International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:39 pm on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities 4:39 pm, 16th May 2019

It is an absolute pleasure to take part in this debate and to follow the passionate speech by Mhairi Black in support of the trans community. I sincerely thank Nick Herbert for securing the debate. His very rounded speech ensured that the debate started in a way that updated us on the progress that has been made, and still needs to be made, globally. He also highlighted the legacy of the UK’s laws and our historical responsibility towards our former colonies. In fact, after he had finished speaking, I thought, “I haven’t really got much to say.”

It is with great pride that I take part in this debate. The theme for this year is justice and protection for all, and we really have to embrace that in its entirety. I always say that equality means equality. This month, on 24 May, we will be celebrating Stonewall’s 30 years of campaigning for LGBT+ people. Stonewall was formed a year and a day after the introduction of section 28 —the legislation that prevented the so-called promotion of homosexuality in schools. It was formed by, among others, Lord Michael Cashman from the other place, Lisa Power and Sir Ian McKellen.

As we have heard, a lot has changed in the past 30 years, but there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made. We often talk about everybody bringing their true, authentic selves to work, yet there are still lots of people in this country and beyond who feel that they cannot do so. One equality does not trump another. You do not have to be gay to fight for gay rights: you just have to believe in equality. That might not come naturally to some—in fact, it may be hard, because they have to confront friends, family members, and even leaders of other countries. However, if that is what it takes to make people feel included, valued and worthy, then surely it is worth it.

The worrying rhetoric surrounding trans rights mirrors the dark early days of section 28 and has led to a spike in hate crimes against LGBT+ people. Members all around the House have said how important it is that we talk about and celebrate the LGBT+ community and the people who have led the way—like my hon. Friend Ms Eagle, who was, as she said, the first openly out gay Minister in a UK Government. We can be pretty sure that she was not the only gay Minister, but she was the first to be openly out. The struggle of those pioneers led to hard-won battles that now seem to be being rolled back.

Why is this important? The annual statistics from the Home Office show that between 2016-17 and 2017-18, police-recorded hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity increased by 27% and 32% respectively. Let me read out a couple of quotes. Ava, 56, from London said:

“Someone described their intention to slit my throat and kill me. They went on to say no court would convict them for killing ‘the queer bait’.”

Abebi, 35, from Scotland said:

“I was physically assaulted by two women as I attempted to use the bathroom in a bar. They began pushing me and shouted that I was in the wrong bathroom and pointed out that this was the ladies’
bathroom. I told them that I knew which bathroom it was and I was in the right place, but they persisted. Since then I avoid public toilets wherever possible.”

Can we imagine living our lives avoiding public toilets or walking down certain roads, in case we are attacked just because we are LGBT+?

The consultation on the Gender Recognition Act has closed, but the Government have yet to publish the findings or respond. Many Members mentioned that. Today is a good day for the Minister to tell us more about the consultation, so that we can stop asking this question time and again.

The UK could be better allies. We have dropped from first to fourth to eighth in the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association rating. We need to support teachers in delivering the curriculum. The protests are growing around the country. We need to stop them in their tracks and ensure that teachers are properly supported, so that we can teach this in an informed and calm way. As Crispin Blunt said, LGBT+ people are people, and children should be taught that we are different but equal.

According to 1 Corinthians, faith, hope and love are three things that people should abide by,

“but the greatest of these is love.”

Martin Luther King said:

“It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”

This country should not support any other country where the LGBT+ community face death because of who they love. We should stand up and oppose that at every opportunity. Anybody who tries to turn love into hate cannot be supported. In our role as chair of the Commonwealth, the UK has an ideal opportunity to lead by example, to be a proper ally and to take a bold step and stand in solidarity with the LGBT+ community. The Government should put pressure on Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth nations to effectively repeal legislation that discriminates against LGBT+ people. The Government could also legislate for equal marriage in Northern Ireland and bring it in line with the rest of the UK. Almost 80% of people in Northern Ireland agree with that.

I would like to thank some people who have always informed me as the shadow Minister for Women and Equalities: LGBT Labour, Amnesty, Mermaids UK, Pride, Black Pride, the Terrence Higgins Trust and the Kaleidoscope Trust.

At the end of the day, hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Just imagine a world where there is more love than hate. As legislators, and with the UK as chair of the Commonwealth, we are in a strong position to help make that a reality.