As a leading member of the Labour party, how have you contributed to furthering LGBT equality? What advancement in LGBT rights have you supported which you are most proud of and why?
I have campaigned for LGBT rights for over thirty years. I am so proud to be have been able to vote to equalise the age of consent, end the ban on LGBT people serving in our armed forces, end discrimination against LGBT partners for immigration purposes, scrap the hated Section 28, ban discrimination in the workplace and in training and outlaw discrimination in the provision of goods and services, include homophobia as a hate crime and increase sentencing for it, and, of course, to introduce civil partnerships and support equal marriage. These are some of my proudest achievements as an MP, not least because when I was first campaigning for them, as a student in Tory Britain in the 1980s, they seemed so hard to achieve.
As a minister, in whatever department I served in, I always endeavoured to advance LGBT rights. As a Home Office minister I supported the creation of a telephone helpline for LGBT victims of domestic violence. As Public Health minister, I prioritised targeted HIV prevention and health promotion work with those most at risk of HIV infection, provided through community organisations such as the Terence Higgins Trust and delivered a new high profile national campaign, to promote safer sex messages, aimed at reducing the prevalence and spread of all sexually transmitted infections including HIV.
In my constituency I have advised and helped many LGBT constituents, and this weekend I will be proudly attending Doncaster Pride. And, of course, I am a well-known friend of LGBT Labour at conference, and have even been known to make the occasional appearance on the dance floor at the LGBT disco on the first night of annual conference.
What do you think is the most pressing issue affecting the LGBT community and how would you want a future Labour Government to improve the situation?
Equality is never 'job done'. It is always a work in progress. Despite so much progress in the last 20 years, for which LGBT Labour members deserve enormous credit, there is still much to do. But we can’t wait for a Labour Government to fight for what is right.
It really concerns me that young LGBT people are so much more likely to be homeless than young straight people. The Albert Kennedy Trust does fantastic work, but I'm worried that one of the consequences of the Government's cut to housing benefit for 18 to 21 year olds, which I don't think they've even considered, is the effect on young LGBT with a homophobic family life. In these cases, housing benefit can be a vital lifeline, enabling them to get away to a place where they can be true to themselves. Nobody should have to choose between homophobia or being homeless.
Homophobic bullying in schools is a major concern of mine. It affects achievement and can lead to young people feeling isolated and vulnerable. We should continue to press the Government to ensure all children get proper sex and relationship education. It won’t end the problem, but it helps.
As Deputy Leader I would always support the Leader, but on issues like this, I would always push Labour to be true to its principles.
The role of deputy leader is particularly important in the structures and organisation of the Party. What would you do to ensure there is better representation of LGBT people as elected representatives in national and local government, as well as in European Parliament and London Assembly elections?
I joined Labour, never imagining I would be an MP. My mum was a lone parent at 17 and I never knew my real dad. We never owned a home. Going to university was not my destiny. It was an escape. I think that’s way I can connect with other feel like “outsiders”.
So my background didn’t mark me out for political office. I’ve never felt ‘entitled’ and still work hard to prove myself. Who I am, coupled with my passion for equality and social mobility, drives me to ensure that Labour looks and sounds like the country we aspire to govern. We need more LGBT candidates, councillors, and elected representatives at all levels of our party.
Trans* and non-binary people can face specific barriers to being active inside the Labour Party and in holding elected office. How would you reach out to and engage with trans* members and the wider trans* community?
The selection of Emily Brothers as our first out trans candidate at the last General Election was a real landmark moment. There is, however, no doubt that trans and non-binary people do face specific barriers to being active in political life, and we must challenge prejudice wherever we find it. I was really pleased that LGBT Labour held a trans event in Parliament last year and it was great to be able to meet with trans members of all backgrounds to discuss directly with them how we can break down some of those barriers. If I'm elected Deputy Leader, I would love to work with LGBT Labour and the wider trans community to arrange similar events and meetings.
Homophobia and transphobia are still far too prevalent in our country. For the trans community in particular, we need to go much further to ensure people feel as though Britain is a country in which identity is respected and supported. Much progress has been made to ensure that individuals transitioning gender get the care and support they need. However, too many trans people face barriers and delays to the care to which they are entitled. As a party we must work with the trans community to improve access to gender care services, as well as address issues such as the spousal visa and the Gender Recognition Certificate.
How do you think the Labour Party can best organise in Northern Ireland to tackle the growing divide in equality for LGBT communities in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK?
It was fantastic to see the launch of LGBT Labour Northern Ireland last year. I think LGBT Labour, and the wider Labour family, has a really important job to do to support our friends in Northern Ireland to promote the rights of LGBT communities in Northern Ireland, as well as to encourage members of the LGBT community to support the Labour Party.
I strongly support equal marriage in Northern Ireland, the right of LGBT individuals and couples to adopt children in Northern Ireland, policies to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying in school at all levels, a Gender Recognition Act allowing transgender citizens to realize their gender identity, and an Equality Act for Northern Ireland. As Deputy Leader, I would work with our colleagues in the SDLP to advance the cause of LGBT rights in Northern Ireland and across the UK. With the fantastic news from the Republic of Ireland this year, now, more than ever, we must make the case for equal marriage in Northern Ireland too.
What action would you take to change the way the party is structured and organises in a manner which promotes equality? Do you agree there should be a reserved space for LGBT Labour and Disability Labour on the NEC?
I'm really glad that LGBT Labour has a place on our National Policy Forum. I think LGBT Labour has used it really well, build good relationships within the party, and developed policies for the last manifesto that too often before didn't get the prominence they deserve. So I'm very open to the idea of representation of LGBT Labour and Disability Labour on the NEC. I'd also like to see better representation of LGBT Labour on regional boards.
This article first appeared on http://www.lgbtlabour.org.uk/