I beg to move,
That this House has considered the international day against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia.
I thank all the Members who supported the application for the debate: I am very grateful to them. I am also grateful to the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), who not only supported the debate but, via the all-party parliamentary group on global lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights—which he chairs—gave a huge amount of resource and support to all of us who will be speaking in it. I welcome the Minister to her place. She often talks about global Britain, but I see that she is wearing global Britain today as well. That is great to see. I know that the whole House will want to express gratitude to the many campaigning and support organisations that have been updating and informing us in advance of the debate, but also—most important of all—for the work they do day in, day out to give voice to some of the world’s most isolated and vulnerable people.
This is an important day to me and for many others. Normally I spend it down in Brighton, where each year a community of people gather in public to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. A little later today, this year’s gathering will take place in the heart of Brighton, where speeches will be followed by performances by the Rainbow Chorus. Then, as always, will come my favourite part of the event: everyone present is invited to make the loudest noise that they possibly can for a whole minute. People will clap, scream, cheer, and bang on any instrument to hand. Let me tell anyone who has not experienced it that it is a little bit like Prime Minister’s Question Time. [Laughter.] The symbolism is clear: when it comes to hate and discrimination, you do not stand by quietly; you make a noise.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing such an important debate. Does he agree that it is incumbent on all of us in this place, not only those who identify as LGBTQ, to stand up and ensure that this sort of discrimination is stamped out in society? I thank him for mentioning Pride. Although I do not identify as LGBT, I have previously enjoyed many Pride events.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments and can assure the House that she is a supporter of the LGBT community in general and also of those of us as individuals who are LGBT; we certainly call her a great friend.
The UK’s equality advances have been profound in recent decades. For millions of people around the world the legal rights and protections we enjoy and the journey towards the normalisation of same-sex relationships in every aspect of life here must seem like another planet entirely. Normalisation is more radical than it sounds, but for a young person questioning their sexual or gender identity to see somebody whose success in science, sport, business or politics is the first thing they know about them and their sexuality the last is more empowering than we often think.
But just because we are on that journey does not mean we have reached the destination. Bill Clinton said that one of the lessons he had learned from his time as President is that once a politician achieves something in office, they can never bank it and move on; they must always defend it and make the case afresh for future generations. In the age of rising populism former President Clinton’s advice seems especially relevant to the equality agenda, and I take this challenge seriously. My argument to present and future generations for why we have to both maintain the existing rights and protections for the LGBT community and LGBT people and continue to press forward is simple: I believe that equality has strengthened our society at every step, not weakened it.
It has also strengthened some of our great institutions. Back when the House was debating whether to allow LGBT people to serve in the military, there was strong opposition, with one Member stating:
“If parents felt that the forces condoned homosexuality, a large number of them would do their best to resist the recruitment of their children.”—[Official Report, 9 May 1996; Vol. 277, c. 489.]
And the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) said when shadow Secretary of State for Defence that
“lifting the ban would adversely affect operational effectiveness.”—[Official Report, 12 January 2000; Vol. 342, c. 289.]
Less than 20 years later things are very different.
In support of what the hon. Gentleman has said, may I point out that one of the Guards battalions in the second world war was widely recognised as being full of gay men and it was reckoned to be the bravest and most steadfast battalion of the Guards?
That speaks volumes about the era we are moving on from and that which we are moving towards.
Operational effectiveness is not only affected by greater diversity; I would argue that our forces remain the best, most professional and most formidable in the world, but their culture has been vastly improved. When President Trump recently tried to ban trans people from serving in the US military the reaction from Britain’s military high command was not only revealing, but was something we should all be extremely proud of. The Second Sea Lord, Vice-Admiral Jonathan Woodcock, said he was:
“So proud of our transgender personnel. They bring diversity to our Royal Navy and I will always support their desire to serve their country.”
“I suspect many who doubt the abilities of our diverse service personnel might be more reluctant to serve than they are to comment.”
If I was in a fight, I would want a Sea Lord or two on my side. Well, we are in a fight and, as Bill Clinton warned, there are people not only trying to halt progress, but to turn the clock back. And it is crystal clear now, based on evidence, that excluding LGBT people from serving in our military would adversely affect operational effectiveness, not the opposite.
The same is true for gay marriage. The inclusion of same-sex couples into one of the oldest and most important of our institutions has not undermined its worth or value, but has proven it fit for the 21st century.
The lesson from these examples is clear: equality is not a zero-sum game. When a trans person serves in the military, it does not weaken the values that lead to an effective fighting team; it strengthens them. When a gay couple gets married, the value of a straight couple’s marriage is not suddenly diminished; it is strengthened by being in a partnership that is understood with empathy by more people. This needs to be understood as we look into the future and tackle the areas where more progress needs to be made. More than a third of lesbian and gay people disguise who they are at work, for fear of discrimination. That figure is even higher for people who are bisexual. It angers me that employers are overlooking so many lost opportunities, let alone productivity, because these are the things that come from a workforce that is at ease and able to celebrate the individual characteristics that make us who we are.
Here I want to pay tribute to Mr Speaker. In his time in office, he has relentlessly championed diversity and equality throughout the Commons. The results have been reflected in the Stonewall diversity index, but even more importantly, they have been part of the lived experience of people of the LGBT community who work here. I have worked in some pretty strange places in my time, especially during my years as an aid worker, but the Chamber here is by far the strangest. Sometimes, it is the most hostile work environment possible, but in my three years here, I have never experienced homophobia. The Chamber is a tough place to work, but it is a friendly place for lesbian, gay and bisexual people to be who they are. I hope that the time will soon arrive when the same can be said for trans people, too. The lesson from every other workplace is simple: this does not happen by accident. It happens only when good and determined people make it happen, and for that the Speaker has my full thanks.
Universities now need to learn the lessons, too. A third of trans students have experienced negative comments and 14% have considered dropping out due to harassment or discrimination by students or staff. The number of hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender has increased in recent years, not fallen, and the importance of engaging employers in the fight for equality is ever more important.
While researching for this debate, I was surprised to learn about some of the issues around bisexuality. For example, I did not know that only 12% of bisexual men were out, compared with 77% of gay men. Campaigners have spoken to me about the lack of bisexual magazines, apps, websites, groups and venues in which to meet and socialise. Because a lot of research covers the LGBT community as a whole, little is done to understand the specific sexual health issues surrounding the bisexual community, for example. These are issues that need addressing as we move forward.
Other hon. and right hon. Members will give more detail about the international issues, and I look forward to hearing them, but I cannot conclude without briefly referencing the international situation. Seventy-two countries around the world still criminalise same-sex relationships, 36 of which are Commonwealth member states. Ninety per cent. of the Commonwealth’s citizens live in jurisdictions where same-sex conduct is a criminal offence. I certainly welcome the Prime Minister’s apology for the UK’s historical role in bequeathing those laws to many of those countries, and her setting up of a £5.6 million fund to help countries to reform their laws accordingly, but we must not relent in our diplomatic pressure to reform those laws wherever they exist.
Here in Britain, we are entering the Pride season, and we will be enjoying the freedom that is denied to so many people abroad. Brighton and Hove Pride is on 4 August, when 250,000 people, including Britney Spears, will be taking to the streets and parks of the great city of Brighton and Hove. The fact that Pride is wrapped up in one big party means that people often do not see how important it is to individuals and to the LGBT community as a whole. I well remember standing hidden in the crowds, watching from afar as people marched, danced and cheered, celebrating who they were. Even though it was happening right there in front of me, it seemed a terrifying distance away to someone who was not yet out. Several years later, after I had come out, I remember marching for the very first time. I had never been so self-conscious in my entire life, believing that every single one of the thousands of people lining the streets was standing there staring at me and judging. How things have changed! Now that I march as a politician, I would love every single one of them to be standing there staring at me. What they are doing, however, is enjoying Pride for what it is today. Everyone in that crowd is there for their own reason.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on a fantastic speech and on securing this debate. The big Prides across the UK and across the world are important, but does he agree that it is vital to have Prides in towns and villages across the UK and the world? The small towns and villages are where the biggest challenges lie for LGBT people.
That is a welcome and important intervention. We have big Prides in London and in Brighton, which is the biggest in Europe, attracting over 300,000 people, and those big celebrations have played a key role in our communities for a long time. I was on the board of Brighton and Hove Pride for three years and saw what it took to organise the event. I am well aware of its contribution to our community year-round, distributing the surpluses that it makes in one weekend. However, it is amazing how many other smaller communities along the south coast of England have started their own Prides. Worthing has launched its Pride for the first time this year, and Eastbourne started its Pride last year. I hope that smaller communities will see the benefits of a locally rooted opportunity to celebrate diversity in their community and to allow LGBT people to come out and celebrate who they are as individuals. I grew up in Bognor Regis, a town on the south coast, and I would love the day to arrive on which Bognor has its Pride, which I would visit happily and proudly to represent the people of Hove and Portslade.
How things have changed. Everyone who attends and forms part of the crowd at a Pride does so for their own reasons. Many go to show support for friends or family or the LGBT community in general. We see lots of parents with young children sitting on their shoulders, waving the pride flag, and for them it is presumably a tool to introduce the next generation to the issues surrounding equality, sexuality and gender. For me, however, when I cast my eyes around the crowds of onlookers, I am always wondering how many people are going through the same turmoil I once did. If they notice me, my greatest hope is that they see a comfort and confidence in who I am today, including my sexuality, and that that in turn will ease their journey towards allowing others to get to know all of them, not just the bits that are not hidden. That is what we all aspire to as individuals, and this country should aspire to create the conditions in which that is possible and do what we can to get other countries to follow suit. Until that is achieved, days such as the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia will need to exist, and debates like this will remain as important as ever.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate, because the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia is such an important day for so many millions of people around the world. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) for securing this debate and for giving a united House of Commons the chance to speak out about issues that matter to so many of us.
While we use this day to celebrate the progress that has been made in so many parts of the world, we should recognise that we still need to make a huge amount of progress—more so in some places than in others. In my time as Secretary of State for International Development, I had the chance to visit many countries where LGBT people simply do not have the same rights that we have here in the UK. We have to recognise that all countries are on a journey, and we should pay tribute to the many LGBT campaigners around the world who work in countries that have so much further to go than the UK. They often put their lives at risk in mounting such campaigns and being a voice for the people around them who suffer so much persecution.
Being LGBT is still a crime in many countries around the world, and people can end up in jail purely because of who they choose to love. Speaking out against that and being a voice today for some of those people is an important task for the House of Commons. We have a chance to stand up for millions of people who do not have a voice. I reiterate what the hon. Member for Hove said: it is exceptionally important that we use the Commonwealth network to drive change, particularly in those Commonwealth countries that have not moved forward since gaining independence. Yes, we were right to make that apology, but those countries now have the chance and the space to make the changes we have made in the intervening years. I think they can make those changes, they should make those changes and they need to make those changes to decriminalise being LGBT. This is a historic time, and I want to see all Commonwealth countries grasp the opportunity to drive for LGBT equality.
We know that changing laws is crucial, and it is at the heart of how we move things forward in our country. Last year, when we were celebrating 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality began, I had the chance to meet some of the amazing people who were there at the beginning of the campaign, many of them through no choice of their own—many had been prosecuted and therefore found themselves flung into a campaign that they had not particularly chosen. They did subsequent generations so much positive good by being prepared and having the courage to come forward and fight those campaigns, and we all benefit from the hard-won rights they won for the rest of us.
This is not just about changing laws; it is about changing attitudes, too. Laws are the beginning of how countries change, but they are by no means the whole picture. The work done by the Government Equalities Office in getting what I hope will be the biggest LGBT survey under way last year is crucial in allowing ourselves and our country to assess how much progress we have made and where we need to continue making progress. In a variety of areas, whether it is LGBT communities’ experience of crime, health, education or other public attitudes, the results of the survey when they are finally published, which I am looking forward to, will give us a chance to take stock of where Britain has got to and, on the basis of that evidence, to talk about where the priorities need to be for the coming years.
There is no doubt that we can be proud of the laws this Parliament has passed, particularly in recent years, and, of course, particularly in relation to same-sex marriage.
Please let me make my intervention, because I want to say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) that her words are important because of her leadership both in the Department for International Development and the Department for Education. All of us, and the wider community, owe her a debt. I remember hearing the news of her coming out at the 2016 Pride parade, and I remember how much pleasure that gave the world.
I very much appreciate that intervention. We all go on a personal journey, alongside the journey of the countries we are part of, and I think I realised that I needed to be part of the solution. Nothing changes on its own, and I realised I could be a positive step on the road to giving other people the confidence to be clear about who they are, too. I felt that was important. I very much enjoyed going to the London Pride celebration last year, and I look forward to being there again this year and in coming years.
I briefly pay tribute to Wandsworth LGBT Forum, which works tirelessly locally, and I wrap up by saying that you cannot be at your best if you cannot be yourself. That is why this matters so much.
It is a pleasure to follow an excellent speech by the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), along with so many others, for securing this debate.
Like my hon. Friend, I want to pay tribute, through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to the work of the Speaker on these issues. Who could have imagined just 10 or 15 years ago that a Speaker’s crest would sit in the Speaker’s apartment with the rainbow flag and with “All Are Equal” on the bottom of it? I say that just as Mr Speaker takes the Chair. That has sent out an incredibly strong message—not only in this Parliament, but to many Parliaments and countries around the world.
It is a particular pleasure to take part in this debate, both on a personal level, as an out gay MP and co-chair of the LGBT parliamentary Labour party—I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on the Front Bench, and although my co-chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) could not be here today, I am sure she sends her strong wishes to this debate—and because of the fantastic work being done against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia in my constituency and in Wales by a range of fantastic organisations.
I particularly want to pay tribute to the work of Pride Cymru—to Lu Thomas and all her team, who do such a fantastic job, taking that event from strength to strength. This is now combined with the “Big Weekend” in Cardiff and it has become an inclusive, family-friendly, open event for all people, whether they are in the LGBT+ community or just allies, friends and neighbours.
I also pay tribute to the work of Pride Swansea. I was lucky enough to be able to go to the reinvigorated Pride Swansea parade the other week, along with my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), and many others. It was a wonderful, happy and inclusive celebration of all that is good about equality in this country and standing up against the three evils we are discussing today.
It was absolutely right of the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell), who spoke from the Scottish National party Front Bench, to make clear the importance of getting out to our smaller towns around the country. I am looking forward to going to a Monmouth young people’s Pride event later this year. It is important that we support those groups and organisations in our smaller towns and communities up and down the country.
I pay tribute to organisations such as Stonewall Cymru that do such fantastic work, and to the Iris prize; we are delighted in Wales to host one of the leading independent LGBT+ film festivals every year. A few weeks ago, it was a particular pleasure to be there to see the Lily Summers award for LGBT+ activism being given to a good friend of mine, Lisa Power, one of the founders of Stonewall. Lily was a remarkable young trans woman in the Labour party in Wales who, sadly, died at far too young an age. She made an incredible difference in her community and it was a real pleasure to see an award in her memory being awarded to someone such as Lisa, who has made so much difference in fighting against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia right from the early days and is continuing to do so to this day.
That brings me to the issue of trans rights. Although we have seen so much progress made on equality in this country, we have much, much more to do, particularly on the issues affecting the trans community. I have had the pleasure of meeting my local trans support group in Cardiff. Good work is being done by South Wales police to root out hate crime, including against the trans community, and I know that members of that community hugely appreciate that work.
I know this has been mentioned, but what a contrast we have seen between our UK armed forces’ response to the issue of trans people serving in the armed forces and the response in America. Unfortunately, as we highlighted in the Home Affairs Committee just a few weeks ago, the debate sometimes leaves a significant amount to be desired, and an awful lot of hurt can be done to members of the trans community. I urge that all of that debate be conducted with respect and humanity, with everyone remembering that at the heart of this debate are individuals who have often gone through great hatred and hurt.
It is only right that we talk about the issues faced internationally. I have spoken in this place previously about Chechnya and LGBT rights in Russia, Africa and the middle east. Unfortunately, we have seen Beirut Pride being shut down and cancelled in recent weeks. This is being dealt with by the vice police and other bodies, which is completely unacceptable.
We have seen the Georgian activists having their international day, which we are celebrating today, being cancelled, and we have seen many, many examples of hatred against the trans, gay, lesbian and bi communities across Europe. However, there is much positive going on as well. We have seen a fantastic Pride event in Moldova in recent days, and I met fantastic LGBT activists from across the Commonwealth at an event in your house recently, Mr Speaker. They all set for us an example that there is hope that we can make a change and that we can fight for equality and against these three evils, in this world and in this country.
It is a pleasure to follow three excellent speeches, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) on securing the debate.
It is a pleasure also to see the rainbow flag flying from Government buildings today. That is not a token; it sends a signal. I hope that the Minister will be able to ensure that when Pride week comes, the rainbow flag will fly from high commissions and embassies all over the world. Again, that would not be tokenism; it would send a real signal to a number of people who happen to be gay, particularly in Commonwealth countries and throughout the middle east, and who are living in repression and fear simply because they are gay. Please, let us see the rainbow flag flying proudly for that week from high commissions and embassies around the world.
There is a big wedding on Saturday, and I wish Harry and Meghan incredibly well. I want to say to Harry and to Prince William that they have been amazing role models in promoting LGBT issues. They have been absolutely fantastic, and it is more role models that we need. Tom Daley has been a superb role model in the world of sport. I saw in one newspaper recently an article that implied that there was a premier league footballer who was bisexual but not out, and it seemed to be some sort of semi-scandal. The scandal is that in this day and age, in the 21st century, in 2018, anybody should fear coming out because they feel there would be catcalls from the stadiums or whatever. All I can say is that since I came out I have had the two best election results I have ever had. At the most recent election, I got more votes than I had ever had. I am not putting that down to the fact that I am gay, but it certainly has not done me any harm. That is the message that I wish to send out today.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about sport, particularly football, does he agree that it is incumbent on those in senior positions in organisations such as the FA to send a positive message about what it would be like to come out and the support that people get? Unfortunately, that has not always been the case in recent times.
Absolutely. During Pride week a lot of the premier league teams wear rainbow laces, and that is superb, but it would be fantastic if in the 21st century more footballers were able to come out as who they are. I attend a lot of conferences with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and I have great pride in telling people that we have more out gay MPs than any other Parliament in the world. That was not the case 20 years ago, and it may well be that football is 20 years behind the curve, but imagine the influence it would have throughout the world if some of the great footballers who are gay were able to come out openly and say that they were. They would be amazing role models.
In Parliament, we have Ministers, Secretaries of State and former Secretaries of State who have happily come out as gay and proved to be role models. The current Taoiseach of Ireland and Prime Ministers of Serbia and Luxembourg, and the former Prime Ministers of Belgium and Iceland are all gay. Again, they are sending a happy signal to the rest of the world that it is okay to be gay and that it is not going to hold back one’s career.
I mentioned the royal wedding earlier. A billion people will tune in to watch that happy event, and I shall certainly watch it, but while I am watching, one thing will flash through my mind, which is that I am a Christian. Clearly, I am a second-class Christian but a first-class gay. Why? Because I would not be allowed to walk down the aisle with somebody I loved and get married in a church in England. My message to Justin Welby is that I understand that the Church in Africa and some other countries is not as progressive as we are, but he really needs to show leadership in our country to ensure that gay Christian people can get married and enjoy a big day, just as Harry and Meghan are going to do on Saturday.
I voted against the equal marriage Act, and I was wrong. I was wrong, because I have seen the joy that it has given to so many people. The established Church of our country should follow what this House has decided, and gay people should be allowed to marry in church.
That is breaking news, and it is absolutely superb. My hon. and gallant Friend has just told us what his views were in the past and what they are today. If he can make that progression, I rather hope that the Archbishop of Canterbury is listening and that he, too, can make that sort of progression, so that Christians in this country can enjoy a big day just as Harry and Meghan will on Saturday.
We need to send a signal. In 72 countries, there are laws against being homosexual. I know that some of them are legacy laws from the United Kingdom, and at the Inter-Parliamentary Union, I have apologised for the fact that we bequeathed them those laws, but it does not mean that they need to keep them, because we have not. We have moved on, and I hope that they will be able to do so, too. There are 13 countries in which people can be executed for being homosexual, and two in which that currently happens—it is happening at the moment in Iran and parts of Somalia. It is horrific that the death penalty exists for simply being gay.
At conferences of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, we try to promote equality wherever we possibly can. At the last conference in St Petersburg, we put down a motion in one of the committees to say that, at the conference in Geneva, we would discuss homophobia and the fact that there are people who feel repressed simply because they have gay people living in their country. Just at the tail end, when we thought that we were going to get it on the agenda, an attack was sprung on us on the last day by countries mostly from the middle east to take it off the agenda. Uganda was also a prominent fighter against gay rights. The topic was therefore taken off the agenda for Geneva in March. We are now trying to put it back on the agenda for the meeting in October.
There were about 30 countries that voted against discussing gay issues. There was not going to be a resolution, so there would have been nothing for them to vote against. All they were doing was trying to stop Members of Parliament talking about gay issues that occur in their countries. China was one of the countries that tried to stop the discussions, as were Russia, most of the middle east and Uganda. I pay tribute to countries such as Belgium, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand—particularly the wonderful Labour MP Louisa Wall, who has promoted equal rights in New Zealand—Australia and South Africa. We were even supported by Angola and Malawi. That was a superb revelation for me.
All I can say in conclusion is that homophobia is illogical, it is a denial of human rights, it is dumb and it is time that we made it history.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) on securing this debate of huge importance, and I am honoured to take part in it. Last month we did indeed see the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit, which was a key opportunity to highlight and advocate on behalf of LGBT people living oppressed false lives in fear, or in valiant criminal resistance in the 36 of the 53 countries in the Commonwealth in which homosexuality is illegal.
Those 36 Commonwealth countries are among many countries around the world where being LGBT is punishable—people are punished and made into criminals. They also suffer public beatings and enforced sterilisation. It is truly chilling that a person having sex with someone of the same sex can lead to their death in 10 countries around the world. We should remember that although we are in a certain position that the rest of world is not, such positions can be vulnerable.
LGBT people in those countries live with the daily risk of attacks, of rape and of murder. Let us not allow semantics to deceive us when we talk of homophobia, transphobia or biphobia. The word “phobia” means fear—a fear such as arachnophobia, agoraphobia or claustrophobia. The responsibility is on oneself to overcome that fear. What we are dealing with here is not fear but hate, where the responsibility is left to the victim to overcome the hateful effects.
According to the LGBT anti-violence group Galop, hate crimes against LGBT people in the UK rose by 147% in the three months following the Brexit vote. A report by Stonewall Cymru found that attacks on people in Wales had risen by nearly 82% in the five years up to 2017, and that 52% of trans people had suffered a hate crime. Before anyone celebrates that as a reporting success, I should add that Stonewall Cymru has also found that four out of five anti-LGBT attacks still go unreported.
While we can congratulate ourselves on the progress, albeit inconsistent, that we have made here in the UK, we cannot ignore the wider issue, which is that we are living in a time of increased bigotry. Difference is being seized on as a weapon of division, and unfettered hate speech is opening the way to a rise in violence and hate crime. We must not allow free speech to be taken hostage by those who would seek to divide and intimidate. A civilised society will be judged not just on how it treats the majority but on how it stands up for its minority groups and protects them when the tyranny of the majority threatens.
We are honoured to be elected representatives, but we must use our platform to speak up for the rights of all. We must not allow the rights of some in our society to be sidelined or turn a blind eye to oppression in action. Until we achieve a society in which all are respected and treated as equal, in which anyone can walk hand in hand with anyone else, in which being in a same-sex relationship is not a political act, and in which being a trans person of colour does not threaten someone’s chances in life, there is still work to be done.
Human rights, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation or anything else, must continue to progress, and those who stand in the way must be held to account. That is our duty. Human beings are all different. Let us start with difference and move forward with acceptance.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) on securing this debate. I was pleased to support him in my capacity as chair of the all-party group on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, which now has more than 80 members from this House and the other place. It is timely that on International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia we are here talking about the importance of promoting LGBT rights.
We last had this debate—initiated again through the Backbench Business Committee, which I thank for allowing this one—on 26 October. I spoke then about the fact that we were living in two worlds: great progress was being made on LGBT rights in some countries, while in others we were, at best, standing still and, at worst, going backwards. It is important to understand the reason for that. In that debate, I pointed out that, in a short period—16 years—25 countries had passed same-sex marriage legislation. Since then, Australia has become the 26th, following—significantly—a referendum in which a large majority supported the legislation. In so many countries, then, there has been progress on same-sex marriage, yet in others there has been reversal. In Bermuda, where same-sex marriage was introduced under the auspices of its Supreme Court, it has now been reversed by democratic decision and populism in Bermuda. That is a warning to this place not to be complacent about LGBT rights or—for that matter—human rights; we must constantly guard against their reversal.
At the time, I raised the situation in Russia and urged the Government to press the Russian authorities to say what had happened to their investigation into the treatment of gay men in Chechnya, where there had been appalling brutality, torture, arbitrary detention and even killings. What has happened? Recently, the Russian Government flatly denied that their investigation had produced any results—they simply denied that what happened in Chechnya took place. There is a need, therefore, for scrutiny and continuing pressure on those countries to expose what is happening, and we have to be ready to raise these issues at the diplomatic level.
I have heard at first hand testimony about Chechnya from activists here in this Parliament. Does the right hon. Gentleman also agree, however, that we need to look at the situation in Northern Ireland? It is obviously not comparable to Chechnya, but does he welcome the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom?
Yes, I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am just coming to that point.
Still on the global front, there are other countries where the situation is going backwards. Under state auspices in Indonesia, there are calls for criminalisation and for cures for homosexuality, and raids on private spaces. This is all making public health outreach more difficult, which is interfering with HIV/AIDS programmes. That is of great concern to those campaigning for the relief of HIV infections. In fact, the infection rate in Indonesia has increased fivefold over the past decade. The authorities and parliamentarians in Jakarta are now considering a Bill to criminalise same-sex conduct. I could go on with my list. I could talk about what is happening in China or in Zambia. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), should he be called to speak, will talk about what has been happening in Lebanon.
Let us try to look on the bright side. The Government should be commended for the stance that they have taken on these issues. Only recently, the Prime Minister took a very strong stance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. We still have a situation whereby too many Commonwealth countries—the majority—criminalise homosexual conduct, therefore covering a majority of the population of Commonwealth citizens. The apology that the Prime Minister offered, as well as the willingness to work towards decriminalisation, made a powerful statement.
The Government can do so much. They need to be cognisant of the importance of maintaining pressure. I therefore welcome what the Foreign Secretary said today, when he tweeted:
“Standing up for human rights, including LGBT rights, is an integral part of @foreignoffice work. Societies where people live freely attract world-class talent, business investment & are more stable and prosperous.”
I welcome the work of the Foreign Office in supporting LGBT groups through our diplomatic missions, and through our embassies and high commissions on the ground. Many of our ambassadors and high commissioners do strong work in this area. We need to see more consistency, with more embassies and high commissions offering the support that the best do. That is the message that we should carry to the Foreign Office.
The Government need to be aware that there are domestic issues still to resolve in this country. This is not all about what other countries should do. The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) mentioned Northern Ireland. It is almost certainly the will of this House that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) (No.2) Bill passes, and it should be allowed to do so. I understand that it is not the Government who are standing in its way. Hate crime is still a problem in this country, indeed it is increasing, and there are still issues for LGBT asylum seekers. Above all, there are issues for trans people; the consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004 should proceed. These are important issues. We have made enormous progress in this country, but there is still work to do.
It is a pleasure to follow so many fantastic speeches and, indeed, a privilege to speak in this debate on International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. I thank and congratulate the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) on securing the debate, and thank the Backbench Business Committee for supporting it.
Hon. Members have already reflected on and spoken powerfully of the changes that they have seen over their lifetimes. It is horrifying to think that when I was born in 1978 consensual homosexual acts between adults were still three years away from being decriminalised in Scotland. It is a tragedy to think about how many lives were destroyed by those pernicious criminal laws.
After two steps forward, we took one step back, as decriminalisation was followed by the equally disgraceful piece of legislation that became known as section 28—legislation that undoubtedly prevented schools from being the inclusive and supportive environments that they should have been. Its repeal in 2000 was a gutsy move by the Labour and Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive of the time, against a background of a vicious campaign of misinformation and prejudice that barely left the front pages of the Scottish newspapers for month after month. Thankfully, enhancement and equalisation of civil rights in other fields followed, culminating in equal marriage measures in Holyrood and here in Westminster, after what I think could be described as a significantly more uplifting debate.
I want to finish my progress report by paying tribute to my former colleague and neighbouring MP for East Dunbartonshire, John Nicolson, who introduced his “Turing Bill”—the Sexual Offences (Pardons Etc.) Bill—as a private Member’s Bill in the last Parliament. Although it sadly did not make it on to the statute book, it clearly provoked Governments here and in Scotland into passing their own legislation to pardon those convicted of breaching the pernicious old laws of the past and into righting some of the most terrible injustices.
It is fantastic that Scotland and the UK are regularly listed near the top of the rankings of the best European country for LGBTI equality. It is appropriate that we pay tribute to the activists and campaigners—there are too many to name—who have put themselves on the line in securing the rights and freedoms that we enjoy today. But as other hon. Members have said, there is no room for complacency, and nobody is saying that the job is finished. Some have highlighted the progress that we still need to make on transgender rights. I welcome the work undertaken by the Scottish Government to review and improve the Gender Recognition Act. I very much want to see the same thing happen here, and quickly.
It is fair to say that the effect of section 28 still seems to linger. Making schools a supportive environment for LGBT pupils is not just a matter of repealing that vicious legislation; it is also about positively ensuring that support and inclusive education are genuinely available. I want to pay a huge tribute to two of my constituents, Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson, for the outstanding work they have done through their Time for Inclusive Education—TIE—campaign, which I know many Members across the House are strong supporters of. I hope that their hard work will help to ensure that, in future, schools can be more fully supportive and inclusive of LGBT pupils in a way that they were prevented from being in the past.
Another sphere that has not always provided a welcoming place for LGBT people is the world of sport. My impression is that sport in Scotland, and particularly football, has previously lagged somewhat behind the efforts to tackle homophobia in England. There has thankfully been some recent positive progress, with the development of the Scottish LGBT sports charter and the equality standard. It was encouraging to see some of the cautiously optimistic submissions to the recent Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry on that subject.
In discussing sport, it would be remiss of me not to highlight the volunteers and clubs that have gone out of their way to promote sporting participation among the LGBT community. In the UK, for example, we have various leagues, including a nationwide Gay Football Supporters’ Network league, that provide a safe space for hundreds—in fact, probably thousands—of football enthusiasts who happen to be LGBT or I. It is something that has been hugely important for me, and I have enjoyed being part of that for the last eight or nine years through Edinburgh’s HotsScots football club. I very much look forward to joining them and thousands of other competitors this summer in the 10th Gay games in Paris, where we will compete against teams from around the globe.
There is much to celebrate across the UK, but there are also serious challenges. It is fair to say that the outlook for many members of our community around the world is often far bleaker. On the theme of sport, Russia will of course be hosting an even more significant sporting event this summer, yet, as the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) pointed out, it is among countries that have an appalling recent record on LGBTI rights. The UK Government have a commendable record on making representations to other Governments on LGBTI rights and the repeal of discriminatory laws, but diplomacy, as we heard, is just one side of the coin. Hearts and minds need to be changed more generally, and that is an even bigger challenge.
If time permitted, I would highlight the fantastic work of Pride House International, which made a massive contribution to challenging homophobia and discrimination among Commonwealth countries by hosting an event at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth games. I understand that when in Russia it will be present at a World cup for the first time. Obviously, it will not have Russian Government support, so if there were any opportunity for UK Government support, FA support or FIFA support, that would be magnificent.
I would like to begin by echoing Members’ comments about the significance of today’s debate, on International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) on securing the debate.
I do not think I have spoken in my three years in the House about these rights, but let me say at the outset that, as a lawyer, I believe that it is absolutely integral in the rule of law to have equality and diversity recognised. It is only by having those values recognised that the rule of law is sacrosanct.
I am hugely proud that the UK is a world leader in transgender rights and LGBT equality. If we are to achieve social and societal progress abroad, we must continue to ensure that we set an example here in the House of Commons and across the country. I would like to remind the House of the promising and progressive legislation passed under David Cameron’s premiership in the 2010 Parliament, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which gave many people the right to marry those who mean most to them. That was perhaps the moment that I became most aware of the importance of this issue. I married in 2003, and I do not know what it would be like not to have been able to marry the person you love.
I am delighted to say that four organisations in my constituency—Leicestershire police, Conservative-led Leicestershire County Council, the University of Leicester and De Montfort University, just outside my patch—are included in Stonewall’s top 100 employers. That is a tremendous achievement for Leicester and Leicestershire, and it puts them both proudly at the forefront of inclusivity and equality. For almost 30 years, Stonewall has been a trailblazer in promoting equality and acceptance for concerns affecting the LGBT community. I pay tribute to it for that. Perhaps it did not often happen in the past that Conservative MPs paid tribute to Stonewall. Perhaps we are rectifying that mistake today; at least I hope to be rectifying it today.
Equality and acceptance for the LGBT community is not only enshrined in laws made in this place or in our devolved Parliaments and Assemblies—it is also, perhaps more importantly, demonstrated in the everyday actions we all take in helping to create an inclusive and accepting environment for everyone. However, it is important to recognise that, as with most matters, there is always more to be done.
Individuals who are, or are perceived to be, LGBT are disproportionately affected by bullying. That is simply not acceptable in this day and age. I should like to cite a case of homophobic abuse at a Leicester City football match in September last year, where a Leicester City fan shouted an offensive term at Brighton supporters. Brighton is a city known nationally and proudly for its large LGBT community. This offensive behaviour, I am pleased to inform the House, was swiftly condemned by both clubs and by the supporters group of Leicester City—a club that proudly promotes inclusivity and equality for all supporters. The incident was dealt with swiftly by Leicestershire police, who, as I mentioned, are proudly included in Stonewall’s top 100 employers, and are especially adept at dealing with offences of this nature. That recent incident is sadly just one of many homophobic, transphobic or biphobic instances that the LGBT community contend with on a day-to-day basis. I repeat that this is simply unacceptable in this day and age—in fact, at any time.
Equality and inclusivity are the bedrocks of modern democracies. These principles are enshrined in all of us at birth, and we should seek to ensure that they are recognised among all of us in society. I am therefore delighted to join colleagues in all parts of the House in supporting today’s International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
I add my congratulations and tribute to the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) on securing this debate. This is an unusual situation because it is an important debate to have, and yet one that we probably all wish was not necessary. My right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), who is no longer in her place, talked about many countries being on a journey. Regardless of the progress that we have made in this country and what we might think of that progress, and while we have travelled further than many countries, we have not yet completed our journey.
One of the things about being a Liberal is that when it comes to protecting and standing up for LGBTI rights, one has a lot to live up to. As far back as 1975, we committed to a gay rights policy with a resolution in favour of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality’s proposed law reform Bill. What sticks out for me about that is that it was 1975—just over 40 years ago. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) said, it is unimaginable that it was only 40 years ago that we were first talking of a campaign about full equality for homosexuals and equalising the age of consent for gay sex. If we fast-forward 40 years, at our 2015 conference we overwhelmingly opposed conversion therapy for all LGBT+ people—imagine that in 2015. We have travelled a considerable way, but we should not pat ourselves on the back quite yet, because we have a long way to go.
One of the most significant things for me—so far—was a statement made by Nick Clegg before the 2010 general election. When speaking about equal marriage, he said simply:
I emphasise, all couples—
“should be able to make that commitment to one another”,
and now they can. Under the equal marriage legislation championed by Lynne Featherstone, of which I am particularly proud, we now live in a society where everyone is able to love equally.
I remember being asked just before the Scottish elections in 2011 whether I would support equal marriage. To me, that was a ridiculous question. What struck me was that if I had two children, one of whom was gay while the other was not, would I not want them to have the same rights, the same protection and the same respect from the law? What a ludicrous question.
Only today, my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) has raised the issue of not being able to get married in church. I would like to make him an offer. [Interruption.] Not that sort of offer. One of my friends is a Church of Scotland minister, who is gay. If I had a word with him, I am sure that he would be more than happy to oblige when it came to the ceremony.
As I say, we have come a long way, but not as far as we should have done. At the moment, we are increasingly hearing about transphobia. Although the Equality Act 2010 protects trans people from discrimination—regardless of whether they have changed their birth certificate—and we have seen great strides in rights, we cannot rest until LGBT+ people across the globe are able to live freely, without fear of discrimination, marginalisation or criminalisation.
That is so even here in the UK where, as I have said, in recent months the trans community has faced a barrage of transphobia—denigrating their identities, dismissing their rights and defying the tolerance we cherish in this country. Imagine being a teenager who is facing all that: coming to a realisation about their sexuality or their gender identification, and seeing that denigrated every day in the media. It must be terrifying. It is not only terrifying and unacceptable, but dangerous, because 45% of trans school pupils in the UK report attempting suicide, which is unacceptable. The world is a difficult enough place for our teenagers without adding extra problems.
There is a list—a long list—of things that we still have to do in this country. With an eye to the time, I will not list them, but the biggest thing we have to do is to keep working on our tolerance. We must keep looking at where we can improve the situation—looking at every little thing, as well as the big things—to ensure that all our children live in a country where they feel equal.
It is a delight to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine). Indeed, I am happy to call her my hon. Friend, as she was so generous in using that term for Conservative colleagues. That brings back memories of the days of the coalition, when we had a Liberal-Conservative Government with a majority of 80—a Government who were able to deliver very significant advances on these issues.
My party has proudly continued with those advances, and last year the Government committed to launching a consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004, as recommended by the Women and Equality Committee’s 2016 transgender equality inquiry. Indeed, earlier today, the Minister for Women and Equalities recommitted to launching this consultation—soon. In the hands of the civil service, “soon” is a somewhat elastic concept, as the Minister will know. I would be grateful to her if she did a little better than that in replying to this debate, because every delay means people not being able to exercise the rights and choices they would ideally like to make.
The Gender Recognition Act enabled trans people, for the first time, to have their gender identity recognised under the law, which in 2004 was a very significant step forward for trans equality. Today, however, the Act is outdated and in urgent need of reform, and I commend the Government’s commitment to de-medicalise and streamline the process of legal gender recognition.
In its present form, the Act treats being trans as a mental illness by requiring applicants to have a psychiatric diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which is all too similar to what was thought about being gay and bi in the not too distant past. It also requires applicants to go through an intrusive and bureaucratic process to have their gender legally recognised, and it makes no provision whatsoever for non-binary people—those who do not identify as male or female—to have their gender legally recognised. I look forward to that consultation being comprehensive and including questions on non-binary recognition. That is vital so that we can hold a debate on reform that is based on facts and evidence.
Since the Government announcement last year, a small but vocal minority of people have run a campaign of misinformation and transphobia in the media and online in an attempt to derail reform. Attitudes have been expressed about trans people that echo the unhappy ignorance about lesbian, gay and bi people that helped to allow section 28 to be passed into law in this House 30 years ago next week. The Scottish Government have already consulted on their proposed reforms, including plans to introduce a process on the principle of self-declaration, and to bring Scotland into line with best practice in countries such as the Republic of Ireland, Denmark and Malta. Now we must do the same, and we ought to do it now—I look forward to hearing the timetable. In recent years we have rightly prided ourselves as a beacon of LGBT equality, but we must now take the opportunity to ensure that all trans and non-binary people are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve, and reinstate our position as leaders of LGBT equality in the world.
Before my hon. Friend turns to international issues, will he pay tribute to the many LGBT non-governmental organisations that work so tirelessly in this area, particularly Stonewall and the Kaleidoscope Trust, to which I know my hon. Friend—and you, Mr Speaker—have given particular and personal support?
I am grateful for that intervention because it has been one of the delights of my relationship with you, Mr Speaker, that we have been able to work closely together on these matters over the past five or six years.
We continue to show leadership in this area. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting the Prime Minister made a statement about British policy on this issue, and outlined the assistance we are prepared to give to help countries that were unlucky enough to inherit our unhappy laws in this area, which was extremely welcome. However, if we look around the world we see that, progress is not universal and consistent, as it has been in the United Kingdom. On 10 July 2018 the British Government will host the Western Balkans Summit in London, but LGBT issues are not on the agenda, and so far, LGBT organisations have not been invited to participate in the civil society forum, or other forums. In preparation for EU accession, many countries have formally brought many of their laws into line. However, it is not much good for an LGBT activist or group in that country if the law is all right, but nobody is doing anything to change attitudes in society, or to oversee and ensure that the police and other public authorities do what they are supposed to do to uphold the rights that people may have technically but not necessarily in practice.
Since we are talking about the international community, let me correct something I said earlier. I said that Iran and parts of Somalia have executed people for being gay, but it is actually Iran and Saudi Arabia. Does my hon. Friend agree that the prospect of people being executed simply because of their sexuality is something that we in this House should fight against?
In far too many jurisdictions the death penalty remains in place. Parts of Nigeria are covered by such a jurisdiction, but there are also parts where someone can cheerfully get lynched. And it is not just Nigeria; this is an incredibly important issue for many people who continue to live in terror around the world. That is why I am delighted that we have had the opportunity to raise this issue again, having had a debate on international LGBT rights last October.
In the time remaining I will reflect on those parts of the world where we are not making progress. Only this week—on Monday night—the organiser of Lebanon Pride was arrested in Lebanon. He spent 12 hours under arrest, and was released only if he signed a declaration to say that he would cancel the rest of the events that he was organising for Lebanon Pride. He had already ensured that there would not be a Pride parade in Beirut in 2018, because the 2017 Pride parade had been cancelled after threats of violence against it by Islamist groups. I hope the Minister will tell us that we will take this up with the Lebanese authorities. We need to support people in this position. The circumstances facing activists in parts of the middle east mean that they need to be incredibly courageous, so I hope the Minister can give me that reassurance.
Finally, I want to turn to the unhappy example of Turkey. We have identified ourselves as fourth in the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s European report. Turkey is almost at the bottom with only nine indicators—Malta is at the top with 91—yet we have just entertained President Erdoğan here on a state visit to the United Kingdom. Can the Minister tell us if these issues were raised with the Turkish President?
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) and I associate myself with everything that has been said in the debate by hon. Members. As a British citizen and a gay man, I am very aware of the level of equality that I can enjoy in this country. I would like to put on record my profound thanks to all parliamentarians, of whichever party, who have helped to bring that about in the UK since the 1950s.
If we are to be a beacon of respect for human rights to the rest of the world, we have a duty to support those people who are not British citizens but who have fled from their country of origin because of threats to their human rights. Even in those countries where capital punishment may not be the official sanction for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, unofficial sanctions are imposed by other members of the society, including the police forces that are meant to protect citizens, making people pariahs, beating them up and often killing them.
This country has a proud history of providing asylum for people fleeing political oppression, but I suggest our willingness to protect people fleeing oppression on every one of the protected characteristics should be every bit as firm as it was for those fleeing communism or fascism. About 6% of asylum claims in this country are made on the basis of sexual orientation, but only a quarter are granted compared with a third of other claims. I would like the Government to review the quality of decision taking in respect of LGBTI asylum claims. The stated policies for determining whether an asylum seeker should be granted leave to remain are relatively sympathetic, but the implementation of those policies sees LGBTI asylum seekers all too frequently detained and their LGBTI status questioned beyond all reasonable levels of evidence. In far too many cases, leave to remain is refused and they are returned to the dangerous situations from which they have fled.
Even if asylum seekers are not repatriated, the detention regime is not LGBTI friendly. People in asylum accommodation are normally required to share rooms. In many cases, this has led to bullying, harassment, physical violence and sexual assault not just from other detainees, but even, in some cases, from detention centre staff. I urge the Government to consider detaining far fewer LGBTI asylum seekers, and at the very least ensuring they are offered safe, self-contained accommodation if they are detained.
There is a serious issue about the trust immigrants can have in the system when they are the victims of crime, in particular sexual crimes and human trafficking. Far too often, migrants are too afraid of repatriation to be willing to use the law to escape from exploitation.
I believe there should be a default expectation that all those fleeing oppression on the grounds of one of the protected characteristics, whether race, religion, disability or sexual orientation, should be protected in this country. I believe that if our country could give that assurance to individuals from countries such as Afghanistan, Nigeria and Iraq, it would strengthen our ability to persuade those countries to protect their own citizens.
I was proud to be elected last year, as an openly gay man, and in most respects in this country, for LGB people we have achieved legal equality—except, of course, in Northern Ireland, which other Members have mentioned. I am protected against discrimination in most areas of life. I can marry whomever I want to, if anyone would want to marry me, of course—applications on a postcard. I can date a person in the style that I want, including online, and of course, consensually I can sleep with who I want without fear of persecution.
However, the same cannot be said in many other parts of the world. One of my first trips as an MP was to Uganda. I met some activists there who have experienced their friends being murdered and a clampdown on their ability to associate with one another. That is the same in many Commonwealth countries, where people are legally persecuted, and that is of course not right.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, just this morning, the offices of Sexual Minorities Uganda were raided by the authorities at the instigation of the Ugandan Government in Kampala, breaking up a meeting that it was holding to celebrate “IDAHO” Day? The meeting included diplomatic representatives from a number of countries, including, I understand, the United Kingdom.
That is disgraceful. I was in those offices only a few months ago and I hope that the Government will raise this with the Ugandan Government. I hope that if the Ugandan Government keep clamping down, we offer space in our embassy compound for those meetings to continue, as I know other European embassies have done.
Before I finish, I want to touch on the fact that we should not be complacent here in the UK. We must make sure we understand that discrimination and hate crime go on here too. In Brighton we have a fantastic LGBT safety forum, but it reports that the number of homophobic and transphobic attacks has gone up. My colleague who stood in Worthing West at the last election, Sophie Cook, a trans woman, faced numerous instances of assault and abuse. I want to read one or two of the tweets that she gets. For example, a tweet about her standing said:
“Its a trannyfest. Welcome to tranny #Labour.”
Also, “Tranny Corbyn. This is what Britain has come to”—she receives hundreds and hundreds of those kinds of tweet every single week. That is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that we have not had an openly trans person here. We have 300,000 trans people in Britain, by many accounts, and we need to do better on representation in this Parliament. We have a great gay Parliament. Let us move forward to combat transphobia and have a more trans-friendly Parliament as well.
It is a pleasure to be summing up for the Scottish National party on this extremely important day against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia. I again pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), who opened with comments by Bill Clinton. In return, I want to quote his wife, Hillary, who I hold in great esteem in many regards. She said that
“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 neighbors. Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality.”
I think that sums it up, Mr Speaker. I pay tribute to what you and your staff have done in this place. It is great to see the range of rainbows across the Chamber and the House today. I am working my way through the rainbow with my hair colour. Today is a blue day, which does not in any way reflect how I am feeling.
I will try to cover some of the excellent contributions that we have heard. We had so many. I will start by mentioning the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts)—I apologise if I have not pronounced her constituency well—who made some excellent comments. She spoke particularly about the attacks on LGBT people abroad.
I was in Malawi recently and met a number of trans activists. I have to say, their stories were heartbreaking—stories of being attacked in their workplace. Laurence, whom I met, was told by the police to go home and dress as the right gender, and then to come back. Trans people are simply not recognised. Malawi has come a long way—it is an incredible country, with which the nations of the United Kingdom have great ties—but it still has a long way to go.
People ask whether we still need awareness days and campaign days. I think that the comments that have been made on both sides of the House today have reminded us of why we absolutely do. In a report published earlier this year, Stonewall said:
“Trans students experience harassment and discrimination at university…More than a third of trans university students (36 per cent) have experienced negative comments or conduct from staff in the last year.”
I find that utterly astonishing. It is something that we must challenge and change throughout the UK. As we heard from the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), 45% of trans teenagers have attempted suicide. That is staggering. It is, I suppose, ironic—and fitting, in some ways—that this is also mental health awareness week, because, as we know, many members of the LGBT community suffer from mental health issues.
When the Scottish Government legislated for equal marriage in Scotland in 2014, that was a landmark moment. I was not out at that point, but I remember watching the coverage. In particular, I remember Tom French, who is now one of our brilliant press officers but who then worked for an LGBT youth organisation in Scotland, and who was a leading light in the campaign. Until I came out in 2015, that moment in 2014 helped me to believe that perhaps one day it would be OK to be gay. Being elected and coming to this place helped me to move forward in my journey. Many other Members have spoken very movingly about their own personal journeys and the impact that this had on them.
As I said earlier, it is mental health awareness week. I must say, as someone who suffers from anxiety, that taking so long to come out had a huge impact on my mental health. The grey cloud of anxiety was never far away. Coming out has helped me to tackle that and get over it, but I think it important for us to recognise that many young people in particular, throughout the UK and beyond, suffer serious mental health problems as a result of being discriminated against.
I pay tribute to the Glitter Cannons in my constituency. We are celebrating our fourth West Lothian Pride event this year. When I was growing up in West Lothian, I could not have imagined a Pride celebration. Local Pride celebrations are hugely important to young people and families, because they have become very much family celebrations. We see people of all generations there, including children.
Last summer, I worked with the Victoria Derbyshire programme, doing a piece about the journey we have been on across the UK. I thank all the Members who took part in the programme. I will not name them all, because I cannot remember all their constituencies off the top of my head, but many Members spoke, and a couple of them were speaking for the first time about coming out. The programme tracked the changes in society through their personal experiences.
I pay particular tribute to people such as Lord Smith—Chris Smith. It is on their shoulders that we stand. People like me have been able to come out relatively easily, but for them it was hugely difficult and challenging. We must also remember—I think that this has been said by other Members—that when we change legislation, we do not necessarily change culture. It will take a major and concerted effort to roll back the discriminatory culture and atmosphere that was created in England by legislation such as section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 and section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986, which section 28 inserted.
In Scotland, we have been working closely on that. My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) mentioned the TIE—Time for Inclusive Education—campaign, and I pay tribute to its excellent work. Our Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, is doing a huge amount—as, I know, are the UK Government, including the Minister—to wipe away the effects of the 1988 legislation, which banned the supposed promotion of homosexuality and
“the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”
That language, and that legislation, shames us all. It was a dark mark on this Parliament. However, working together across parties, and across the UK and beyond, we can change the culture and the language, and make the future better for people throughout the UK and throughout the world.
It is not often that we can rise to our feet and say that we agree with absolutely everything that has been said from both sides of the House, but that is the case in this debate.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) on securing this debate and the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it. For #IDAHOBIT2018, the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, this year’s global theme is alliances for solidarity. The organisation says:
“No battle can be won in isolation. We all need to keep strengthening alliances, especially when we need to ensure safety, fight violence, lobby for legal change and/or campaign to change hearts and minds.”
Nobody loves a celebration more than I do, but as we celebrate we must recognise not just how far we have come, but how far we have yet to go. As a proud ally of the LGBT+ community, I ask the Minister this: when will she start the Gender Recognition Act consultation? Just do it; stop kicking the can down the road. Start the consultation.
There has undoubtedly been progress in the last century for LGBT+ people worldwide, but there remain discrepancies in rights globally, as we have heard today. The Government should note that over the past four years the UK has fallen from being the leading country for LGBT+ equality in Europe to fourth place, which is not good enough. The Government’s delay on the GRA consultation has created a hostile environment for the LGBT+ community. Over the past 12 months LGBT+ people have experienced increasing levels of hostility, hate crime and discrimination and been affected by the cuts to specialist services.
As we have heard, including from the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), some of the language used, especially about trans issues, is reminiscent of the language used in defence of section 28 decades ago. On some social media sites there is talk of reintroducing section 28 for trans people; we must not let that happen. Next week marks 30 years since that vicious provision was introduced by a Conservative Government, and it took 15 years of grassroots campaigning and a Labour Government before it was repealed in 2003. We must not go backwards. We must support change and get our domestic laws in order so that we can push globally to change the world for the better.
The last Labour Government did more than any other Government in British history to advance LGBT+ equality, and the next Labour Government will do even more. We will accelerate that work, show solidarity with the struggles for LGBT+ equality around the world and pressure Governments to enshrine these fundamental human rights.
I must say that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) might go viral, not because of his speech but because of the intervention on him by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who said he was wrong to vote against same-sex marriage and he has seen the joy it has brought to people. That is the whole point: fighting for somebody else’s rights does not in any way diminish our own rights. The more we can get that across around the world, the better.
As I always say, the Government are welcome to steal the Labour party’s ideas. We have loads of them; we will give the Government loads and create even more, and we will progress the rights of everybody around the world, especially the LGBT+ community. The Labour party recently set up a Labour LGBTQ+ staff network to champion LGBTQ+ staff, ensure fair representation at all levels of the organisation and make Labour one of the most attractive and welcoming workplaces for LGBTQ+ people. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), co-chair of the LGBT+ parliamentary Labour party group, for keeping us moving forward on the issue and making sure we are always ahead of the game.
As a country, we need a Government who will take action, not just make announcements. Currently we have a lot of PR but not much substance. I want to know when we are going to see the results of the LGBT survey that started last year; let us see the results so we can work together to move things forward and understand the lived experiences of the LGBT+ community.
I want the Minister to get to her feet and prove me wrong. I want her to say, “No, we’re doing lots of things. We’re going to start the GRA consultation tomorrow. We’ll publish the findings of the Government’s LGBT survey tomorrow.” I want all that to happen. I do not want to argue about this, I just want to move us forward.
When the Minister gets to her feet, it would also be nice if she could update the House on the UK’s commitment as Commonwealth chair for the next two years. It is important that we know what action the UK Government are taking to advance equality and human rights for LGBT+ people in the Commonwealth, bearing in mind that Commonwealth countries’ laws were put in place by the UK during its colonial years, as the Prime Minister has admitted. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Kaleidoscope Trust, which hosted the participation at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting of the largest ever delegation of LGBT+ activists.
I also want to thank the House of Lords, which voted last week to keep a key EU human rights charter as part of British law. Its absence could have seen the destruction of people’s rights, so I thank the House of Lords for doing that. As I continue to work with Pride, Black Pride, Stonewall, the British LGBT awards, the European diversity awards, GLAD—GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders—and all the other LGBT+ organisations, I hope that the Government will do the same so that we can continue to move forward.
Please will colleagues forgive me if I do not have time to refer to every single speech? This has been an incredibly powerful debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) on securing it. The International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia is such an important date in our calendar, and I am glad that we are marking it with a debate in the House today. We have heard a series of powerful speeches from Members on both sides of the House, and I pay tribute to everyone who has contributed. The hon. Gentleman made a compelling speech, not just about winning rights but about the need to maintain, protect and nurture them once they have been won. He gave a very personal account of watching the Pride march in Brighton, hidden in the crowds before he had come out, and told us that his Pride journey over the years has meant that when he marches now he positively wants people to stare at him and pay attention to him.
I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), who has done so much, both personally and professionally, in this arena. Everyone across the House recognises the contribution that she has made. I was struck by the last line of her speech, when she said that “you cannot be at your best if you cannot be yourself”. To me, that sums up the important nature of this debate. I should also like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell), who touched on the mental health aspect of the debate. That is something that we should very much bear in mind. Indeed, it will continue to be borne in mind as we go through the programme of work that we have planned.
This debate has touched on a wide range of LGBT issues, and I want to give the hon. Member for Hove time to respond at the end. We have touched on domestic and international aspects of the issue. At the outset, it is worth reflecting on how far we have come domestically since the decriminalisation of homosexuality half a century ago. From the equalisation of the age of consent to the introduction of same-sex marriage, successive Governments have made significant progress in advancing equality for LGBT people, who now enjoy the right to marry, to start a family and to change their legal gender to match their identity. As a result, the UK is recognised globally as a world leader on LGBT rights. We can all be proud of that record, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) and the hon. Members for Ipswich (Sandy Martin), for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) said. However, they also said that we must not be complacent. As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), Australia has recently voted to introduce equal marriage but, sadly, Bermuda has gone back on its legislation in that regard.
I have also listened to the concerns raised about the situation in Northern Ireland. Everyone in the House knows that it is a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive, but I am sure that there is impatience in this House on that matter. This morning, in Women and Equalities questions, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities talked about her determination to tackle these issues, and we are listening very carefully to that particular aspect of the LGBT debate.
In her first speech on the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister was clear that this Government are committed to tackling burning injustices. No one should be held back by their sexual orientation or their gender identity. I wish to take a moment to address a couple of the points that have been raised today, the first of which is on the LGBT survey. Last July, the Government launched a national LGBT survey to help us understand the experiences of LGBT people living in the UK. The response was unprecedented. We had the largest response ever in the world to a survey conducted to date, with more than 108,000 people participating. By definition, the survey marks a vital addition to the evidence base, and it will underpin the Government’s LGBT policy in the future. The results will be published in the next few weeks, and I look forward not only to the publication of those results but to a comprehensive LGBT action plan. That will set out the steps that we are taking in response to the survey findings, and a substantial package is being prepared; we are looking at Government services and considering how they can be improved.
The Gender Recognition Act 2004 has also been mentioned. Many trans people, including respondents to the LGBT survey, are clear that the process as it is now is not working for them. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) has canvassed me personally on that point at great length. I was delighted to go to an event in your house on Tuesday, Mr Speaker, which the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee hosted, with your permission and concerted support, although that you were in the Chair in the Chamber. I found it very interesting, and I was concerned to hear some of the issues raised by guests at that event. We have engaged constructively with a wide range of organisations to understand their views. We are analysing the responses of trans people in the LGBT survey, and we are aiming to launch the consultation before the summer recess. I hope that answers the questions put by various colleagues from throughout the House.
The Government recognise that conversations about transgender equality can elicit a wide range of views. Sometimes they stray into abuse and intimidation, and that is unacceptable. As hon. Members throughout the House, including the hon. Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) and for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) have explained, it must stop.
I turn now to schools, because, sadly, abuse and intimidation are not confined to the adult world. We know that studies such as the Stonewall school report have shown a decrease in bullying towards LGBT people in recent years, but reported rates are still too high. We want our schools to be inclusive, which is why we are funding a £3 million programme to tackle bullying.
Internationally, the UK is doing a great deal. If I may, I will write to hon. Members who have raised concerns about particular countries. Of course, the Prime Minister gave her commitment at the Commonwealth summit last month when she apologised for the UK’s role in the past and outlined her determination to help countries update their law and reflect the progress we have made in this country on this important issue of the rights of LGBT people.
I am grateful to all Members who have spoken today. The right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) summed up the objective we are trying to achieve when she said, “you cannot be at your best if you cannot be yourself.” Ensuring that people can be their best is what we are all trying to achieve in this Parliament, in the country and further afield.
There was a wonderful moment of drama, humanity and emotion in our debate, and it came from the hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). Being a gay man, I am partial to a bit of drama and emotion, and it came from the most unexpected source today. He admitted that he had got it wrong in the past, which is a brave thing for any politician to stand up and say. He did a second brave thing by standing up and saying not only that he got it wrong last time, but that he wants a big positive change in the future. That means he has learned from the past. That is an attribute for which we are all very grateful.
We heard a lot of testimonies to you, Mr Speaker, before you arrived in the Chair. I expressed my view that this Chamber can be a hostile place to work but that, as a gay person, I have never in my three years here experienced any hint of homophobia. That is a testament to you and your leadership in this Chamber. If other employers showed the determination that you have, a lot of other people in other workplaces would enjoy the freedoms that we express here daily. We are very grateful for that.