Current Affairs

Lib Dems and Stonewall discuss gay issues

Tony Grew September 18, 2007
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DELGA, the Liberal Democrats LGBT organisation, joined forces with Stonewall last night to host a fringe meeting at the party’s conference in Brighton.

Stephen Williams MP, a party spokesman on education, and Jo Swinson, who speaks on equality issues, were joined by Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, for a question and answer session with Lib Dem activists.

More than fifty people attended the event, at which a proposal to start monitoring and recording the sexual orientation of the party’s candidates was discussed.

The Liberal Democrats already record the gender and ethnicity of candidates for council seats and Parliament, and minority candidates can access additional funds from the party to help them get elected.

“We may be the most liberal party, but we are not as liberal as we think,” said Mr Williams.

Mr Summerskill referred to the election of MP Nick Herbert in Arundel and South Downs, an out gay man elected in a safe Tory seat, as proof that being LGB may not be an impediment at the ballot box.

Mr Williams retorted that a gay donkey could have been elected as a Tory in that constituency, but acknowledged that the decision to be open about your sexuality must be a personal one for individual candidates.

Mr Williams, the MP for Bristol West, said there should be more support for gay candidates to match that given to women and ethnic minorities.

“It is not too late for the party to go out and do something about it,” he said.

Several bisexual activists discussed the issue of coming out to their voters, weighing the pros and cons of such a move.

There was also a discussion about biphobia in the gay community and the effects of “internalised homophobia.”

Mr Summerskill defended Stonewall against accusations that it does nothing for trans people by pointing out the work they do supporting and advising trans groups such as Press for Change.

He said that at a recent meeting with Secretary of State for Equality Harriet Harman he raised trans issues.

Stonewall was established to fight for the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

Mr Summerskill said the new Commission on Equality and Human Rights, of which he is a commissioner, will provide a “generational opportunity” to tackle all forms of discrimination.

Mr Williams agreed that the CEHR offers “an enormous opporunity to make sure cross-cutting issues are addressed.”

Asked what the next battlegrounds will be for Stonewall, Mr Summerskill replied that schools and workplace discrimination would be the main priorities.

He also revealed that the organisation is to undertake a major study into homophobia in sport.

Mr Williams said that issues of media representation, from soap operas to current affairs, was a huge problem.

He noted that there do not appear to be any openly gay news anchors, and urged them to be more open about their sexuality.

Mr Summerskill, while acknowledging there is “a huge amount of work to do,” thanked the Lib Dem activists for their support for Stonewall and paid tribute to the work Mr Williams has done in highlighting the scourge of homophobic bulling in schools.

Earlier in the day Mr Williams had addressed conference on the subject and unveiled a new proposal to help tackle the problem.

“Bullying doesn’t just harm a child’s school work, it damages lives,” he told delegates.

“Bullying Mentors in each school would help deal with the consequences of bullying, while joint action between pupils and teachers would tackle the causes.

“All schools, including religious schools, should have anti-bullying policies that specifically address homophobic bullying.

“Whether the young person is gay, seen as being gay or has gay parents, homophobic bullying can make their life a misery.”

A series of measures to combat bullying in schools were passed by conference yesterday.

Last night a party for gay activists was addressed by the Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell.

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