Last month we asked readers to submit questions to the Prime Minister.
Well, let it not be said that Gordon Brown has had a quiet introduction to life in Downing St.
Among the CORBA meetings, inspecting flood damage, trips to meet our European partners an d setting out Britain’s future direction, Mr Brown found time this week to address some of the questions PinkNews.co.uk readers sent in.
How can members of the LGBT community be assured of your commitment to Equality when, apart from the recent ‘Goods Services’ regulations, you have been notably absent from every other ‘Gay Equality’ Bill the Government has introduced since 1997? John Irvine
John, let me be clear: I am proud of this Government’s record on gay rights. I was brought up always to treat people equally, and that is core to what I believe.
I would like to think that my whole political life has been a fight for equality and a fairer society.
The Britain I believe in is one of fairness and opportunity for all – for me that means no one should ever feel unable to fulfil their potential whatever their race, religion or sexuality.
This Government has, as you kindly accept, improved the position of gays and lesbians in this country by removing unfair barriers and tackling discrimination.
I think this Government has made a huge amount of progress: for example, we’ve equalised the age of consent, repealed Section 28, and made it illegal to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation.
I can promise this Government will continue to do all it can to make Britain a fairer and more tolerant place.
David Cameron and Tony Blair have spoken about their support for civil partnerships – why have you said nothing? What is your view? Paul Hillindon
I am very pleased, Paul, to have this opportunity to put on record my support for civil partnerships.
When I was at the Treasury we ensured equality for gay couples in the tax system, particularly inheritance tax, as part of the civil partnership legislation.
The fact is, when you are Chancellor, you tend to concentrate more on talking about the economy so there are quite a few areas of policy on which I have not said much.
Now I am in my new job, this will change – and I’m looking forward to it.
What will you be doing to help persecuted LGBT community worldwide from persecution and violence from right wing governments? What about EU countries that are hostile to gay rights? Ross Hunter
This Government has taken a lead in ending discrimination against gay and lesbian people in Britain, but as you say, Ross, the fight to counter discrimination is not restricted to the UK.
The reports we hear are deeply concerning: around the world gay and lesbian people are outlawed, persecuted and killed for advocating their rights.
We have announced an international strategy to promote rights overseas, which includes Britain’s commitment to the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality.
We are and will continue to work with foreign partners and domestic organisations to protect the human rights of gay and lesbian people throughout the world.
New Labour has pushed through much needed reforms to tackle homophobia in all areas of society, but evidently more needs to be done. What proposals do you plan to introduce to further combat this? Val
I agree with you, Val, that there is more to do, and as I’ve said I can promise this Government will continue to do all it can to make Britain a fairer and more tolerant place.
One of the areas where more needs to be done, and is being done, is to tackle homophobic bullying in schools – to ensure that children are provided with a safe educational environment free from all forms of bullying – and, where it occurs, discrimination in the workplace.
We also need to ensure the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights not only ensures that anti-discrimination laws are enforced but also, importantly, plays its full part in changing attitudes.
All six candidates for Labour Deputy Leader agreed to a new offence of incitement to homophobic hatred – do you agree with them? Alan Stone
Alan, I believe that there is no place in twenty-first century Britain for homophobia, racism and any other form of discrimination which can destroy lives, poison communities and weaken the fabric of our national life.
There is a range of legislation already in place to protect individuals from harm, including criminal harassment, verbal abuse and incitement to violence.
In addition, we have ensured that courts impose tougher sentences for offences motivated or aggravated by the victim’s sexual orientation, unless the court gives a good reason not to.
But while safeguarding the right of individuals to live free from discrimination and abuse, we also have to respect this country’s long tradition of free speech, which this Government enshrined in the Human Rights Act.
There has to be a clear dividing line between robust debate and incitement to hate crime.
This is one of the reasons why we have brought the Serious Crime Bill before Parliament, including proposals to amend incitement law to make it easier to prove reckless encouragement of criminality.
Although the law is important, we should not neglect other ways of tackling unacceptable prejudice and extremism.
For example, we know that up to 90% of homophobic crime goes unreported because victims are too frightened and believe their story will not be believed or taken seriously.
In response, one of our key priorities is to increase reporting. When people do report, we must ensure it is taken seriously, that the incident is investigated and brought to justice.
We have set up Community Safety Units specifically to deal with hate crimes promptly and sensitively, with a Home Office hate crime strategy to improve confidence in the police while funding third-party groups to encourage reporting and help people who may feel uncomfortable about reporting directly to the authorities.
Lots of gay people who are too young to remember the last Tory government think that David Cameron is more gay-friendly than you. Does that worry you? Jen Ainslett
Well, Jen, I can assure you it isn’t true.
I think we have to remind young people of the fact that gay and lesbian people did not have equal rights in 1997 and that the changes that have since taken place did not come about by accident but because of the actions of the Labour Government.
That’s not to suggest that our party is the only one which contains politicians pressing for a fairer and more tolerant society.
But it is our party which has delivered the changes that were needed.
When I talk of building a progressive consensus, this is really what I mean: I can’t now see anyone in a mainstream political party trying to reverse the progress we have made. That’s a good thing.