Gay campaigners praised the London Mayor’s record on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights last night as around 250 dignitaries gathered at City Hall for the annual pride reception.
The event celebrated this weekend’s EuroPride parade in London and was addressed by gay campaigners, celebrities and sponsors.
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay charity Stonewall attributed the success of enacting civil partnerships legislation to Mr Livingstone’s London based partnership register, he said: “It’s been a quality year for LGBT people in this country, I didn’t think in my lifetime I would see couples signing up for civil partnerships, to secure exactly the same rights and entitlements as straight people derive from marriage.
“We would not have been able to persuade the government if we hadn’t been able to look at what Ken has done with his partnership register in London.
“Civil partnership has changed the lives of a single boy such as myself for whom no one as yet has popped the question.
“If Christmas came early for us it also came twice, with the support of campaigning organisations and trade unions we also secured changes to the Equality Act which will provide us at last with protection against discrimination in the provision of goods and services.
He highlighted the problems of homophobia which still exist in society such as the murder of gay barman Jody Dobrowski and recent violence in Moscow and Warsaw as well as bullying in schools, which a new Stonewall scheme, Education For All, will soon address, “We come across almost daily cases of homophobic bullying in school, cases that have festered over the years.
“Not long ago we heard from a young girl aged 14 who had told a teacher that she was a lesbian, ever since then she has been forced to sit outside the changing rooms before and after games lessons until the “normal” children have finished.
“We have a dream of a Britain and a world where one day every person will not only be entitled to fair treatment and respect but will be afforded fair treatment and respect too
“We have a dream of a world where one day no human life will be disfigured by hate or prejudice or fear, we have a dream of a Britain and a world where one day every single child will grow up to secure every single ounce of their potential.
Mr Livingstone said: “It is now inconceivable that any of my successors would not be here welcoming the diversity of London.
He spoke of the community’s role in creating a partnership register, “You couldn’t describe it a s Ken’s partnership register, as if I’m involved in all of them, it was a campaign for the whole community, we just facilitated it.
“I guess the defining thing was when there was just a paragraph in the Daily Mail rather than the entire issue.”
He highlighted progress the UK has made for gay rights, “There was a point in 2000 at the first mayoral election when we had the lesbian and gay hustings, at that time I wasn’t quite in or quite out of the Labour Party.
“When you think back just 20 years ago, the horrendous old backwards people in the House Of Lords predicting the end of civilisation if people under 18 could have homosexual sex, because they are all waiting to start, and now you have the Tories begging a lesbian to stand for London Mayor.”
He condemned recent homophobic outburst amongst religious groups in Moscow, “To see the Grand Mufti, the patriarchs of the Orthodox Church and the Chief Rabbi agree on one thing, that “perverts” shouldn’t be marching through Moscow, I have to tell them their churches are filled with perverts.”
He praised the US Episcopal Church for actively electing gay bishops, and pushed for British bishops to “recognise they are living in the 21st Century.”
The Mayor expressed delight at hosting a delegation from Venezuela, “When we invited the Mayor of Caracas we didn’t know the president would come with him, not everybody was happy with that.
“People criticised him for being a virulent dictator, he’s actually won eight elections in ten years, not bad for a dictator.
“When someone declares their Capital city a homophobia free zone you know they cant be all bad, and then when he said would you like some cheap oil on the side.”
He added, “There will always be a Mayor of London standing here representing the LGBT community because you cannot govern London without defending all its people.”
Khi, co-founder of Black Lesbians UK, said: “We celebrate pride because we are proud to be the people who we are, I used to think I was the only black lesbian in the village, as black lesbian women we are a minority in a minority in a minority already, Pride allows us to gather, regardless of where we are in society, however we identify ourselves, however we want to express ourselves, pride accommodates for that.
Michael Green from Morgan Stanley, sponsor of the event, said: “Our clients are becoming more diverse, our business is becoming more diverse and we have to reflect that.
“If we want to employ the best people we have to access the widest possible talent. By doing that people are comfortable coming to us.
Actor and founder of Stonewall Sir Ian McKellen urged the gay community to join in with all the festivities.
Jason Pollock, chief executive of EuroPride thanked volunteers working on the event and applauded Mr Livingstone for his “vocal condemnation of homophobia in Eastern Europe.”
The EuroPride parade takes this Saturday, it will feature 40 floats, around 200 costumed groups and walking bands, and thousands of individual paraders. It assembles on Baker Street at 1230pm and departs at 1pm, then makes its way along Oxford Street to Oxford Circus turning right down Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus. It moves on to Trafalgar Square then along Whitehall to pass the Houses of Parliament before dispersing along Victoria Embankment.
EuroPride Day will then continue with the Trafalgar Square Rally (3pm-7pm), Virgin Mobile Cabaret Stage in Leicester Square (4pm-6pm), and the all-day Soho Party.
It will conclude with appearances from gay personalities such as Sir Elton John and Graham Norton at The EuroPride Show on Sunday evening in the Royal Albert Hall.