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Lib Dem Leadership election: Ed and Jo respond to your LGBT+ Questions

July 1, 2019 2:10 PM
LGBT+ Lib Dems' members magazine, Leadership Election special

Plus Magazine with the Leadership Candidates' responses

Voting has opened for the Liberal Democrats' leadership election. Ed Davey and Jo Swinson are standing as candidates to replace Vince Cable as Leader of the party.

LGBT+ Lib Dems asked our members to suggest questions to the candidates on LGBT+ topics, and their replies are in our latest members' magazine, which started hitting doorsteps this morning. We're publishing them here too, to allow all Lib Dem members to make an informed choice in the leadership election.

What is your position on LGBT+ inclusion in sex and relationships education?

Jo: It's essential to equality, education, and the wellbeing of our children and it must happen.

Education is there to help our children negotiate the world and understand the communities they're a part of. We owe it to them to provide them with the best information we can to live their lives happily, safely, and without discrimination.

I respect everyone's right to their own religious beliefs, but for me, this cannot extend to our education system treating some people's lives and identities as if they are somehow less worthy of respect or love.

Ed: LGBT+ must be a compulsory part of sex and relationships education, and I welcome the new legislation that SRE is at long last compulsory. There are issues to clarify the guidance, especially over LGBT+ teaching, and I think headteachers and schools should have more support, but this is a step forward.

Going ahead, schools and teachers must be offered both training and high quality materials for sex and relationship education generally, and this training and the resources must include LGBT+ inclusion.

The protests outside Anderton Primary School in Birmingham, mainly by Muslim parents, but supported by far right figures such as Katie Hopkins, who are against SRE teaching in general, have to be resisted strongly. While people are entitled to their religious beliefs, children must be given facts, information and guidance, in a structured, sensitive setting. This is vital for them as individuals, and for creating a more equal society, where people are not discriminated, bullied or persecuted because of their sexuality.

How will you ensure the Home Office improves its approach to LGBT+ asylum seekers, particularly in respect of the deportation of people to countries with harsh anti-LGBT+ legislation and telling people to "just be discreet"? What specific measures would you as leader take to promote LGBT rights across the world?

Ed: The Home Office is in urgent need of reform - and I have helped develop radical policy for this. The original proposals were significantly improved at the 2018 September Conference, not least in relation to policy towards LGBT+ asylum seekers, and I would want to ensure this stronger policy is part of our campaigning.

So the original policy absolutely argued that the Home Office should never be allowed to refuse an asylum application from a LGBT+ individual, on the grounds that they should "just be discreet". However, the improvements I particularly welcome included the need for more specialist legal advice to be available for people with sexual orientation and gender identity grounds and the need for Home Office country reports to be clearer about countries where LGBT+ individuals face threats from domestic abuse, honour-based violence and state-sponsored or state-led discrimination and persecution.

The broader culture of the Home Office, including its intrusive and disbelieving attitudes to religious, sexuality and gender identity, need root and branch reform, starting with the significant evidence that the current approach is unjust, degrading and offensive.

In more than 20 years of doing constituency advice surgeries, I have helped thousands of people with immigration and asylum cases, including LGBT+ applicants. The treatment of many people by the Home Office, and many aspects of the law and operational guidance, needs fundamental review, and our policies are a very good start.

To improve international LGBT rights, we need a combination of legal and political action. From strengthening the definition of a refugee in Article 1 of the Geneva Convention to include persecution or oppression on the grounds of "sex, sexuality or gender", to ensuring the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is tasked to raise LGBT+ rights as a central part of the UK's global human rights effort, there is a lot to do. The recent example of new offensive and persecutory laws brought in by the Government of Brunei shows how much there is to do on this, and the need to use the media and even popular boycott calls to campaign to overturn and stop such nasty, illiberal actions.

Jo: In my role as Foreign Affairs spokesperson, I have been clear that there is no room in modern politics for anti-LGBT laws or activity. When the new laws came into force in Brunei in April, I spoke in the Commons about how they were barbaric, inhumane, and contrary to our shared Commonwealth values.

It is something I encourage the UN to take a greater role in - as they did when they issued a statement condemning the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016. Our membership of the EU also has a big role to play in enhancing our diplomatic power and giving us more say in EU-led initiatives.

Closer to home, as leader I would push to go further in domestic law than international law requires and amend our domestic regulations to make clear that sexual orientation and gender identity are specific reasons for persecution under the refugee convention. I also believe the Home Office should amend their immigration rules to make clear that criminalisation of basic human rights amounts to serious harm.

How do we encourage understanding and acceptance of LGBT+ people of faith and belief, in both the LGBT+ groups and faith groups which may seek to exclude them?

Jo: For years we have tried to push towards greater LGBT+ acceptance across all communities, but we still have a long way to go and we need to recognise that tactics which work well for one community don't necessarily work for another. For example, in Waterloo, Oasis Church handed out 'Sorry' flyers, apologising for how Christianity had treated the LGBT+ community.

We know that there are many LGBT+ people in faith groups for whom their sexuality and faith are both central to their identity - and we should empower them to share their own stories and encourage their fellow believers to recognise their experience. We also need to recognise that many people may not be out to their family and friends from certain parts of their life and we need to support those fighting for equality wherever they are on their journey.

At the same time we need to make sure we stand up for the human rights of the LGBT+ community, regardless of their beliefs - which should start with banning conversion therapy.

Ed: We need to understand what is and isn't working at present.

In my own experience, there are some faith groups that are incredibly welcoming of LGBT+ communities and some that aren't. There are very liberally-minded groups in almost all religions, where from my own experience all communities feel welcome, valued and included. My own local extremely liberal Anglican CoE church benefits from having an amazing vicar, who has in the last year given detailed sermons on gender identification and the bible - from a perspective I support! And there are leading members of the congregation who are openly from the LGBT+ community.

Equally, having received strong lobbying against major changes for equality reform such as lowering the age of consent from parts of different faith communities, I am all too aware that some people of faith can be highly discriminatory. Despite persistent lobbying by these groups, I have always voted for LGBT+ inclusive legislation, because it's what I believe in.

There is some research and evidence of what works - though I'm not an expert, and I suspect more research is needed. From Stonewall's 2008 Report "Living Together" to a recent report produced by Brighton and Hove's LGBT Switchboard, there are lessons we can refer to.

How will you tackle the growing problem of transphobia in the media and wider society?

Ed: Over the last five years I have got to understand in much greater depth the discrimination faced by the Transgender community. My friend Helen Belcher was kind enough to give me Becoming Drusilla by Richard Beard and it's on my summer reading list. It's important that all elected Liberal Democrats have a greater understanding and awareness of transphobia. It's unacceptable that in 2019 a community can be facing such an unacceptable intolerant onslaught.

What is most alarming about media transphobia in Britain is that it is coming from the political left as well as the usual suspects on the right. It is shameful that some Labour MPs frame the liberation of the trans community against women's rights and that senior figures in the media uncritically back up these assertions which serve to demonise and other trans women. We need to do much more to amplify the voices of the trans community in our party.

As leader, I will be unequivocal that trans rights are human rights. And I will also fight for those members of the LGBT+ community affected by other forms of intolerance and discrimination, including racism and bi-phobia.

Jo: Any leader of the Liberal Democrats should be prepared to make clear, repeatedly and unambiguously, that trans rights are human rights.

I'm a feminist and I'm still insulted that I'm told again and again by the national media that I can't believe both in women's rights and that trans women should be protected by them too. The level of debate has, quite frankly, become harmful and disturbing and shows no sign of stopping.

As leader I would champion trans, non-binary, genderfluid, and self-defined gender identities - making clear that there is no equality or liberty without defending the rights of these groups and individuals. I want to elevate the voices of people with different gender identities - and at the same time recognise that as a cis-woman I am in the privileged position to be able to share their stories and experiences without fear.

Who is your biggest LGBT+ inspiration? What lessons have you taken from them?

Jo: Sally Ride, without a doubt.

She's generally kick-ass because she entered a male-dominated career and smashed it by becoming the first American woman in space in 1983.

She was famously asked by a team of (male) engineers who were working out what needed to be in her flight kit for a one-week mission, whether 100 tampons would be enough.

And she became a strong advocate for opening up science and space to more women and girls.

Despite being such an amazing, accomplished and stereotype-busting woman, Sally's decision to keep her 27-year relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy private until she died is a powerful reminder that we still have a long way to go to ensure no one in the LGBT+ community is marginalised and that they feel included in their community for who they are.

Ed: Andrew Moffatt MBE, the Birmingham teacher who has faced mass protests from parents over his classes to teach children inclusivity and tolerance of all genders and sexualities. Despite fierce opposition from some local parents, protests and threats to his own safety, Andrew has been a beacon for equality even when that has caused him great personal sacrifice. We can all learn lessons from him on how to remain courageous in the face of adversity and to fight for what is right, particularly on behalf of those who are not in a position to speak up for themselves.

And of course this year marking 50 years since the Stonewall uprising I want to pay tribute to Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson. These two activists were front and centre in the liberation of the LGBT+ community and the fight for equality.

Lib Dems at Leeds Pride 2018 with Gender Reform Act Banner

The candidates were asked about supporting local Pride events

As Leader, what will you do to encourage more Lib Dem Parliamentarians to support major Pride events around the country, particularly in Brighton, Manchester, Edinburgh, Leeds and Cardiff, and how should the Federal party be better supporting smaller local pride events?

Ed: As a constituency MP, I have supported smaller LGBT+ events in my constituency. In February, I was deeply moved by an LGBT History Month story-telling night in Surbiton which gave me a really valuable insight into how people in my constituency have been let down by a society which is still, sadly, deeply prejudiced in some quarters.

I think it's incredibly important that all our parliamentarians support their local pride and I will be marching alongside London Lib Dems in July.

Jo: I know our MPs are always involved with local events with their constituencies - from local protests to village fetes - and Pride should be no different. I'd like to see local parties lead on putting together a Lib Dem contingent for every local Pride event, inviting their Lib Dem councillors and MPs. With more members than ever and large proportion of LGBT+ Lib Dems, we could have a real presence at many of these events.

I've personally loved going along to Pride events over the years! Such great vibe and sense of community. And I am so excited that in Glasgow our Pride movement is going from strength to strength, building on our annual Pride March with the Glasgow Mardi Gla Festival, which is making its debut this summer.

While we are making good strides on gender diversity and seeing some improvement in BAME diversity, in our entire history, the Liberal Democrats and it's predecessors have never appointed or had elected an openly LBT woman to any parliament. (Commons, Lords, Europe) How do you intend to tackle this failure in LGBT+ representation as Leader?

Jo: Our failure to elect an LBT woman to Parliament is in many ways an example of dual disadvantage and how we need to get better at understanding the impact of intersectionality.

When I spoke on our debate on All-Women Shortlists back in 2016, I made clear that simply having an All-Women Shortlist wasn't good enough - that we needed earmarked investment, requirements on local parties to scout talent, and a system of mentoring for people who may otherwise not choose to put themselves forward. These are precisely the interventions I believe are needed to increase LGBT+ representation - as well as involvement from groups like LGBT+ Lib Dems to encourage their members to step forward and get involved. They will be welcomed.

Ed: We clearly haven't been representative enough for LBT women in our Party's history. The next Leader may have the chance to correct this through appointments with respect to the Lords. In terms of elected positions it's about giving confidence and encouragement - personally and through the party's diversity team - to bring forward many more LBT women to stand for elected positions. I would want to work with LGBT+ Lib Dems in identifying and supporting these candidates.

We may also need to provide more guidance to local parties on becoming as LGBT+ inclusive as possible so that LBT women are not put off getting further involved at that crucial first point of contact with the party. Every LBT woman who decides that getting further involved in the party isn't for her after her first local exec meeting is a huge loss to our movement.

How would you go about listening to SAOs, Aos, and other interest groups within the party? How would you foster better communications and co-operation between them and the Leader's office, HQ, and parliamentarians?

Ed: If I were elected Leader I would want to employ a full-time member of staff whose job is to liaise across our Party, making sure I am plugged in to as much of the work of SAOs, AOs and other party groups as possible. I want to know what groups like LGBT+ Lib Dems are up to and how I as Leader can help advance their agenda. I want to use technology - from conference calls to Facebook groups - to engage personally with as many parts of the party as possible and ensure a constant dialogue between my leadership team, other parliamentarians and elected officials, and associations and interest groups across the Party.

Jo: I think for a long time SAOs and AOs have been seen as special interest groups which help involve and keep hold of members but which don't always have a role to play at a policy or leadership level. I disagree. As leader I would ensure my office had an ongoing dialogue with these groups - listening to their concerns and championing their causes.

Whenever we as a party talk about LGBT+ issues these days, it's generally along the lines of: "Isn't it great we delivered same-sex marriage, but of course there's still more to do." In your view, what more is there to do, and what would you do as leader to bring these issues to the forefront of public debate?

Jo: To begin with, there needs to be more discussion about LGBT+ issues, full stop. I'd also remind members that we don't have same-sex marriage across the UK and that the UK government, in the absence of a Northern Ireland Assembly, has an obligation to ensure that our human rights obligations are met in Northern Ireland.

As leader, the first three things I would focus on would be:

• Health including mental health. We need more outreach, and we need to work harder to ensure that all of our communities become more inclusive and that no teenager is driven to self-harm for fear of their sexuality or gender identity. This would build on the work I did as Equalities Minister when in 2013 I launched an initiative to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools.

And, perhaps easiest of all, we need PrEP available to anyone who needs is on the NHS, free of charge, without limits.

• Safety. In 2017, Stonewall found that 1 in 5 LGBT people had experienced hate crime in the last 12 months, rising to 2 in 5 trans people. 80% of these crimes go unreported. This is unacceptable and we need to focus on challenging the homophobia and transphobia that drive hate crime and ensuring appropriate punishment (including community sentences) for those involved.

• Self-identification. Despite initial moves towards self-identification, the Government has foundered - scared by pressure groups and the media. Trans people should be able to legally change their gender without the current medicalised hoops to jump through - their own experience should be enough. As leader I would push for this change.

Ed: The government, propped up by the homophobic DUP, has failed to extend same-sex marriage to cover Northern Ireland. Same-sex couples in Northern Ireland must still travel away from home to have their marriage legally recognised. As Leader I would make it a top priority to campaign to right this wrong.

The UK still lags behind on the issue of introducing an "X" gender option on passports, and the Tories have dragged their feet on the long-overdue reform of the Gender Recognition Act. Meanwhile trans people are still subject to intrusive tests to have their gender recognised. I am committed to campaigning for equality. LGBT+ rights are human rights, and these lie at the heart of who we are as a party. I'll campaign to tackle these persistent prejudices and work towards achieving equality for all.

After Tim Farron's comments and U-turns on whether "gay sex" is sinful, many LGBT+ people were left wondering if they could trust us. Can they trust you?

Ed: Yes. Equality for people no matter their sexuality, gender identity, race, religion, disability or otherwise, is central to who I am. I would hope that my strong record on fighting for equal rights and representation for the LGBT+ community, for example moving the amendment to abolish Section 28, shows my dedication and demonstrates this is an area where I can be trusted. But trust can take years to build and moments to damage. If elected leader I will work hard to advance hard won rights, by campaigning in Parliament to deliver truly equal marriage - in Great Britain AND Northern Ireland, lead the charge for reforms to the Gender Recognition Act and crack down on the hate crimes against LGBT people. I also recognise that, as an ally, one of the most important things I need to do is listen and I will ensure that I continue to listen to people with lived experience of discrimination.

I hope this focus on strengthening existing rights and fighting hard for further equality will demonstrate to LGBT people that I, and the Liberal Democrats, can be trusted.

Jo: I have made clear before that gay or straight, love is love and that I disagree with Tim. His views on this do not represent the Liberal Democrats - our members, our policy, or our politicians. As leader I will continue to champion LGBT+ rights proudly, and work to build an inclusive society that celebrates love.

Thanks to both for all their answers - hoping it will have helped you cast your votes wisely!