I beg to move,
That this House has considered 50 years of Pride in the UK.
It is a huge privilege to lead today’s debate, which commemorates the UK’s first Pride march in London on 1 July 1972 and all the Pride events that have taken place in the 50 years that followed. I sincerely thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing time for this debate, and especially for ensuring that we have this important debate in the Chamber during Pride Month. More widely, I thank everyone who has organised, supported and taken part in the many Pride events over the years. It is thanks to the many who protested, marched and fought that we have many of the rights that I enjoy today.
I also thank all the Members of this House who have bravely spoken out over the years about their sexuality, their gender and even their HIV status. It is more important than ever that this House reflects the society we have the privilege to represent. I thank them for representing their LGBT constituents and for raising LGBT issues on the Floor of the House, in Committee and in legislation. It is essential that we continue to strive for greater equality, not just during Pride Month but whenever we can in this Chamber and in this House.
The first London Pride event was a demand for progress, and it was organised by the Gay Liberation Front, the UK’s first direct-action human rights movement of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The 1972 Pride march was attended by an estimated 2,000 people, who marched from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park with the intention of combating the invisibility, denigration and constant shame in which most LGBT people were forced to live at the time. Those marchers were inspired by the Gay Liberation Front’s list of demands, many of which are thankfully now enacted in law.
The progress on LGBT equality in the 50 years since has been drastic and significant. We have seen milestones such as: equal marriage; the abolition of section 28; the recent work of Time for Inclusive Education in Scotland; and the diversity of families as we celebrate the increased routes to parenthood that now exist for LGBT families.
LGBT people are protected in the workplace by equality legislation and hate crime laws, which serve to protect against harassment and attacks, but these still occur all too often. I urge the Minister to add a full legislative ban on conversion therapy to the list of milestones.
I will let Members decide for themselves to what extent the Gay Liberation Front’s manifesto for gay members of society has been realised in the past 50 years. However, it is clear that many members of the trans community and many LGBT people of colour have been left behind. UK Black Pride’s 2021 report, “We Will Be Heard,” spoke of a general feeling of unsafety in public and increasing racism towards LGBTQI+ people of colour, with nearly half of respondents having been insulted, pestered, intimidated or harassed in the previous year, compared with 27% of white respondents. The report also spoke of hostile media coverage of trans identities, with 70% of trans and 62% of non-binary respondents saying they would feel uncomfortable using a public toilet. The majority of trans respondents said they would avoid using a gym or sports ground for fear of discrimination or harassment.
The reality, sadly, is that we have seen an alarming rise in hate crimes against LGBTQI people, and a report found that 64% of the LGBT community, including people like me, have experienced violence and abuse based on their gender or sexuality, with only one in five being able to access support. Given these worrying statistics, what is the Minister doing to tackle hate crime against the LGBT community, especially those with intersectional identities? Trans people in 2022 are facing the same hate crime and discrimination that many of the LGBTI community faced in the 1980s. What will he do to ensure the UK is the safest place to grow up for trans, gay, lesbian and non-binary people? What actions will he take to counter transphobia in the media and in society, especially with the onslaught of concerns that have been raised about sports and other areas?
I know that many people wish to speak, but in the time available I wish to say that as a country that has held Pride parades for 50 years, we should be taking a leading role in promoting equality at home and abroad. Yet, sadly, the direction that this Government are taking is worrying for the LGBT community. There are uncertainties around the Rwanda scheme. In answers to questions on the scheme, the Government have been vague as to whether LGBTI asylum seekers will be exempt from deportation to a country that was found in the Home Office’s own report to pose a threat to LGBTI people. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an answer on that. We should be extending the hand of friendship and ensuring that the UK is the safest place. We should keep in mind the difficulties faced by those who may have to admit their sexuality for the first time as part of an asylum application. Will the Minister use this debate to announce that no LGBTI asylum seeker will be subject to deportation to Rwanda?
As we come to the end of Pride Month, with events across the UK and the world, and look forward to London Pride this weekend, we can reflect on the massive legal and social changes that have made the UK a safer, more welcoming and inclusive place for LGBT people. We can reflect on the people who paved the way for current and future generations such as me: those of us who have made radical decisions; those who have marched and campaigned for gay rights; and those who still bear the scars of discriminatory policies, which many of us in this House can only barely recall, but which some will recall only too well from first-hand experience. The SNP will continue always to strive for progress, equality and human rights, but we must push to fully promote LGBT equality.
I challenge the Minister to tackle hate crime; to do all he can to promote safe and legal routes to asylum in the UK; to ensure that for all the LGBT community facing oppression in their home states the UK will be a safe place and that they will not simply be returned to a place where their life may be in danger; and to champion LGBT equality at home and abroad. I want to know that my son will grow up in a world that in 50 years’ time is much more secure than the one I have grown up in.
As one of the co-chairs of the all-party group on global lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT+) rights, let me begin by wishing my constituents and everyone across the UK a very happy Pride as we approach London Pride this weekend. It is important to recognise how far we have come over the past 50 years, and it is pleasure to follow the excellent opening remarks from the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley). It is poignant that this debate follows the one on Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, because this shines a light on how far we have come as a country; when there are still countries around the world today where being LGBT+ is punishable by death, we are lucky to live in a country such as the UK that protects our rights in law. Of course that does not mean that there is not still progress to be made and things that need to be done.
I have been incredibly lucky as a young openly gay man growing up in the UK. I was very supported by my family and my school was miles ahead of its time; Carshalton Boys Sports College had a fantastic, inclusive, relationship and sex education curriculum before it was mandatory. I have had nothing but excellent experiences in every workplace I have been in, so I have been one of the lucky ones, but that is not the case for every young person growing up who is LGBT+ in the UK today. That is why Pride still matters to this day and why it is so important to continue shining a light on those issues, because there are still people who think that they may be better off dead than being openly who they are. As long as that is the case, we must continue to celebrate, to be visible and to raise these issues.
On people who still struggle with their sexual orientation, did the hon. Gentleman happen to see the documentary Dame Kelly Holmes has just broadcast, where she demonstrates with great heartache the problems that were caused in her life by the ban on gay people serving in the military, the misery that that has caused her, despite all her fantastic achievements, and how she is now striving to overcome it? Will he join me in wishing her all the best as she is now out and proud?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention and I will absolutely join her in congratulating Dame Kelly Holmes on her bravery. Indeed, sport is one of the areas where we continue to see struggle for the LGBT community. We still see homophobia, biphobia and transphobia; they are very pertinent in sport, which is why it is important to continue to raise those issues.
My first Pride was back in 2012, which coincided with this place deciding on whether two people of the same sex could get married. It was a new experience for me. I did not know anyone else who was going, so I went along on my own, which I do not think I would have the confidence to do now. The experience of my first Pride really struck me and stayed with me. What it highlighted to me was that I have been lucky but only because of the brave people who came before me and gave up so much to fight for the rights that I enjoy today. I am lucky enough to come to this place and say, “I am an openly gay man and I have had a pretty decent life so far.” I thank everyone who came before us.
There is always more to do. That was touched on by the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East, particularly in relation to conversion practices. I do not want to go over too much of the ground that I know has already been covered. The Minister was present in the debate that we led in Westminster Hall just a few weeks ago. I do not want to repeat all the arguments that were made there. I will just stress that conversion practices are still taking place in the UK today. The need to ban conversion practices is not symbolic; it is needed to protect people from undergoing harmful practices simply because of who they are. That surely cannot be acceptable in 21st century Britain, which is why it is so important to do so and, indeed, to make sure that such a ban is inclusive of gender identity as well.
I pay tribute to colleagues who, sadly, could not make it to today’s debate, but I know would have wanted to if their diaries had allowed. I am thinking in particular of my hon. Friends the Members for Redcar (Jacob Young), for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan), for Darlington (Peter Gibson), my right hon. Friends the Members for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), and for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), my hon. Friends the Members for Southport (Damien Moore), for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) and many others. I am sorry if I have not mentioned all of them. I particularly pay tribute to the bravery of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Dr Wallis), the first ever openly trans Member of Parliament. I do not want to steal their story away from them; that is for them to tell. But I just wanted to put that on the record.
That leads me very neatly into my next point, which is on the current public discourse on trans issues. Again, the Minister was present in Westminster Hall when we had a debate on the reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. I do not intend to go over the specifics of that again, but I completely agree with the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East about the current public discourse and the toxicity of the debate that has arisen around trans issues in the UK and, indeed, in much of the world at the moment. We have a responsibility to try to take the heat out of that discussion and try to calm things down and actually talk about the real issues—what is actually needed.
Much of the public discourse at the moment is completely nonsensical. It is driven in the most awful way. Again, the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East—I am embarrassing her by referencing her far too often—hit the nail on the head. Much of what is said about the trans community today could almost be copied and pasted from the text books of history: things that were said about openly gay men, lesbians and bisexual people in the past, particularly around the threat they posed to the safety of women, to the safety of children, and to the rights to practise religion freely. Much of that is completely nonsensical. I really hope that, in this place, we can start setting a better example for the public discourse that we need to have and really take the heat out of it. I think the debate we had in Westminster Hall on reforming the Gender Recognition Act was a good one and got to the heart of some of the issues. Serving with colleagues on the Women and Equalities Committee during our inquiry into the GRA, I was struck, when we were taking evidence both from those in favour of reform and from those opposed to it, by how much agreement there was between the two sides.
Both sides agreed that there needed to be much better healthcare support for trans people in the UK, ranging from mental health support all the way through to more physical interventions. It was agreed that many of the structures that exist in both legislation and institutions do not currently work for the trans community or for anyone else. They agreed that there was a lot of confusion, and that implementation of exemptions within the Equality Act 2012 and the GRA, for example, was confusing.
The hon. Gentleman is setting out perfectly some of the challenges, but does he agree that there is a more sinister and deep-rooted issue with misinformation and disinformation that has been funded by the religious right and is seeping into our society, part of which plays into what is happening in the USA on abortion rights and reproductive healthcare? Does he agree that we must do something about that and we must work together cross-party to challenge that misinformation and protect our trans and nonbinary siblings?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady; that could not be more true. One of the most bizarre things that seems to be invading the debate at the moment is the idea that a person will wake up on a Monday and suddenly decide that they are trans, and that by Friday they will have had invasive surgery that cannot be reversed. Of course that simply does not happen. There is so much misinformation going on about what is happening in the UK today, and we must not allow that to permeate the debate. I hope that parliamentarians can take that much-needed lead in calming that debate down and having a discussion based on fact and on what is needed to progress our country and make it an even better place to grow up LGBT+.
Coming back to that point, it is important that, when the Government bring forward the conversion practices Bill later on this year—I hope it will be later this year—it is trans inclusive. I hope the Government will make the decision to do that themselves, because there is no doubt that there will be an amendment tabled in the House, and I must warn my own Whips in advance that there is absolutely no way that I could fail to support such an amendment. It is much more desirable to come forward with that from the beginning. I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) for her fantastic campaigning on this issue. She has been quite superb.
I hope we will not allow this issue to become a wedge issue. Politicising the trans debate to gain electoral capital from it is not something that any political party should think is desirable. To any politician in this place from any political party who is thinking of doing that, I would point out that we already have an example of where it has not worked, in Australia. The Australian federal election was heavily fought on that issue, and it did not work. I would really advise against doing it.
I will wrap up my remarks, as I realise I have been talking for quite some time, but for me the reason Pride is still important and must still be celebrated today goes back to the point I made earlier. Some people believe they would be better off dead than being who they truly are. Pride is all about celebrating the fact that people can be who they are without living in fear, and that is pertinent given the current toxic debate going on in the country.
Of course we will find people who preach and say things that we find abominable or crazy, but overall Pride for me is about everyone just getting to live their lives in peace the way they want to—not bothering anyone else, not trying to impinge on anyone else or to tear down the foundation of society as we understand it, but just wanting to live their lives. Pride is so important to this day because some people still do not feel they can just live their lives. For as long as that is the case, I will continue to come here and celebrate my LGBT+ family and make sure that we in this House never forget how far we have come or how far there is to go.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), my co-chair on the all-party parliamentary group on global LGBT+ rights. I look forward to working with him over the coming period to try to ensure that a lot of the legal protections and acceptance that we have seen develop in our own country can be exported to other places around the world so that our LGBT+ friends across the globe can enjoy the same kinds of rights that we are here celebrating today.
We are here to celebrate an incredible journey towards the legal recognition and equal treatment for LGBT+ people that has been achieved in the UK in the past 50 years. This change is progressive and life-affirming, but it did not just happen. It did not just descend as an inevitability because time and history were moving on. It was campaigned for and won in the teeth of the most intense bigotry, ridicule, hostility, violence and intimidation. It has made our society better, safer, stronger and more respectful as a place to live and thrive than it was before. That is a tremendous achievement and it is what, essentially, we are here to celebrate on this 50th anniversary. It was won because LGBT+ people and their allies fought for it because they did not accept the status quo that they were born into and grew up in. They realised it was wrong, they wanted it to change, they had a vision of how it could change, and they went out and campaigned for that change.
But we know that LGBT+ rights are fragile and progress towards equality must never, ever be taken for granted. Look at the horrific attacks on Pride celebrations in Oslo just a few days ago if you think that Pride and LGBT+ people are accepted and respected as we would like to see across the developed world, let alone the rest of the world. Listen to the homophobic rantings of President Putin in Russia or Viktor Orbán in Hungary, scapegoating LGBT+ people for their own political advantage. Consider the Trump-enabler Steve Bannon’s comments as he celebrated Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He said that he supported that attack because the Russians were not “woke” and knew “which bathroom to use”. When one thinks about those phrases and how they are weaponised across different countries, it is possible to discern that there are connections between people who are campaigning to get us back in the closet, to get women back in the kitchen, to get us to know our place, and to turn our society backwards. We have to beware of those connections.
Women in the USA are now experiencing the shocking reality of a bonfire of the rights that they thought were established and permanent with the reversal of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court. In the USA, some of those fundamentalist justices now have their eyes fixed firmly on same-sex marriage, the legality—for goodness’ sake—of same-sex relations, and even the use of contraception. This means that all the progress that we have been celebrating, and perhaps in our more complacent moments thinking could never be reversed, has just been reversed in front of the eyes of half the population of America. We must never forget that those same reactionary forces are lurking here in the UK working to achieve the same goal, often with generous fundamentalist funding from various nefarious organisations.
Before I warn more about backlash and the dangers that progress will be reversed, I want to take this opportunity to celebrate just how far LGBT+ people have come since that first Pride march wended its way from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park 50 years ago. Unlike most of the people in the Chamber today, I was alive when that was happening, although I was not on the march. That would have been slightly too precocious of me, given that I was born in 1961—you do the maths.
The first Pride was organised by the Gay Liberation Front and attended by 2,000 people, as the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) said in her opening remarks. They were spat at, and they faced abuse on the streets for daring not to be ashamed of who they were, because repression and dissemination work best when people internalise the shame that those who want to keep them repressed try to put upon them. That is why the concept of Pride—of being proud and open and out about who you are—is such a powerful one. Again, it is the 50th anniversary of Pride in this country that this debate is celebrating.
That first Pride was a very different occasion from the carnival attended by 1.5 million people when we last had a Pride in London, pre-covid in 2019. I sincerely hope that this weekend’s 50th anniversary will resemble the 2019 carnival, rather than the first one. LGBT+ people have come a long way together with our allies, and we should all be proud of the progress we have achieved. Male homosexuality was only decriminalised by that pioneering Wilson Labour Government in 1967. Until then, jail awaited anyone who tried to be open about their sexual orientation. Many police forces carried out campaigns of entrapment, and gay men were regularly blackmailed, beaten up and prosecuted for being gay. Lesbians were not even mentioned in the law, and though their status was unclear, they too felt that they had to hide away.
When young people today hear about this oppressive history, they can scarcely believe it, so much have we managed to change by working together. That is the nature of the progress that we have achieved. Indeed, I watched Dame Kelly Holmes’s documentary yesterday. She went to see some LGBT Olympian boxers training together, and they did not even realise that when Dame Kelly joined the Army, she could have been dismissed in disgrace for her sexual orientation. They were astonished. This is massive change within only a few generations, and we should all be proud of achieving that.
The march to legal equality had many setbacks, not least the arrival of the odious section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which put back the cause of equality for years and caused untold misery for many of the most vulnerable people in our society at the most vulnerable time in their lives. Even now, it leaves a legacy of unaddressed bullying in our schools, which some teachers worry about confronting. The decision of the Thatcher Government to write into the law of the land the ridicule of LGBT+ relationships as “pretended”, and to ban what they called the “promotion of homosexuality”, led directly to the formation of Stonewall in 1988. It was the beginning of a more focused attempt to push for basic human rights to apply to LGBT+ people. Meanwhile, trade unions organised to support LGBT+ people facing discrimination at work and incorporated the fight for equality into their workplace bargaining.
Today is the first day of the TUC LGBT conference, and I wish them luck from this Chamber and send greetings for the work they are doing, but the TUC published a poll of HR professionals today, which demonstrated that one in five of UK workplaces does not have any policies in place to support LGBT staff at work, and only half of managers said they had a policy prohibiting discrimination, bullying and harassment against their LGBT workers in their workplace. Although we have changed the law, we still have much to do to ensure that all employers treat their LGBT+ employees with the respect they deserve and that employees are properly protected from bullying at work.
There are fantastically good examples of great progress, but there are also some places where there has been no progress. We ought to support the TUC and the LGBT TUC, who are doing their best to change this reality in the workplace.
All the work I have mentioned helped drive real change and increased understanding of issues that had remained hidden for too long. The increasing willingness of LGBT+ people to come out brought these matters into the open, and there was a softening attitude to LGBT people among the public. As someone who became a Minister in the 1997 to 2010 Labour Governments, it was clear to me that public opinion on this issue had moved faster than the previous Government’s attitudes.
Throughout the 1980s, hostility to LGBT+ people was used explicitly by the Government in their political propaganda to portray the Labour party as loony lefties—that is the phrase that was always thrown at us. That effort was enthusiastically supported and highlighted by the Tory-supporting red-top tabloids in lurid and bullying headlines, which are still imprinted on my brain today. You know, it worked, Mr Deputy Speaker. I remember vividly canvassing in Battersea for the now Lord Dubs in the 1987 general election, only to have doors shut in my face after being told that Labour only stood for—the House will have to excuse me for using this language, but I think it is important in the context—the blacks and the queers. That is how well the weaponisation of this stuff, which all centred around section 28, worked.
For some of us, the so-called war on woke began at least 40 years ago. It has been waged, often unrelentingly and always irresponsibly, ever since. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) talked about wedge issues. He was absolutely right to call that out, because it is an example of the weaponisation of people’s vulnerabilities and personal characteristics to bully them, to other them and to make them feel that they do not belong in our society. It is that which we have to confront.
The fact that public opinion had moved beyond the ossified attitudes of many in the Thatcher and Major Governments created an opportunity for rapid legal reform to drive social progress when we returned to Government. We took that opportunity because we had a huge progressive majority in the House of Commons and public opinion was further ahead than even us in deciding that this change needed to be made. We lifted the ban on LGBT+ people serving in the armed forces—only after a court case, but that was how it was thought best to achieve it; we equalised the age of consent; we repealed section 28; we allowed unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, to adopt; we removed discrimination against LGBT+ people from the sexual offences statutes; and we legislated for civil partnerships, finally allowing same-sex couples to marry and to enjoy the same legal protections that were available in heterosexual marriage.
The House of Lords was then—it is not now—an implacable opponent of this crucial reform agenda. It delayed and opposed progress. It was especially stubborn in its refusal to contemplate the repeal of section 28 and the equalisation of the age of consent. We tried for three years to repeal section 28 and nearly lost three local government Bills in the confrontations we had with the Lords before we succeeded. We managed to achieve the equalisation of the age of consent only by using the Parliament Acts, as the House of Lords simply would not pass it.
All of this was done in the face of huge hostility in the tabloid press, which ran banner headlines about gay mafias running the country and Labour obsessing about gay rights. All we wished to do, as a Government, was to accord equal rights and freedom from discrimination in law to LGBT+ people, whom we wished to see treated as human beings in our society—equal and equally respected. The battle was hard and difficult, but it was worth it because we won.
When I first came into this House, I certainly never imagined that 30 years later, I would be sitting in one of the gayest Parliaments in the world. [Hon. Members: “The gayest.”] It is the gayest Parliament in the world. I often think that, particularly late at night when we are waiting for the votes that never seem to come. The fact that we are here in numbers, and across parties, means that we can work together to preserve the gains made and improve the situation for LGBT+ people in our country and internationally.
I end my contribution to this celebration of 50 years of Pride with a warning. LGBT communities are facing a backlash in the UK. Hate crime against the community is rising disproportionately. According to Galop, the LGBT+ anti-abuse charity, two thirds of us experienced violence or abuse last year, with nearly a third of that consisting of physical violence, and four in 10 trans people have suffered a hate crime this year. Much of that goes unreported in official crime statistics, but it all has a detrimental psychological effect on the individual victims.
The Government started with a positive agenda for LGBT+ rights, but that has now stalled. We look to the Minister to get it going again and ensure that it ends up at the destination that we all hope for, and I know he intends. Perhaps some in the Government are falling victim to that same temptation to pursue a divisive war on woke with a special focus on trans people. I know that he is not in that group of people, and I wish him all power in making his arguments. I hope that he can prevent that happening or getting any worse, because it singles out people who are already marginalised by portraying them as a threat or holding them up to ridicule.
All this official bullying has a familiar ring to it for those who were around in the 1980s, as I was. It is as reprehensible and destructive now as it was then, and it has to be defeated. We learned that the much-delayed yet long-promised ban on conversion therapy will now exclude trans people, and will contain a consent loophole that means it is not a ban at all. I have been a Minister, so I know how pragmatic the Minister will have to be to get the legislation on the statute book. Again, we will work cross-party to make that ban as effective, thorough and applicable across the board as we can. I hope that the Government will relent on the fact that there is currently no place in that ban for trans people. With that battle going on, it is no wonder that the UK has fallen from 1st place to 14th place in the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association Europe’s ranking of gay friendly European countries. I want to see us back in first place.
Sadly, it seems that the Government have chosen to use LGBT people as a useful wedge issue as the general election approaches. I hope that whoever makes those decisions will step back from doing that and think about the damage it does. Those of us who support LGBT people will do everything in our power to make certain that it does not work and does not succeed.
Despite those setbacks, working towards true equality and full human dignity for LGBT people remains an important priority cross-party for all those who wish to live in a fairer and more inclusive society. That is what I will be marching for at the 50th anniversary of Pride, and I expect to see Mr Deputy Speaker—in some T-shirt no doubt—and all other hon. Members present along the way. We hope the weather holds out. We will be marching with pride for what we have achieved, with confidence that there is more to do, and with determination that we will do it.
I congratulate the hon. Members for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle), who delivered a tour de force on the history of the struggle for equal rights. I really do feel humbled to stand in this place and think of the change that has come since those 2,000 brave activists took to the streets 50 years ago. They laid the groundwork for me and for others, as others have said, to have a happy life as an LGBT+ community.
On Saturday, as the LGBT+ community begins its march through the nation’s capital to mark the 50th anniversary of Pride, a group of veterans will, with quiet dignity, have their moment of inclusion when they join and march with uniformed armed forces serving personnel for the first time. I am delighted that this invitation has been extended, because these veterans will wear their medals with pride, knowing that in their ships, squadrons and regiments they met every challenge the rigours of service life placed in their path side by side with their colleagues.
However, this group of veterans met so many other challenges, because they served in the shameful years of the ban on homosexuality in the armed forces. Twenty-two years ago, the ban on homosexuality and LGBT personnel serving in the armed forces was lifted, but while it was in place it inflicted staggering cruelty on many men and some women who had stepped forward to serve their country.
Between the mid-1950s and 1996, the men of our armed forces who were thought to be gay were arrested, searched and questioned by officers trained for wartime interrogation. That was despite homosexuality having been decriminalised in 1967. This interrogation could run on for days, and then they would be charged, often without legal counsel or support, and on many occasions an arrest was based on little or no evidence. Heterosexual men were falsely accused by service police officers, losing careers and in some cases homes and families.
After harrowing investigations, these men were taken to military hospitals, where they were subjected to degrading and shameful medical inspections conducted in accordance with the confidential Defence Council instructions held by every unit of the armed forces. At court martial, in the moments before those convicted were sent down, operational medals and good conduct badges would be stripped from their uniforms. As they walked from prison, they were dismissed in disgrace, with criminal records as sex offenders.
These men typically served six months in prison for the military criminal offence of being homosexual. That continued until 1996, and administrative dismissal of LGBT+ personnel continued for a further four years, until January 2000. They were cast out of the armed forces family, outed to their own family and friends, and many lost their homes and livelihoods. Their service record cards had the top corner clipped and were marked in red pen with the annotation “Dismissed in disgrace”, causing a lifetime of employment issues. In the past, in their moment of need, they were shunned by military charities—something that I am grateful has now changed.
Despite a six-month delay in his appointment, I would like to welcome the right hon. Lord Etherton QC as the chair of the Government’s LGBT veterans independent review, who I gather will be meeting veterans in London this weekend at Pride. The independent review will, for the first time, assess the number of people affected by the historical ban. Lord Etherton’s report will give Government an opportunity to finally recognise the service of LGBT veterans. The report must make reparations for the appalling cruelty those veterans faced, and the consequences that they have endured for a lifetime. If we are to take real pride in their service, and if we are as a nation truly sorry for their treatment, it must deliver restorative justice.
The men and women who will march in the capital on Saturday should feel no shame whatever. It is the inhumane, cruel historical ban on homosexuality that shames our nation, and I know today that so many others, like me, are immensely proud of their courage, both in their service, and in their struggle to be who they are. They can hold their heads high on Saturday, and despite the rigours they have endured in their lives they can be as proud of themselves as we are of them. I hope the serving communities of our armed forces and our service chiefs show their pride in them too.
Today’s armed forces are inclusive and welcoming of LGBT+ personnel. They make our armed forces more effective in combat, and they reflect the values of our nation today. The Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and Royal Air Force need not own responsibility for the history of the ban, but for this 50th Pride, they can and have welcomed LGBT+ veterans back to the military family from which they were forcibly removed. I ask that the Chief of the Defence Staff and service chiefs do everything they can in the years ahead to ensure that they are stakeholders in a better future for LGBT+ veterans. The process now in place must deliver proper reparations, including restoring pensions and financial compensation. Until that happens, this will remain a matter of national disgrace. Those terms are the absolute minimum of what is owed to those long-suffering veterans, who deserve to live their lives with the same pride, honour and comfort as all other veterans.
As our LGBT veterans march through the capital, they will be supported every step of the way by the amazing team at Fighting With Pride—an organisation I am proud to support as an ambassador, together with Conservative and SNP colleagues. Our shared support for the work of that small charity is a reflection of the incredible tenacity that it has shown in bringing to our attention the plight of gay, bisexual, transgender and other veterans. Finally, I pay tribute to the joint chief executive officers of Fighting With Pride, Caroline Paige and Craig Jones MBE, for their service in the armed forces, and for their service today for the LGBT community.
As a queer woman and an openly proud lesbian, it is a huge privilege to speak in this debate in the House. I warmly welcome and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) on her persistence, and on being an icon in the LGBT community—I am sure many young people in our movement and across the political spectrum look up to her. We have had some brilliant contributions so far and as we mark 50 years of Pride, it is important to reflect, as many have, on how far we have come, and to look at where we are and at the challenges we face in future.
I want to acknowledge a member of my staff, Amy Cowan, who helped me to prepare for today’s debate. I also pay tribute to my dear friend Michelle Rodger, who passed away last August from triple negative breast cancer. She was the most wonderful ally, who supported me through many dark times after I came out, and helped me to write and prepare for the many LGBTQ-themed speeches and events to which I was invited after I came out. I miss her dearly: there is a gap in my life and my team that will simply never be filled.
I also want to recognise some of my dear friends—a wedge of lesbians we could call them—some of whom are here to watch today’s proceedings. They are sisters who know who they are; women who have blazed a trail in all aspects of life, and worked so hard in their many fields to further LGBTQ equality. They include our chief lesbian, Linda Riley, who has helped me personally so much since I came out, and who does incredible work through DIVA Magazine and her tireless charitable work. Many LGBTQ people have a queer family, and they are just some of mine. Among them is also Jacquie Lawrence, who this week was awarded the Iris prize fellowship for her work and contributions to the LGBTQ+ community in the media, particularly representing queer and lesbian women, who are so often under-represented.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) referred to the experience of our LGBTQ friends in the military, who have faced serious and deep discrimination. Jacquie was the commissioning editor at Channel 4 who commissioned “The Investigator”, the programme with Helen Baxendale that told the true story of some lesbians’ experience in the military. She has done pioneering work in her time, and she recently commissioned, produced and directed “Gateways Grind” with her Jackdaw Media partner Fizz Milton. Presented by Sandi Toksvig, it is a crucial, funny and brilliant piece of film making about the Gateways lesbian club in London. I implore hon. Members and those watching the debate to watch it.
I have my own family, and I am very grateful that they love and accept me. I am proud that my fiancée Emma and I are able to be open, live our lives freely and be accepted by our families. Many both home and abroad cannot do that. That is why we need Pride 50 years on, and that is why Pride continues to be a protest.
For many, Pride is personal. Local Prides have been something of a phenomenon across Scotland and the UK, and beyond. In my constituency, West Lothian Pride is a fantastic event that has brought the community together locally. We should pay tribute to those Prides and the people who run them, support them and fund them. Some will be able to choose to go out and join a march, a celebration or a parade, but some, be they here or abroad, may not be able to celebrate publicly because it is illegal in their country, because they are not quite there yet or because they cannot come out.
I have vivid memories of my first Pride march after I came out here in London: the love, the celebration and the sense of freedom. We have come a long way since the first Pride in London in 1972, when 2,000 brave activists marched. It now attracts an estimated 1.5 million people. But Pride is, and still should be, a protest. Although, as some have observed, there is a creep of commercialisation into Pride, I cannot help but feel a superficial glow when I walk down Oxford Street and see every shop window clad in rainbows during June. We see big corporate firms talking about their Pride networks and think, “How wonderful that so many corporations are embracing us, the LGBTQ+ community.”
However, when we scratch the surface and look up how many of those big companies actively support, embrace, employ and promote LGBTQ+ people, we realise that perhaps it is not such a rainbow-tinted picture after all and a fair amount of rainbow-washing is going on. Do not get me wrong: clearly many great companies are doing great things, but when we consider that there are still only eight female chief executive officers of FTSE 100 companies and zero openly LGBTQ+ ones, that does beg the question of genuine diversity and inclusion.
It is also legitimate to ask how those companies who sell rainbow tat, or indeed rainbow-branded stuff, are actually supporting Pride and LGBT people. My favourite one recently was the M&S Pride sandwich—that, Mr Deputy Speaker was lettuce, guacamole, bacon and tomato. To be fair, M&S was genuinely donating profits to the Terrence Higgins Trust, which is fantastic, but that does beg the question of whether some companies gloss over Pride with rainbow-themed mimics and benefit financially from our oppression while not really genuinely supporting our community. That is why, 50 years on, Pride is still a protest.
Pride is still a protest because, in 71 countries across the world, it is illegal to be LGBTQ—I am illegal in 71 countries. In 11 of those countries, the death penalty still exists for consensual same-sex activities.
The hon. Member is making a powerful case for the need for Pride and highlighting the extreme circumstances that people go through in other countries. One of the tests that I think we often ask ourselves is: would every gay person in this country on a late night out surrounded by drunk crowds feel confident to hold their partner’s hand? I am not sure that they would. Even in this country, there is a lot that we can still do on those issues.
I thank the hon. Gentleman and absolutely agree with him. I have had experiences that I have had to report to the police, including being abused simply for holding hands with a partner, and that was in Scotland. That is a reality that many of us have faced, and we have seen in the press recently reports of members of the LGBTQ+ community being attacked and targeted simply for holding hands with their same-sex partner.
Some of those countries have been awarded international sporting awards, such as the Olympics and the World cup, and that is hugely problematic. People in those countries cannot enjoy the most basic of human rights or freedoms that many of us have. To be able to love and be loved and be yourself is truly and surely the most fundamental of human rights. It goes absolutely to the heart of who we are and how we express ourselves.
The truth is that, while in the UK we have the right to love who we want, to marry or be in a civil partnership with them and to have a family, there are still gaps in those rights and there is still huge prejudice. As we stand and sit here today, our trans and non-binary siblings are being subjected to a grotesque attack on their rights just to exist, to access healthcare, to participate in sport and wider society, and to be fairly represented in an increasingly hostile media.
I want to put it on the record here and now that I stand with my trans and non-binary siblings. I will fight for them, as they have fought for my rights against the tide of misinformation in the ’70s and ’80s —as well as before and since, against gay men and lesbians, as many Members have said—and against a hostile media and a hostile UK Government and Prime Minister, who seem intent on rolling back on promises to ban conversion practices against trans people and to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004. I am delighted to hear Conservative Members being so genuine and speaking out and supporting trans people, but I know that they have challenges in their own party. We all have challenges. We all have members of our own party with whom we disagree, with whom we need to engage and whom we need to try to bring on board. But there is a threat to members of our community and our community in general.
I hope that in not too short a time I will be able to stand here and tell Members about the legislation that we will have passed in the Scottish Parliament to protect and promote the lives of trans and non-binary people so that they can live their lives happily, healthily and without fear of discrimination. We have made significant progress in Scotland. I am not saying that it is perfect, as I have outlined, but one of the most important things that we have done is embed LGBT inclusive education in our curriculum. Years of work and campaigning from organisations such as Stonewall and, of course, the radical work of Jordan and Liam at TIE—Time for Inclusive Education—have meant that little boys and girls, like my nieces and nephews, and like all our children, will grow up understanding that it is perfectly normal for their friends to have two daddies or two mummies, or be brought up by carers, in care, in a blended family or, like me, in a single-parent family. Inclusive education, despite the efforts of many, does not mean that we are indoctrinating or brainwashing children—quite the opposite. We are simply explaining to them that families come in all shapes and sizes, and they are all beautiful.
Let me illustrate the point. I was born the year that section 28 came into force. I also grew up in a single-mother family, at a time when Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister and was not just fond of spouting anti-LGBT rhetoric but of saying that women like my mum should be locked up in asylums. The lack of representation of LGBT people and the hyper-normalised heteronormativity pushed at us through the media and Government were enough to make me feel so much an outcast that I turned away from my own sexuality and suppressed it, until I was elected and was 32. I am willing to openly admit the profound impact that that has had on my mental health and relationships over the years. I read an article earlier in which Sir Ian McKellen talked about coming out in the ’80s and the liberation that he felt. He said:
“It changes your life utterly. I discovered myself and everything was better.”
Those words are so true. That is exactly how I felt when I first came out.
At the age of 39, as an openly queer woman, I am in a much better place, but that was not always the case. No child should grow up feeling like they do not belong. No child should grow up feeling like they are wrong or that who they love or the life that they seek is illegal. No child or young person should grow up feeling like they do not have the right to be themselves, to marry or to have children because of who they are or who they love. But that is how I felt, and it is, quite frankly, how we are making trans and non-binary people feel today. I have no doubt that we will look back on this period of political history and feel deep, deep shame—as we should—at the way we have treated and are treating trans and non-binary people, just as we look back at the appalling way that we treated lesbian, gay and bisexual people in decades gone by. Let us not repeat history.
I pay tribute to two friends of mine who are true icons, Jake and Hannah Graf, who are both trans and who recently welcomed their second child. I hope that the whole House will join me in congratulating them. I have loved watching their journey and seeing people in the media, such as the brilliant Lorraine Kelly, welcome and embrace them and their family. That will give hope to so many.
Pride is still a protest because: the 2020 LGBT health and wellbeing survey suggests that 71% of LGBT young people experience bullying in school on the grounds of being LGBT; reports of sexual orientation hate crimes recorded by UK police forces rose from an average of 1,400 a month from January to April 2021 to 2,200 on average from May to August 2021; two thirds of LGBTQ+ people have experienced violence or abuse, according to Galop; two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity; and LGBTQ+ people of colour or with a disability are increasingly much more likely to be discriminated against or abused. Those statistics should shame us all.
After Brexit, homophobic hate crime rose by 147%. Never let anyone tell you that Brexit brought people together. The narrow-minded bigotry that fuelled that campaign has dragged the UK down a dark ditch of homophobia, racism and bigotry. Those who have pursued that and who are implementing certain policies continue to threaten our rights, freedoms and democracy.
Pride is a protest 50 years on because we still face so many challenges, discrimination and marginalisation in the LGBTQ+ community, so let us never stop marching, never stop protesting and never stop speaking out for the rights of everyone in our community to love and live freely.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) on securing this debate, which is fittingly taking place on the final day of Pride month. When I think about the history of Pride in the UK, I think of not only the beauty and strength that diversity brings to our communities, but the struggle and discrimination that many LGBT+ people continue to face, with a staggering four out of five anti-LGBT+ hate crimes going unreported.
The Stonewall riots happened 53 years ago on Tuesday. It was a pivotal moment in LGBT+ history, sparking the flames of Pride. I pay tribute to every activist who has fought so hard for LGBT+ rights; their impact has been immeasurable. Fifty years ago, the first Pride protest happened in London. It has grown from just over 2,000 people attending back in 1972 to more than 1.5 million in 2019. If the House wants to know what solidarity looks like, it is more than 1 million people standing with their fellow humans saying that they are loved, welcomed and valued.
Since 2014, Durham Pride has brought together people from across the north-east. It has been nurtured by the inspirational Mel Metcalf and the entire Pride committee, who work tirelessly to ensure that the celebration gets bigger, better, more inclusive and more accessible every year. I was thrilled to address the crowd again this year. The sea of rainbows, glitter, sequins and solidarity that fills the event field is a sight to behold. Mel’s infectious enthusiasm for bringing people together to celebrate the freedom to love without discrimination is like nothing I have ever witnessed. Next year will see the 10th Durham Pride. I hope the whole House will join me in commending Mel’s fantastic work.
For 50 years, seeing the humanity and joy in people celebrating who they are at Pride has been vital. It is important because celebration is protest. When some parts of society would rather hide people away, that celebration is an act of defiance, and we must match that defiance with solidarity. At this year’s Durham Pride, the fabulous MC Tess Tickle described how, after past refusals from some politicians had left her feeling as though she was not accepted, her town’s new Labour mayor Carole Atkinson decided to proudly fly the Pride flag from Spennymoor town hall. For once, she said, she felt accepted by people in power. That shows the impact that the words and actions of elected representatives can have.
In this place, we have the power to make an impact. Shamefully, this place’s impact was felt for the 15 painful years when section 28 was enforced—15 years of shame. In a 1988 debate on the implementation of clause 28, Tony Benn said:
“The day will come when people will look back on this debate and be glad that there were hon. Members on both sides of the House who stood against what is an incitement to harass decent people”.—[Official Report, 9 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 385.]
I would like to think that Mr Benn would have been rather pleased with the contributions in the House today by hon. Members speaking up for decent people around the country celebrating who they are.
I wonder how many of the first Pride marchers in 1972 thought that same-sex marriage would be legalised. It took until 2013, but the impact of our legislation has been felt. There is still so much to do on LGBT+ rights—too much. In 2018, the Government set out more than 75 actions to improve the lives of LGBT+ people in the UK by May 2022. It is now the last day of June 2022, but since 2019 two thirds of those actions have not been implemented. That is simply not good enough. Will the Minister tell me whether those actions are still Government policy? This Government promised to ban trans conversion practices, but they continue to drag their heels. They would rather light up buildings with rainbows than make any meaningful change.
Fifty years on from the first Pride event, let me be clear: Pride is a valued part of life in Britain, and we must do all we can to ensure that our country is progressive, welcoming and inclusive. I reiterate my pride in the hundreds of people who lined the streets of Durham on 29 May for this year’s Pride march to show their love, their understanding and their solidarity with our LGBT+ friends. It was a celebratory protest—a protest against fear, against hate, against being someone you are not, against the idea that only some of us are worthy. Most of all, it was a protest against anything that does not lift up love. It reaffirmed Rev. David Rushton’s words of support to the LGBT+ community that day: “Know you are loved.”
It is a real privilege to follow such brilliant speakers on both sides of the House. It is probably the only thing that we all share in common and agree about in this place, so it is a shame that those who disagree are not here to hear such brilliant speeches, the solidarity across the parties or the love, kindness, support, hope and optimism embodied in every single speech and intervention that I have heard so far.
Pride matters to me. My first Pride was not in Plymouth; it was Brighton Pride. I was young. I had brown hair in those days. I had an amazing time—and that is where I will put a full stop against it. It was fabulous. We all remember our first Pride: it is liberating, it is freeing and you get a real sense of knowing who you are. We need to ensure that 50 years of Pride are celebrated, we need to mark what has happened, and we need to celebrate the local Prides. Plymouth Pride on 13 and 14 August this year will be brilliant; I will be there. London Pride on Saturday will be brilliant, and I will be there as well.
Pride Month reminds us of the extraordinary progress that we have made in the past 50 years. Since the first Pride protest in 1972, we have achieved huge milestones in this country: equal marriage; gay adoption; gay and bisexual men being able to donate blood; the end of section 28; the equalisation of the age of consent; LGBT personnel serving in our armed forces, and so much more. But the LGBT community has never been a homogeneous blob of people; we have always been different, and it is that celebration of individualism, and our collective bonds, that has defined the past 50 years. To put it another way, we are all different, and we are all equal. However, the achievements of the past 50 years have created a belief among many that equality is a one-way street—that things only ever get better. There is a sense of the inevitability of progress. That is welcome—I am an optimist, and I want things to only ever get better—but we need to challenge the belief that while we must accept some bumps in the road, a challenge here or there, perhaps an obstacle to climb over, things will always get better, because it has led to a political consequence, the consequence of comfortable complacency.
I speak on the basis of my own experience as a cisgender gay man when I say that many of the members of the community with whom I associate most frequently have fallen into that trap of comfortable complacency. It is often affluent cisgender gay men who dominate the LGBT+ debates, taking the lion’s share of comment and the lion’s share of the voice. They sometimes complain about there being politics in Pride. I am sure that every Member in the House has heard this at some point: “Why is there politics in Pride? We shouldn’t have that; it is about rainbows.” We have politics in Pride because without the politics, there would be no Pride.
The hon. Gentleman has touched on an issue that concerns me sometimes. In the cisgender gay community, there can be what is almost a bit of distaste towards the more overt displays of sexuality and other such changes. I like to remind people that men in drag were at the forefront of the Stonewall riots, fighting for the rights from which more heteronormative-appearing gay people benefit. They should think carefully before wanting to distance themselves from people who are more overt in their displays of sexuality and orientation.
I have to say that I get camper by the year. I look back on my first speech in the House after my election in 2017, when I spoke about being gay, and about being Plymouth’s first ever “out” MP. I was cautious: I was careful with my words, because I was very conscious that the words I used could inspire some people but offend others. Since then, however, I have been on a diet of rainbows and glitter. It is so much better being honest about who you are, because when you are honest and authentically you, not only do you live a better life, but you allow others around you to live a better life. I think that no matter who we are, we should be encouraging everyone to be authentically themselves.
Part of that means challenging that culture of comfortable complacency and the idea that it only ever gets better. What we are seeing now, in America and, sadly, in the UK, are deliberate attempts to take us backwards—attempts to rewrite LGBT rights and to roll them back. Many of those who are comfortably complacent and are not active in this fight have not experienced that rollback, but we do not need to look far to find people who are experiencing it right now. They are members of a group within our big LGBT+ family: trans and non-binary people. The level of hate crime, the level of abuse, the marginalisation, the cutting and pasting of 1980s headlines that were applied to gay people then and are now being applied to trans and non-binary people—we can see the rollback of rights that is directly in front of us, but only if we open our eyes to it.
Our history is littered with examples of the policy that to conquer, it is necessary to divide. That is what we are seeing here, and that is why all of us, whether we are trans or not, need to stand with our trans and non-binary friends in the fight that lies ahead. This means ensuring that we have a fully trans and non-binary inclusive ban on conversion practices, and it means making a stand when attacks are made on their presence, their identity, their visibility, their legitimacy to exist. That is why we need to ensure that there is no rollback of rights, here or abroad. We need to ensure that there is no growing exceptionalism, with people saying, “LGB rights are fine, but those trans folk—well, they are different.” We have all heard that in our communities, and it is something we must challenge because being LGBTQ+ is not a single identity. It is a liberation of authenticity. It is a community where everyone is different, but it is those common bonds that make that community worth while. We must stand together, and if we do not address that comfortable complacency, hate will spread and breed more division.
The hon. Member speaks powerfully about the need not to be complacent. Does he share my disappointment that at the same time as we are having this very collegiate cross-party debate in this Chamber today, there is a very reactionary debate going on right now in Westminster Hall? Does this not demonstrate the very point he is trying to make?
I have been watching the notifications on the Annunciator about who is speaking in that debate, and I really hope that that Chamber is experiencing the same uplifting warmth and generosity that we are in here, but I suspect that it is not. That is why we need to make sure we keep challenging.
Equality campaigns are not a military confrontation. We do not defeat the opposing side through their utter destruction and annihilation. We win an equality campaign by turning the people who oppose us so that they share our beliefs. We do that not with a big stick but with kindness, understanding and listening—but, my word, we will need a lot of kindness, understanding and listening if we are to win those fights. But win them we must, and that is why the culture of comfortable complacency must be challenged.
It is not for young LGBT people in our country to say that they are lucky to be here. It is not that they have been born by accident in a place: they are here and able to be themselves because of the work that was done in the past and that is being done today. This is not just something in our history books. The struggle is not something that is only in the past tense. That is something we must communicate to others as well. Telling our story means explaining where we are now, how we got here and where we are going—and that it matters. We need to recognise that, if we do not tackle that comfortable complacency, the attention will move to another group. It is targeting trans and non-binary people now, but who will be next? Which group will be targeted next?
There has always been hate against LGBTQ+ communities, and not just from those wearing fascist emblems and insignia. We need to recognise that hate turns up now wearing different clothes. It turns up wearing common sense, it is plain English, it is something about chipping away, not taking everyone on at the same time. Those forces on the right and far right of politics, and sometimes those with a perverted sense of religious values, have seen an Achilles heel in our democracy. They have seen the way in which they can roll back our rights by creating division within our alliances, our coalitions and our big families. Hate dressed up as common sense, fearful spectres, stereotypes and division must not pollute those big families, because at the heart of that big LGBT family are love, value and understanding. We must not lose sight of that.
This is not just about those who have a plan to divide us. It is also about those useful idiots who are content with breaking consensus, dividing communities and turning a blind eye to the violence that their actions encourage in order to get one step forward, a tactical gain, a partisan advantage or a few extra votes here or there by creating a wedge issue on which they can squeeze people and headlines that will bash a group so that they can avoid attention elsewhere. In Britain we know these people as those behind the culture wars. Every party has individuals like that within their movements, as the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) said.
We must each of us commit to engage and discuss this. It is hard sometimes, but we must do so to make sure that we are getting there, because as we have seen in America, we should be in no doubt that those who want to take us back have a plan. It is a long-term plan and will take many years for them to achieve it, but there is a plan and a direction of travel. The assumption that things only get better and that those who campaigned do not need to go as hard any more is part of their plan. That comfortable complacency is something they rely on.
We are seeing trans people being attacked in America, and the proponents of those arguments are now coming for a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. Although we have a different set-up here in the UK, the US Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade has the same consequences on this side of the pond: an attack on women’s rights, on bodily autonomy and on an individual’s choice of what happens to them. So totemic is that decision, it is not just American women who will feel the ruling’s consequences. When they come after a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body, who is next? We are already seeing it in Florida with “Don’t Say Gay,” with rainbows being painted over, with the status of LGBT-safe classrooms being removed and with LGBT young people being marginalised by their allies being afraid to say something. It is the return of section 28, and we need to be very conscious of that. Once it happens there, next it will be equal marriage and the other rights that LGBT citizens currently enjoy.
There are songs by Katy Perry and One Direction that are older than my right to marry my boyfriend. Hell, we all probably have spices in our kitchen cabinets that are older than the right to equal marriage in this country. This is a young right, a new right, and we know that young and new rights can sometimes be the easiest to sweep away. Let us commit ourselves not only to clearing out our kitchen cabinets every now and then—
Indeed, let us sort out our spice cupboards. We must make sure that we embed these rights, protect them, talk about them, value them and defend them.
I have spoken about the villains, so I will briefly talk about the heroes. These heroes do not wear capes. They are the allies and supporters of the LGBT community who create safe spaces for young gay kids to come out, they are the guys down the pub who have quiet words with their mates when their language gets too tasty, and they are the teachers who create spaces where LGBT bullying is not acceptable and is called out, but who also explain why so that it never happens again. They are not only politicians and celebrities; they are the army of ordinary citizens who know that love is love, that being different is not a crime and that our society is better and stronger when we can all be our authentic selves.
If we are to win and if equality is to triumph, it needs to be visible. Those in the public eye, like me and every Member who has spoken in this debate, need to shake ourselves of any notion of comfortable complacency. We need to amplify the voices of LGBT communities because, for all the pitfalls and perils we currently face, equality should be a one-way street. Things should only get better, but that will happen only if we have the determination to say “no U-turns ahead.” That requires constant campaigning, which is why visibility matters.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sure you were watching Glastonbury at the weekend when Olly Alexander, the undefeated king of queer pop, said
“any attack on any human being’s bodily autonomy is literally an attack on all of us. It doesn’t matter who you are, this affects us all.”
Olly is right. Trans, straight, gay, bi, male, female, queer and non-binary—they are all different and all equal. It affects us all. That is why we have to spread the positive message that progressive rights are hard fought for and can be easily lost. Solidarity in fighting for other people’s rights is a key part of protecting our own.
A few weeks ago I spoke in the Westminster Hall debate on the case for banning trans conversion practices, in which I spoke about my love of “Heartstopper.” Since then, I have been inundated with messages from young people telling me their story and what the series means to them. We need to recognise that this “Heartstopper” generation of young people is not just a cultural phenomenon. It is a political force, too.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that representation in the media is important? I grew up at a time when there was so little to watch. I watched “The L Word” for the first time when I was 32 years old, and it was so important to me. The fact young people now have so many programmes and such a range of content that represents their life and in which they can see themselves reflected back is absolutely crucial. The “Heartstopper” generation needs so much more of that content, and so do we.
I absolutely agree. I remember watching “Queer as Folk” on Channel 4 with the volume turned down as far as I could, in case someone heard. I also watched “Gladiators,” which was camp as hell. We must recognise that, too. Visibility does matter, and the generation of young people who were born into a world in which equality, authenticity and solidarity are not rights to be won but the inalienable possession of each and every one of them means they have taken political power. Those who have spoken in this debate stand on the shoulders of giants, those incredible campaigners who came before us. We need to recognise that there is an army of allies out there for whom this fight is real, because when they come for one of them, they come for all of us. That “Heartstopper” generation does not make a distinction between who is “L”, who is “G”, who is “B”, who is “T” and who is the “+“; they recognise that there is protection in the community in every single one of them. They each have a voice, their potential activism and a vote.
Finally, I wish to put on record my thanks to everyone who has spoken. The words from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) about LGBT personnel serving in our armed forces were especially powerful, and I hope that that report delivers real justice for those people, who have stepped up to serve our country and deserve proper justice. If Parliament is to have a 100th anniversary debate on celebrating Pride—and, my word, who knows how camp I will be by that point—we first need to defend it today. We need to make sure that there is no roll-back abroad or at home. That means the active participation of each and every one of us, not just those people who identify as LGBT+, our allies, but all those people within our wider community for whom things are all right at the moment. They feel that they do not need to step up, but we need to wake our LGBT family up from that comfortable complacency and get everyone fighting, because our rights are not inalienable unless we fight for them. We need to make sure that we keep fighting for equality so that every young person can grow up being authentically themselves.
It is a pleasure to follow such a powerful speech from the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate. It is an honour to sum up in this debate for my party, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) on securing the debate and on her incredibly powerful speech. The speeches we have heard today have been absolutely worth listening to in full, every single one of them. The points made by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) about why this matters and why nothing should be taken for granted are ones we ought particularly to reflect upon.
Clearly, lot of the speakers today have spoken from the perspective of personal experience, and I cannot say that I do. But it is important that I stand up and speak today, and reflect on what I have heard, all the same. It is good to be speaking on the 50th anniversary of Pride. As we have heard, it is a time for people to come together in unity and celebration. We have heard eloquently today about why this movement has been born out of protest, and why both the celebration and the protest remain very relevant, because we have made so much progress but we are absolutely not there yet. It is brilliant that we have so many visible and powerful role models, a number of whom are in the Chamber today, and it is fantastic that Pride parades take place so widely. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) spoke warmly about the local Pride parades, which are so important to communities. It is important that local authorities fly the flag—my local council in East Renfrewshire raised its Pride flag recently, which is fantastic—and that corporates wear their Pride colours with, well, pride. My hon. Friend spoke insightfully about what lies beneath that. Despite all those positives, clearly challenges remain and part of the way we continue to deal with those is by speaking out and trying to empower others to do the same.
For that to be possible, we need, for instance, to have an unshakeable commitment to proper, open education for young people. That is absolutely vital to making sure that we continue on a positive, inclusive road, and that we make these critical school years so much better than they were for my peers in the 1980s. For that to happen, work that groups such as the TIE—Time for Inclusive Education—campaign in Scotland do in making sure that inclusive education is delivered is hugely important, and I want to put on record my admiration for what they do. Our young people deserve to have inclusive, open and clear education, to have that confidence that goes all the way through their schooling that they are perfect and valued just exactly as they are.
I also thank LGBT Youth Scotland for what it does and for the really positive influence that it brings to the table. Obviously, here in this place, we often disagree, and that is healthy and vital for democracy. I wish to note the tireless work of Out for Independence, which is the SNP’s LGBT group, but I also applaud its counterparts in other political parties. That focus that political parties have on equalities issues, driven by the volunteers within these groups, is incredibly important for all of us here.
That broad input matters. The progress that we have made, and the progress that would be really easy to take for granted, is not guaranteed and is not worldwide. As we can see from the very depressing recent events in the USA, progressive policies can be reversed and rights can be removed. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston and the hon. Member for Wallasey spoke very powerfully about the vested interests and the misinformation that lie beneath some of these regressive and discriminatory moves that we can see.
We need in this place to be ready to call out issues when they arise. We need to keep pressing for equality. That means that we have to speak out and that we have to decry the terrible plan to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda, not just for the very obvious straightforward reasons, but because the UK Government know full well the peril that that puts LGBT asylum seekers in. It means pointing out that that inclusive education that I just spoke about, and that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) powerfully explained, really does matter. It means calling out dog whistle language and calling out those who would happily engage in what they would probably term “culture wars”.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East was very powerful when she talked about hate crime statistics, particularly in regard to trans people. She very correctly reflected the similarity of some of that narrative to the period around section 28. I can remember that; it was all going on when I was at school. I am really glad that we have moved on from that particular issue, but we have heard here today, and we need to be frank about this, that the narrative around trans issues now is just as toxic—the othering, the misdirection and the hostility that we hear is disgraceful.
For the avoidance of doubt—I have said this before and I will no doubt say it again—I consider myself to be a feminist. That is in no way in conflict with my support for LGBT rights, or for trans people in particular. My rights are not threatened by other people having their rights respected.
As the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport said so effectively, our rights—the rights of all of us—are better protected and far more secure when we do not permit the rights of any one group to be eroded.
The UK Government, the Prime Minister in fact, behaved very shamefully around the issue of conversion therapy—so-called therapy—when he U-turned and said that the support previously expressed for a ban on conversion therapy was no longer in place. That was swiftly followed by a partial U-turn on that U-turn—how confusing! None the less I do take my hat off to those members of the Conservative party who were absolutely scathing in their views about this. I am sure that some of that heat was responsible for the partial change of heart, and I applaud them for that.
The situation remains that, as things stand, the UK Government plan to ban conversion therapy in a limited way. There are very large holes in the provisions as far as I understand them. It is absolutely unjustifiable to exclude trans conversion practice from the plans being put forward. The suggestion that trans people would be excluded because it is too complex is both nonsense and shameful.
The hon. Lady is making a very powerful case. Does she agree that the concern that has been raised by many charitable organisations rings very true? It is that, by excluding trans people, there is the potential to allow the conversion practice of LGB people to continue through the backdoor, by dressing it up as if it is conversion therapy on gender identity rather than sexual orientation?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He is absolutely right, and that is one of the many holes within the plans, as I understand them, that need to be filled in. That really must be dealt with. That is why we must keep pushing for progress, including on that matter. Nobody’s identity should ever be up for debate. Nobody should ever need to fear being converted away from being themselves.
As I often have, I want to put on record my admiration for our Equalities Minister, Christina McKelvie, who is unstinting in her commitment to ensuring that that point is clearly made as Scotland moves towards a ban on all conversion practices. That is welcome progress, and progress continues in other places too, such as the Church of Scotland, whose general assembly voted this year to permit the marriage of same-sex couples—well done to them, I say—and the world’s oldest Methodist church, which I believe is in Bristol, which has started to marry same-sex couples to coincide with Pride month.
There is much to be positive about. We can see positive progress, but while we keep moving forward, we need to reflect. For me, the unstinting focus of Nicola Sturgeon on fairness and equality is very welcome in that context. We heard from the First Minister this week about our route to independence, and in her speech she once again made the point that the opportunity to build a better future was in a fairer, more inclusive country. The reason I support independence for Scotland is that I know it is a chance to improve the lives and circumstances of all the people who live in Scotland, and maybe to show that positive, fair, inclusive face to other countries around the world.
It is a real privilege to have heard the speeches in this debate and to be able to reflect on the points made. I know we still have work to do, but as I move forward with my work and look at how Scotland is moving forward, there is much for us to be proud of and much that we can build on in this Chamber. I know we can do that, and I look forward to a commitment both here and in Scotland to focusing on the principles that led to that first Pride march, 50 years ago.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate and pay tribute to the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) for opening it. I also thank every single speaker in the debate. I think I speak for everyone here when I say that we have seen one of the best examples of this Chamber in operation this afternoon: we have seen passion, commitment and the personal history that is so important for Members to bring to bear on issues such as this one.
There is so much to celebrate in the 50th year since the first Pride march took place in London on 1 July 1972. Half a century on, life has changed for the better for LGBT+ people in our country in many ways, and we should be proud of that, as hon. Members have said. We should be proud also of the contribution of so many trailblazers from this place as well: Chris Smith, Maureen Colquhoun, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) and so many others. This was memorably described earlier as being now the gayest of Parliaments. It has taken us far too long to get here, of course, and there will be no Parliament in the world that does not have gay people in it; it is just that those people will far too often not be able to be publicly who they genuinely are.
It can be very easy today to look back and wonder whether that progress was inevitable, but, as speaker after speaker has said, it was not inevitable. That progress was won in the face of bigotry, ridicule, hostility, violence and intimidation. In the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), it has most definitely not been a one-way street towards progress. There is politics in Pride, because these are issues about power over individuals and their right to autonomy.
When my party, Labour, voted for a resolution committing to lesbian and gay rights in 1985, it was during a period of extreme hostility towards LGBT+ people. Just two years later, of course, our opponents proactively campaigned against that position on LGBT+ rights at the general election and then, as many speakers have said, followed Margaret Thatcher’s section 28, banning councils and schools from the promotion of homosexuality as, in those bigoted words, “a pretended family relationship”. It was, of course, the last Labour Government who removed that terrible law from the statute book in 2003; who introduced the unmarried partners concession that committed the UK to ending discrimination against gay and lesbian couples for immigration purposes; who lifted the ban on lesbians, gay men and bi people serving in the armed forces; who introduced civil partnerships, in the face of strong opposition; and who introduced laws to allow unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, to apply for joint adoption, again in the face of hostility.
As so many speakers have said, today some of that hostility is less overt, but LGBT+ people are still being let down. We in this Chamber know that the Minister had ambitious plans to mark the 50 years of Pride through the flagship Safe To Be Me global equality conference, which was supposed to open this very day. Instead the Minister is here and there is not going to be that conference, for the simple reason that there would not have been anyone there for Government Ministers to confer with—not even their LGBT+ adviser, Iain Anderson. That is because his resignation and the withdrawal of over 100 LGBT+ organisations and charities from Safe To Be Me last April was a consequence of Government policy—the Government’s decision to reverse their plans to ban trans conversion therapy.
This is an international embarrassment. It shows that the Government need to rethink their approach on this issue, but so far we have not seen that. As has been mentioned, even the proposals to ban conversion therapy on the basis of sexual orientation still include the consent loophole that risks letting some of the worst practitioners off the hook.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), in a very illuminating and thoughtful speech, rightly referred to the Westminster Hall debate that recently took place on the subject of conversion therapy. I do not want to repeat the arguments from that debate, but it really is extremely disappointing that instead of coming together to talk about the fact that almost a dozen countries still have the death penalty for homosexuality and that in dozens of countries it is still illegal to be who you are, we are lacking that conference.
The hon. Lady is talking about the global nature of these issues. Sometimes we see what is going on in other countries as being separate from us. One of the things I have noticed in the media with regard to big-budget global movies is that in the west we have now started to see more and more progress with gay characters in some of them. However, when some of the big film studios put out films in China, such as a recent “Harry Potter” film that has a really high-profile gay character, they dampen it down because they are worried about how it will be perceived there. What goes on in other countries can have an impact in this country with regard to gay representation.
I am grateful for that important intervention, which links with some of the contributions from SNP speakers on the role and responsibilities of companies in this space. I pay tribute to the British Council, because the work it has done with the British Film Institute has been very important in making sure that some of the marginalised, discriminated-against voices of LGBT+ people are heard right across the world, including where they know that films they have produced have been viewed in some of the countries where homosexuality is illegal by Government fiat. That is incredibly important work.
We would argue that we really do need to see a change in approach on these issues from the current Government. We had hoped that the conference would be used to launch a new LGBT+ strategy, which it was suggested might cover, for example, IVF, trans healthcare and homelessness, but we are yet to see it. The previous strategy was abandoned but we are yet to see the new one. It does seem that there has been over-promising but under-delivery in this regard, with the LGBT+ action plan having been killed off, the LGBT+ advisory panel having been disbanded, and with promises to reform the Gender Recognition Act having been dropped.
We are also concerned about something referred to by many speakers—attempts to pit different groups of people against each other instead of standing up for LGBT+ people and bringing them together. Of course, that is taking place in a context where hate crimes against LGBT+ people in our country have doubled over the past five years. I extend my solidarity to the hon. Members for Lanark and Hamilton East and for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) and others who have been subject to homophobic and transphobic abuse—those who are in the Chamber now and those beyond it. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey provided some horrendous examples of the international nature of some of this hatred, especially that coming from actors from the far right and authoritarian right.
We need a different approach. The next Labour Government would not seek to divide people; instead, we would seek to bring them together. We would continue to protect and uphold the Equality Act 2010, including its protections for LGBT+ people. We would require employers to create and maintain workplaces free from LGBT+ harassment, including by third parties. As was mentioned in this debate, while some businesses are moving ahead, others are far behind in this regard; I associate myself with the remarks made about the importance of the TUC LGBT+ conference in that connection.
We will strengthen and equalise the law so that LGBT+ hate crimes attract the tougher sentences they deserve; they are not currently treated on a level playing field. We will ban all forms of conversion therapy outright, including trans conversion therapy, and we will modernise the outdated Gender Recognition Act 2004 while maintaining the Equality Act 2010 protections for single-sex spaces.
The inquiry has finally now begun on the case of LGBT veterans. We will never rest until we see that compensation, which is so needed, and things being set right for those veterans who were treated so appallingly. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) for all his work and the work of those campaigners in Fighting With Pride. I heard directly from some of them recently, and their words were incredibly powerful about the disgraceful treatment meted out to some of those who did so much defending our country, and who frankly we should be proud of indeed, despite the shameful way in which they sadly have been treated by Governments and our society.
My party, the Labour party, is and always will be the party of equality. We stand up for LGBT+ rights, not because that is always easy, but because it is always right. To conclude, this week is about far more than celebrating the wonderful diversity of this country and the achievements of the past 50 years. As important as that is, it is about recommitting to ensure genuine equality for LGBT+ people, and that is not just important for LGBT+ people—as my hon. Friend for Wallasey said, it is important for all of society. As my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) said, equality adds beauty and strength to our society. I would say that it also adds health, happiness, prosperity and decency.
I do not want to make this debate a political ding-dong, because these are usually very collegiate debates, but I am happy to have a private conversation with the shadow Minister about the actions of the Finchley Labour party and how it has used my sexuality against me in previous elections.
Moving on, I thank colleagues for their honest, wide-ranging and often very moving personal reflections as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first official UK Pride march. I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) for securing the debate. I pay tribute to those who have gone before me and the rest of us in this Chamber, whose campaigning over many years has allowed me to be an openly gay, married Minister. If I may indulge myself, Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank my husband for his unswerving support. None of us could do our jobs without the support of our partners and families.
Before putting some more official comments on the record, I will cover some points that were raised and specifically asked of me. On the issue of transphobia, particularly in the media: I will always call it out. I have called it out repeatedly; I often contact the media to say, “Why are you not coming to me for comment, because what you’re printing is simply factually incorrect?” Yet when I ask the Government Equalities Office whether a comment has been sought from the relevant Minister, the answer is no, it has not. That is shameful. I am all in favour of a free press, but I do expect a free press to be balanced and factual.
On Rwanda, I am very conscious of the concerns, and they are concerns that I share. However, I have had fruitful conversations with the relevant Ministers and officials, who assure me that they are equally conscious of the issue and that every individual case—whatever the case—is dealt with on its merits before a decision is made. I can only say that I am keeping a close eye on how the policy develops.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) and the hon. Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) for their work on the APPG on global LGBT+ rights. The ability of those two powerful individuals to co-operate and lead the APPG makes it a force for good in this place and beyond. The hon. Member for Wallasey pointed to the recent murders in Norway, but it was not that long ago that a bomb went off in the Admiral Duncan pub. Sometimes we think these events only happen overseas, but they happen here in the UK as well.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) and the shadow Minister paid tribute to Fighting With Pride. I joined it after it marched for the first time on Remembrance Sunday last year. Many ex-servicemen were in emotional tatters at that event, because for the first time they had been able to march with pride as service people. Their service had been recognised and they were able to wear their medals. Those of us who have not served have no idea: we cannot understand the power for service people of being able to march alongside their comrades.
The hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) was right to point out the pernicious rainbow-washing that goes on. In my other portfolio, I spend a lot of time talking to international companies, and I take some comfort from what many of them are doing, especially in countries that are way behind us—although we have our challenges too—on equalities. It is wrong to pick out one company, because there are so many of them, but Diageo sticks out. In many countries where homosexuality is not legal or where there are gender pay gaps and gender discrimination, Diageo has been at the forefront. What struck me was that it was, I think, the first global company to provide full medical healthcare—not just time off; it paid for trans treatment—for trans people who were transitioning. It was at the forefront. To be honest, in those countries, such companies will have far more influence than a visiting UK Government Minister having a polite conversation with their opposite number. Although rainbow-washing is disappointing, many companies do very good work.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point about companies. A lot of corporate firms do now seem to be offering their trans and non-binary staff surgery or financing for surgery, including in the UK. That does beg the question of how good the healthcare is here. I have spoken to a lot of practitioners who are scared, who have turned down jobs or who do not want to go into this area of healthcare because of the hostile environment in the media, the misinformation and the way that they are targeted. That is something we can all work together to challenge.
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. I was going to touch in my more formal remarks on the work that Dr Hilary Cass is doing and on the wider work of the Department of Health and Social Care to reform trans healthcare. I think we can all agree that it is not fit for purpose currently.
To comment on the reflections of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), I wish I were going to be here in 50 years’ time to see how camp he becomes. If am still alive, perhaps I will tune in.
It is absolutely true that politics has a role to play. I probably embarrass Peter Tatchell on a regular basis by saying that he is one of my political heroes. He did things that I would not have had the courage to do. There are many people who have fought our battles in ways that we would not have had the guts to go about them. Unfortunately, bigotry does not rest in any one political party, and I remember the terrible election campaign that the Lib Dems ran against him, which was really quite shameful.
On the politics, I just led an LGBT trade delegation to Texas and San Francisco. While I was there, I did not pull my punches—I was half expecting a telling off when I got back. I said that I simply did not understand the Florida and Texas approach on LGBT rights of “Don’t Say Gay”. I was quite blunt that my party made that mistake 30 years ago and it did not work. The whole point of “Don’t Say Gay” did not work then and it will not work today. I deliberately called it out at every opportunity when I was in the States.
I want to get some particular points on the record. The idea that LGBT issues are a modern phenomenon that is being driven by social media is complete nonsense. LGBT people have existed since life began. If people take the trouble to do the research on trans issues, they will find that in native American society, the two-spirit movement recognises what we would call trans, and it has been there since those people walked the earth. In India, there is a 1,000, 2,000, 3,000-year history—if we can go that far back—of trans people, who were revered in the Hindu faith for achieving perfect balance, like the two spirits. The idea that LGBT rights are a sudden modern phenomenon, fad or phase that we will all grow out of is simply nonsense.
As we reflect on the last 50 years and the progress that we have made, I am conscious that we need to double down to protect those rights. Many hon. Members in the Chamber, including me, are in a privileged position. I am white, middle-class and a Government Minister—I am insulated from many of the issues that our community faces—yet I feel the forces that appear to be gathering to try to roll back our rights. That is why, although we can have debates about policies, one of my primary objectives while I have this portfolio is to make a positive change to the day-to-day lives of those in our LGBT community.
The Minister is being generous with his time. Perhaps I can offer him some advice: not long after coming out, I went to an event and was told a story about the late, great Robin Cook. Were it not for his passing, I might not be here. He stood against the tide, I think in his party and other parties, to decriminalise homosexuality in Scotland, which did not happen until 1980, even though I am advised that he was told by many people around him, “Don’t do it. Don’t touch it. Don’t get involved.” Perhaps the Minister can channel the spirit of Robin Cook and try to push the issue forward. He is making an incredible speech and I am glad that he is on the Front Bench, but perhaps he can try to persuade some of his colleagues to do the things that we all want to see to make sure that particularly our trans and non-binary siblings have the rights they need.
The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. I reassure her that I am having constant conversations with colleagues across Government to ensure that we get to a place where we can find consensus. Interestingly, I started off by coming out in Scotland, and it was only when I looked back that I realised that I had broken the law, because the decriminalisation in Scotland happened after I had started my gay life as a student there—perhaps I should not be admitting to breaking the law as a young gay man in Scotland.
I will turn to some more formal points before I get myself into even more trouble. We have talked about healthcare, but we are also looking across Government at education, policing, public services and the armed forces to try to ensure that the day-to-day lives of LGBT people are improved. This is about reviewing LGBT issues, including the HIV action plan, which seeks to eradicate all new infections. The ability to have PEP and PrEP on the NHS are major breakthroughs. Equally, my colleagues in Health are aware of the need to look at the efficacy of sexual health clinics to ensure that getting access to testing is as rapid as possible to minimise the opportunity for someone to reinfect someone else if they have an infection. Equally, working with Professor Fenton, we are looking at the practicalities of how to make that happen, not just have a policy statement.
On homelessness, I am talking to my colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to look at how we can address LGBT homelessness, which can sometimes lead to sex work in all its forms, and that is not being resisted. Across Government, all of my colleagues are on board to try to make practical improvements.
Again, I am speaking to colleagues in the Home Office about ensuring not just that we get hate crime accurately reported, but, working with our partner Galop, that we understand the nuances of hate crime. It is not quite as black and white as some people believe. This is about understanding what is really happening to see what more we can do either to amend the law or, possibly more importantly, to ensure that police forces react positively.
If I may, I will now turn to the conversion practices ban. I am very conscious that, with colleagues in the Chamber, we have had this conversation several times now. There is work on the Bill, and I hope to see the Bill come in in the autumn—September or October, I hope. It is currently not yet trans-inclusive, and we are doing a piece of work on the complex issues people have. I do not think it is right that we should always shout down people who have different views if those views are based, as they sometimes are, on a lack of knowledge. I think an open and engaging conversation with colleagues who have different views is the right thing to do. As I said in Westminster Hall, if we take some more time on that particular thorny issue, which is causing perhaps more heat than light, to build some consensus, that would not in itself be a bad thing and I am hoping that we can get to a better place.
I thank the Minister for giving way on that point and for his contribution to this debate in general. Given that trans-inclusivity is likely to be carried either in this House or in the House of Lords when the Bill comes in, would the Government consider drafting such a clause so that, if such a decision is made, we can make certain that parliamentary draftspeople have done the appropriate job in what is a difficult drafting area? That would be a very positive thing that the Minister might be able to commit to today.
The hon. Lady is tempting me down a path that I cannot go down. I am sure colleagues are well aware of how amendments get drafted, but the Minister for Women and Equalities and I have made recommendations on how we believe we can get to a more inclusive conversion practices ban, while addressing the concerns that have been raised elsewhere.
On hate crime and policing, we are also working with the Minister for Crime and Policing to ensure that police services are fully aware of all the complexities of addressing the issues of drug and alcohol abuse, and how that may present itself in crime, so that our police forces are entirely sensitive to all the factors that might lead to certain behaviour. We have talked about the issues of survival sex, and I would again link that to the work we will be doing on LGBT homelessness.
The shadow Minister was a little bit harsh about the action plan—that is the name of the game—but I am not going to be bothered about whether I have this document or that box ticked. I am focusing on practical steps to make genuine changes to people’s lives.
On education, £4 million has gone into boosting the anti-bullying campaign, whether that is homophobic bullying, biphobic bullying or transphobic bullying. The whole bullying piece has been funded to a better degree to ensure that schools are well equipped to deal with all the issues that our teachers may have to deal with. We will also ensure that our sex education programme is fully inclusive, and that guidance has been issued.
One problem we face when dealing with these issues is a lack of data. We have made a call for evidence, and we are encouraging partners and the private sector to do more work to get accurate data about the make-up of their workforces, client banks and customers, so that we can base our decisions on real data, rather than assumptions. That is the right thing to do.
We spoke about the armed forces. Many years ago it is true that the Ministry of Defence did not cover itself in glory—that is being polite—but the MOD of today is transformed in terms of the work it is doing to address those historical injustices, by restoring medals, expunging dismissals, and with the work currently being done to consider the wider implications of such treatment. That is a welcome step, and I pay tribute to my colleagues in the MOD. We must also mention the work on looking at historical convictions in civil society. The disregards and pardon schemes are still there, but we must do more to ensure people are aware of that. Too few people are coming forward to look at their previous convictions and see whether we can get them expunged.
I know we were disappointed that we had to cancel the conference, Mr Deputy Speaker, but that does not mean that the work we are doing on the international stage is abated. We continue to spend money, and funds are available to help NGOs to challenge legal discrimination in many countries, especially in the Commonwealth. That is often a powerful way of changing the law. Lord Herbert is leading that work overseas with the full backing of the Foreign Secretary, and both domestically and internationally the Government are working on practical steps to improve the lives of LGBT+ people.
I thank all Members who have contributed to today’s debate. It has been an informative and, as always, passionate debate, but as we heard from Members across the House, we cannot underestimate the potential for a backlash. We must guard against that in this House and everywhere possible, to ensure that in the future, the rights that we fundamentally take for granted are not taken back. These are fundamental human rights. Above all, I wish everyone celebrating this weekend a very happy Pride.
Sometimes I think I am a poor gay. I do not like the Eurovision song contest, and I have never been to a Eurovision song contest party in my life—unlike, I suspect, everybody else here. “Heartstopper”, however—well, we did not have a programme like that when I was a kid. It would probably have been illegal. What an incredible production that is. Not only is it there, but it is now going into its second series. Sometimes when people ask me why gay people make a big song and dance when they come out as gay, I tell them, “It’s because of people like you asking questions like that, because you don’t understand the trauma that so many people go through to come out as gay, or indeed why so many people in this country do not come out as gay.”
As we have said, in 71 countries it is still illegal to be gay. I remember being chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and battling with MPs from other countries even to discuss gay items. Let me say from the Chair, that I will continue to fight for gay rights throughout the world. We may have won lots of battles here, and we still have battles to do, but I, and I am sure everybody in the Chamber, will continue to fight. We will not forget the pressure that many gay people live under.
The last Pride I went to was in New York. I went to Stonewall and wore a t-shirt to say that I was a Member of Parliament, and that we had more openly gay MPs than any other country in the world. That made me proud. What do we do? We get gay MPs elected to the British Parliament. We have gay Ministers, we fly the Gay Pride flag from Government Departments, and we will fly it from Parliament as well. When we came to elect a Deputy Speaker, MPs here—both gay and non-gay—voted for an openly gay man to be a Deputy Speaker. That makes me proud. So, to everybody, have a great Gay Pride on Saturday in London and a great Gay Pride wherever you happen to be.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered 50 years of Pride in the UK.