By Fiona Thomas
The theme for this month’s LGBT History Month has been ‘mapping the world’, and LGBT Britons resident in the UK enjoy a whole gamut of rights that they would struggle to have in many countries worldwide. Of course, this is in part due to changes in political culture and society, but this is also due to work and campaigning by the Labour Party and trade unions.
Bar same-sex marriage, all major developments in LGBT rights have taken place under Labour Governments.
Harold Wilson’s Labour Government passed the first major development, the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men.
Despite the reticence to repeal the Thatcherite Section 28 (Labour only begun legislative proceedings to repeal the act in 2000, eventually achieving it in 2003), the 1997-2010 Labour Governments introduced and passed a whole corpus of LGBT legislation.
This included the bringing forward of the age of consent for homosexual men and women in line with heterosexual sex; the ending of the ban on LGBT people serving in the armed forces; the extension of adoption rights to LGBT individuals and couples; the ending of discrimination against gay or lesbian partners for immigration purposes; the banning of discrimination in the workplace with the introduction of the Employment Equality Regulations; the creation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, giving LGBT people statutory body protection; the introduction of homophobia as a hate crime and increased sentencing for homophobic hate crimes; the creation and implementation of the Gender Recognition Act… I could go on.
Lots done. But lots still to do.
Whilst better than any other major party, Labour needs to do more to increase LGBT representation in the party, and be mindful of increasing LGBT diversity. Most LGBT representatives are white, cis, and non-disabled, and the party needs to have initiatives that encourage more people outside of these groups to stand as candidates.
Once they do stand, we need to make sure that they are welcomed and included.
Research by the Fabian Society found that just 11% of local CLPs have an LGBT officer, and LGBT people are still presented with challenges that are not commonly encountered by many of their straight counterparts, especially when having an online presence. Labour needs to become more responsive in calling out, investigating, and even suspending ‘keyboard warriors’ members who abuse Labour LGBT representatives and members. The furore around the election of Lily Madigan, a trans woman elected the women’s officer for the Rochester and Strood CLP, provoking a GoFundMe page entitled ‘Keep All-Women Shortlists Female!’ has shown that the Labour Party still needs to make massive strides forward for all members of the LGBT community. Corbyn unequivocally stating on Andrew Marr that trans women are women is, of course, a start, but we still need to do more.
Mealy-mouthed responses, like those seen following the homophobic abuse of Angela Eagle during the 2016 Labour Party leadership election, are not enough.
I look forward to the next Labour Government continuing the progress of previous Labour governments in giving LGBT people more rights, whenever that may be.