Gay rights organisation Stonewall today welcomed the announcement by Cabinet minister Harriet Harman that a new Equality Bill to be brought before Parliament will include a need for public bodies to promote gay equality.

Chief executive Ben Summerskill told PinkNews.co.uk:

“We have been pressing the government for two and half years to extend the duty to promote equality so that all public bodies are required to promote equal treatment among service users in the way they do already for race and gender.

“In terms of the impact it potentially has on millions of lesbian and gay people, it is very significant, because it does apply to every single service from policing to education to health.

“That is one of the reasons we have produced these three big pieces of research into those areas, so there is an evidence base to justify introducing this.”

In the past year Stonewall’s reports on lesbian and bisexual women’s health, homophobic bullying in schools and a research paper on homophobic hate crime released today have demonstrated that gay people are facing prejudice in their interactions with state institutions.

Mr Summerskill explained that “actively promote” means that public bodies “have to think positively about how they serve all communities.

“At the moment it is a fantastic that there are laws in place protecting against discrimination but in some sense you only get the remedy against bad health care once someone something has gone wrong.

“What this will do is put hospitals in a position where they have to think positively about whether they are serving the lesbian population well, whether they are engaging them and whether people are feeling comfortable to be out with their doctor.”

Mr Summerskill also welcomed proposals in the legislation to extend women-only shortlists for Parliamentary candidates, calling them a “good idea,” but added:

“We would want some indication that some of the other features of the Equality Bill will apply to sexual orientation as much as they apply to anything else.

“We still have one openly lesbian parliamentarian out of 1,300 in the House of Commons and House of Lords. That is ridiculous.”

While the Bill will be included in the Queen’s Speech in December, it is not thought likely it will come before Parliament until February and given the detail in the legislation it may not become law until 2010.

The Equality Bill was broadly welcomed by the Conservative and Lib Dem front benches when it was announced in the House of Commons this morning.

However, rogue Tory Philip Davies called it “the most politically correct Bill ever, proposed by the most politically correct Minister that this country has ever seen.

“If she (Ms Harman) were so bothered about equality, she should have enshrined in law the fact that people should be given a job and candidates selected on merit, irrespective of their gender and irrespective of their racial background.”