and state, to ensure fair treatment for all those Christians around the country who did not belong to the Church of England. It is pretty extraordinary that we have still not disestablished the Church of England, over a century after Gladstone secured disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, leaving other Christian (and non-Christian) denominations and faiths as somehow inferior in the eyes of the law.

As liberals, we should always be consistent in arguing for the separation of Church and State - both structurally, and in the way we make our laws. As a political party, and as individuals, we must consistently champion liberal values - values which enshrine our freedom to worship as christians, as muslims, or indeed to believe in no god at all.

In a tolerant and open society, individuals should always be free to talk about their faith (or lack of one) as long as they make very clear the distinction between their personal view, and the approach they take as a Liberal Democrat political figure. But in doing so, we should never imply that Christianity is somehow illiberal, or that Christians are not welcome in our party.