It is a pleasure to follow Luke Graham; we always welcome allies in these debates, and we have heard a number of powerful speeches. Nick Herbert has done an excellent job, as does the all-party group, in bringing forward and raising the voices of those around the world who cannot speak for themselves.
Let us consider the following:
“gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths;
they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes;
and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends and our neighbours.
Being gay is not a Western invention;
it is a human reality.”
Those are the excellent words of Hillary Rodham Clinton —words to which I have returned on many occasions in recent years.
As someone who took until I was 32 to come to terms with my own sexuality, I spent a lot of my early life hiding from myself, my feelings and my emotions, and from the truth of who I am and who I love. But I never, ever had to hide from the state or the police, or out of fear of being persecuted or killed. Sadly, as we have heard, that is the experience of many LGBT people around the globe in places such as Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan. In those countries, in 2017, being LGBT is punishable by death. It is therefore vital that we shine a light, as we have with many powerful speeches today, on those people who are being persecuted and who cannot speak for themselves.
As we know, the gay men in Chechnya who were unable to hide have been beaten, tortured or killed, and the stories that have emerged have sickened us all. There has been cross-party condemnation of those acts. It is good that international pressure has led to investigations, but questions remain about President Putin’s commitment to stopping these heinous crimes, and as The Guardian reported in May:
“Rights activists worry that Chechen authorities will do everything to obstruct the federal investigation into the allegations.”
The UK Government must continue to put pressure on Russia, and any future trade deals during or after Brexit must not be traded against human rights.
I am very proud that the UK and Scotland have come so far. Scotland is now recognised as one of the most progressive countries in the world on LGBT rights. As Mr Evans pointed out, the SNP is now the gayest party in this Parliament. I was proud to bring those numbers up and to be the most recent Member to come out. I am also proud that our leader in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, was one of the first leaders to take part in a Pride event and to speak at Glasgow Pride earlier this year. It is not a competition, though, although it was interesting to hear that a person now has to be gay to become a Conservative candidate—that is most definitely progress!
Like other Members, I pay tribute to Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson from the Time for Inclusive Education campaign. They came to Parliament recently, and I was glad to co-host an event with Gerard Killen that they attended. They told us Jordan’s story, which is so powerful, and they have done so much to put pressure on the Scottish Government and on other Governments around the world. TIE has been recognised by the UN as a leading light—another example of how we are leading the world.
There are so many charities and organisations that we could recognise, but I want to draw particular attention to Stonewall and the Kaleidoscope Trust, which do important work not only here in the UK but around the world. A friend of mine who was openly gay at secondary school—something I was frankly too terrified to be—told me recently that had it not been for the support she had from Stonewall, she may not have survived. Stonewall was quite simply a lifeline that saved her life.