It is an honour for me to be asked by the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Executive to return to the post of Chair. I was previously Chair between 2010 - 2013, when our party, with allies from across the political spectrum, spearheaded the campaign for Same-Sex Marriage in England & Wales. Our colleagues in Scotland supported it there, but sadly Northern Ireland still lags behind. Trans people can still have their rights held to ransom through the spousal veto. Along with pensions, it is clear that there is still work to be done to make same-sex marriage truly equal in the UK.
I married my husband Juha on the first anniversary of the Same-Sex Marriage Act, and then fought the General Election as the first openly HIV+ positive parliamentary candidate, for the Constituency of Vauxhall. These experiences have inspired me to reinvigorate campaign efforts on a number of fronts. In Government, the Liberal Democrats pushed for LGBT+ equality on many fronts, the most obvious of which is Baroness Featherstone leading on same sex marriage. Her book coming out later this month will highlight her work and that of many others.
With the Liberal Democrats no longer in Goverment, and Labour's current leadership difficulties, the LGBT+ bodies within all parties need to step up to the mark and campaign vigorously to move the current government on many serious issues.
There are so many inequalities which our diverse communities contend with, from lack of recognition of our relationships among public services, to the serious issues around healthcare for trans people, to treating elderly LGBT+ people with the dignity they deserve in their later years, to ensuring blood donation rules are based on medical risk evidence not sexuality, to the high number of homeless LGBT+ people on the streets, to the disproportionate effect of the Tory Government cuts we spent five years blocking, to hate crime across all protected characteristics, to sex and relationship education - all these and more are serious problems for a supposedly equal society.
I'm going to set out four key areas which I hope we as campaigners can lead on.
Firstly, mental health - which has been seen as the "Cinderella" of health services for over thirty years. We know that suicides amongst LGBT+ people are at their highest, and that bullying and harassment leads to a myriad issues, from drug, sex and alcohol addiction, chemsex, lack of happiness, isolation and body image expectations. Where there are potential solutions like the use of PReP, or new Hep C drugs available, especially when HIV diagnoses are increasing, we need to lobby governments to tell pharmaceutical companies to get their nose out of the trough and make these medications available to those who are at risk and need that support.
Secondly, International Action and Asylum. I'm proud to say that the Lib Dems set out our policy against the deportation of LGBT+ asylum seekers way back in 2008, and this policy made it to our 2010 manifesto and the Coalition Agreement. However, when the Tories took over the Home Office from Labour, they continued to send people back to countries where they may be persecuted, prisoned or killed. Our asylum system still sees it fit to probe people's personal lives to try and determine whether their sexuality is genuine. I still find that hard to stomach; essentially you are asking someone to prove they are LGBT+ when in those countries the public knowledge of this may lead to perilous circumstances. Would we like our personal stories to be forensically detailed just to prove we love someone of the same sex?
Following the leading work of expert lawyers like Chelvan from No.5 Chambers, and the work of Human Dignity Trust, the UK needs to act as a beacon and welcome those who've faced persecution. We must lead on decriminalisation of LGBT+ people and activities, especially amongst our Commonwealth nations. We must ensure the EU, UN and other major international bodies do not allow any letting up of equality especially in the face of the Russian Government, and the murder of LGBT+ people by ISIS/Daesh terrorists. Here in the UK, we as a community need to ensure that racism within the LGBT+ community is eradicated, and the acceptance of people's different races, religious faiths and those of none does not continue to see the prejudiced comments.
Thirdly, we must continue to make progress on trans, intersex, non-binary and agender issues. Our party's policy is that where gender markers are required, they should include an "X" option as well as "M" or "F" for people who feel that better describes their gender. We have called for better access to transition services as the waiting lists spiral. And the slow, obstructive gatekeeping process demanded by the Gender Recognition Act must be made simpler, faster and cheaper. These steps will help protect trans, intersex, nonbinary and agender people, reduce the demand on other health services, and enable these people to reach their full potential.
Finally, to fight all these issues mentioned above, the crux of the matter is education. The Lib Dems support LGBT+ inclusive, age-appropriate, substantive Sex and Relationship Education. This must exist across all schools, with no exceptions for free schools, academies or religious institutions. This is basic understanding, explaining same-sex relationships, HIV and STI knowledge which leads to better understanding, less homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bullying and violence, and in the long run more acceptance across all areas of life - school, workplace, on the sports field and in the boardroom. Stonewall still highlights in recent surveys the amount of ignorance, bullying and misinformation in all these places. and with LGBT+ role models coming out across the spectrum of politics, sport, music and drama, there needs to be a concerted efforts to crush the stereotypes. We need role models across society to engender love and respect, unlike Tyson Fury; he may have apologised (too late in my view) but his misogynistic and homophobic remarks are something which in 2016 have to stop. People in the public eye have to take responsibility for their comments and and the impact they can have, and respond respectfully and meaningfully to sincere criticism - take note Katie Hopkins!
This year, there are key elections especially in Scotland, Wales and above all in London, with the Mayoral and Greater London Assembly elections in our unique, diverse city. We as a community need to ensure all the above issues are raised by all parties, and I will make sure the Liberal Democrats continue to lead on them. I hope you can join us.
Chair LGBT+ Liberal Democrats
GLA Liberal Democrat List Candidate
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