The Deputy Leader of the Labour party faced tough questioning at a fringe meeting at the Labour party conference last night.
Harriet Harman was asked to explain why she had appointed a controversial Evangelical Christian preacher as an Equality and Human Rights Commissioner.
Joel Edwards’ appointment angered many in the gay community because of his role in the Evangelical Alliance, a group that has consistently opposed equality for the lesbian, gay and bisexual community.
In an unanimous decision at their annual Congress in Brighton earlier this month the TUC, which represents 6.5 million members in the UK, condemned his appointment and demanded he be removed.
Speaking at last night’s fringe event, organised by LGBT Labour, Treasury minister Angela Eagle, the only out lesbian in Parliament, questioned Mr Edwards’ appointment and called on Ms Harman to “have a look” at the TUC motion and his conduct and “consider what should happen.”
“I think it is important that those who become commissioners actually believe that it is not right to balance bigotry with our human rights. They should believe in the human rights of everybody,” she said.
“I know there has been a great deal of anger and hurt in the gay community because of his appointment and his behaviour, saying that somehow LGBT people can have their rights to equal access to goods and services balanced against an Evangelical view of exceptionalism.
“We do not want to get into a position where one of the important groups of people that need protection are worried about whether they can trust the work that the commission is doing.”
Ms Harman was later challenged from the floor by an activist as to why she had appointed Mr Edwards.
“The point about the EHRC is that it has got to champion human rights,” she said.
“That is what the mode, style and cuture of the commission has got to be, not just not be against people’s human rights, it’s got to be championing them.”
After the meeting Ms Harman declined to explain why she had appointed Mr Edwards.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission was established by the Equality Act 2006 and began work last October.
It brought together the three existing UK equality commissions – the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission.
The EHRC incorporates four new human rights strands – age, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion and belief.