Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I rise to talk about the hope and promise of change, how far we have come and how far we still have to go. At a time of rising, rampaging populism across Europe and across other democracies around the world, and throughout the tyrannies of the world, it is important to remember that there is so much that we have none the less achieved and that the country we live in today is so much better than the one I was born into. That is largely because in this place openly gay politicians such as myself stand on the shoulders of giants—the giants who forced through legislative change in this place, not just by walking through the Division Lobby, but by marching through the streets demanding change. I am talking about those great social movements that have managed to change not just the laws of the land, but the hearts and minds of the people living in it.
One of the reasons the LGBT community was so disturbed by the protests at school gates around the country accusing gay people of proselytising to children, wanting to convert them and sexualising them is that the horror of section 28 rings so heavily in the our memories. For young people who have gone through school without having to endure section 28, it has come as a shock—that realisation that the rights we have won and that have been fought for can be rolled back. For the older generations who founded organisations such as Stonewall to undo the damage of section 28, it was a reminder that there are battles that we thought were won but that can easily return. For those of us who stand somewhere in the middle, we recognise the heavy burden of responsibility we bear not only to defend the rights we already have, but to extend the freedoms even further.
I took hope from what Imam Ibrahim Mogra said last night on “Newsnight”. There is no doubt that he is a devout believer in his own faith, and I suspect he has traditional views on human sexuality, but on “Newsnight” he said this about homosexuality:
“It’s something you don’t choose into or opt out of.”
He also said that
“if there is a child who comes to school with two mummies or two daddies it’s only right that his”— or her—
“classmates know about this. That would reduce bullying and discrimination.”
What a great message of hope, respect and inclusion.
The journey that the Conservative party has been on has already been referred to. I pay tribute to Conservatives who fought from within to change their party’s position on LGBT equality, meaning that I could march through the Division Lobby to support, for example, measures to extend compulsory sex and relationships education. I pay tribute to those people who are still fighting battles—for example, Alison Bennington in the Democratic Unionist party. She is the first openly gay DUP candidate. Whatever we think of the DUP’s politics, we certainly need more Alison Benningtons and fewer of the likes of Jim Wells.
I say to all of us in this House that there is still unfinished business. It is an absurdity that Northern Ireland is the only place on the island of Ireland and within the British Isles where marriage equality is not enjoyed by everybody. I am appalled that the trans debate has been conducted in an atmosphere of such vicious intolerance, with abuse and threats of violence traded from one side to the other. That is not the way to approach what must be a sensitive and thoughtful debate and consequent action. We have already heard expressed so eloquently the powerful role that this country has to play in undoing the damage in countries around the world where LGBT people are persecuted, often as a result of the House’s colonial legacy.
Finally, as I consider tying the knot, I hope that one day, like my dear friends Ann Limb and Maggie Cook, who married this weekend in a Quaker ceremony, my own church might bless my marriage, even if it does not take place in a church.