Current Affairs

Gay rights chief named as equality commissioner

Marc Shoffman December 5, 2006
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The chief executive of gay charity Stonewall has been named as one of the commissioners for the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights.

Ben Summerskill will provide guidance to the new body regarding his experience of campaigning for LGBT rights.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly announced the names of nine new CEHR Commissioners this morning. The commission comes into being in Autumn 2007.

Margaret Prosser, a life-long campaigner for equal rights and currently Chair of the Women’s National Commission, has been appointed Deputy Chair within the first tranche of appointments of Commissioners for the new equality body. This follows the appointment of Trevor Phillips as Chair in September.

Mr Summerskill has been appointed to a panel of Commissioners to steer the Commission along with Kay Allen, Diversity Manager of BskyB, Jane Campbell, Health and Social Care Policy Adviser, Kay Carberry, Assistant General Secretary of the TUC, Sally Greengross, chief executive of the International Longevity Centre, Francesca Klug, director of the Human Rights Futures Project, Ziauddin Sardar a Writer and academic and Neil Wooding, the Director of Public Service Management Wales, National Assembly for Wales

Mr Summerskill said he is “delighted” about the role, he told “I’m delighted there are a number of strong allies of lesbian and gay people among the new commissioners, many of whom Stonewall has worked with in the recent past.

“We’ll be keeping a very close eye on the interest of the wider gay communities.”

A second round of appointments of up to five further Commissioners will commence early in the New Year. This will include a Commissioner for Scotland and people with particular expertise in government and business.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly said: “I’m delighted to announce the names of the first nine new Commissioners today and look forward to continuing this process in order to complete the picture. The exceptional set of skills and experiences brought together through these appointments creates a strong foundation for the future. This will be key in delivering the Government’s social justice agenda and providing the single authoritative voice that we need to tackle discrimination.”

Mr Summerskill’s appointment will give him a greater influence over Trevor Phillips, the CEHR Chair.

Stonewall has previously been unhappy with Mr Phillips’ representation of gay rights,

Speaking about Mr Phillips’ appointment, Mr Summerskill said: “Trevor will have to prove that he can address the needs of all the communities represented by the CEHR.

“He has not so far delivered for lesbian and gay people, who were rarely mentioned in the Equalities Review he chaired. We trust he will listen to a range of stakeholders as he climbs this steep learning curve.”

The CEHR will also be involved in the management and enforcement of the Sexual Orientation Regulations when they come into force next year.

Trevor Phillips, CEHR Chair said: “The CEHR is the first and most significant body of its kind in the world. Its ambition is to be independent, authoritative, and adventurous in leading the way to a country completely at ease with all aspects of our diversity. Its leadership will need to build on the ground breaking work done by single focus organisations over the past few decades.

“This is a formidable group of people whose experience and expertise will be vital to fulfilling our mission. They have an exceptional collective track record in the field of equality and human rights which will give us a bold and creative start. I look forward to working with them and with the further Commissioners who will be recruited to enhance to the board’s diversity and reinforce even further the depth of skills available to us.”

Ruth Kelly also announced the names of three Transition Commissioners – one from each of the existing equality commissions – who will support the Chair and Commissioners through their knowledge and experience of equality and diversity issues. The Transition Commissioners are Jeannie Drake (EOC), Kay Hampton (CRE) and Bert Massie (DRC).

The new body, which will become operational in October 2007, will provide a powerful, authoritative, single voice on equality and human rights and take on the roles of the Equal Opportunity Commission, Commission for Racial Equality and Disability Rights Commission.

In addition to its legal role in enforcing equalities legislation, the body will work to ensure that organisations and individuals have access to clear and understandable information in order to foster debate, tackle issues early on and encourage a change of culture within institutions.

A new helpline and website will be launched to give people clear advice on what to do if they have been discriminated against.

It will also have new powers to combat prejudice and to monitor, prevent or reduce crimes affecting communities, particularly hate crime and crimes of incitement.

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