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COMMENT: I have some questions for Ken

Peter Tatchell April 18, 2008
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London Mayor Ken Livingstone can justifiably boast that he has done much over the last 30 years to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Londoners.

As leader of the Greater London Council in the 1980s, he was the first major politician to speak out publicly in support of gay human rights.

His funding of previously unsupported LGBT welfare and advice agencies was trail-blazing and immensely positive.

In his first term as Mayor of London, Ken set up the UK’s first same-sex partnership register, which paved the way for the subsequent legislation of civil partnerships.

But in his second term as Mayor, he caused widespread dismay in the LGBT community when he welcomed to City Hall, as his “honoured guest,” the Muslim fundamentalist cleric, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

The Mayor subsequently repeatedly excused and defended the viciously homophobic and murder-inciting cleric.

Qaradawi advocates the execution of gay people in Islamic states, the killing of Muslims who abandon their faith, wife beating, female genital mutilation, forcing women to wear the hijab and the flogging of women who have sex outside of marriage.

He is on record endorsing terrorist attacks on innocent civilians in Israel.

He has also said that the 2004 Asian tsumani was punishment by Allah because the people who died had allowed their countries to become centres of “sexual perversion.”

Together with many other people, I criticised Ken over his embrace of Qaradawi.

He responded with the wholly untrue claim that I am an “Islamophobe” and a person with “a long history of Islamophobia.”

Since then, despite an occasional pro-gay initiative, like opposing Westminster Council’s attempt to ban rainbow flags in Soho, Ken’s record of supporting the LGBT community has been somewhat patchy.

LGBT Londoners are, of course, not only interested in LGBT policies. Like the rest of London, they are also concerned about transport, crime, housing and the environment, as well as the candidates’ stance on matters that specifically affect lesbian and gay people.

On four issues Ken needs to explain why he has let down the LGBT community.

The other Mayoral candidates also need to state where they stand. What are the Conservative, Lib Dem and Green policies on these questions?

Refusal to fund the gay football world championships in London

Ken has refused to contribute to the funding of the 2008 International Gay & Lesbian Football Association World Championship, which is being held in London in August.

London has won the honour of being the host city, and the UK’s Stonewall FC team is a strong contender for the world title, but the Mayor is withholding financial backing. Not a penny from him!

Ken also refused to sign a letter of support for the IGLFAWC’s grant application to the lottery fund. Having the high-profile support of the Mayor would increase the likelihood of the grant succeeding. It costs nothing to sign a letter of support.

The unexpected lack of financial assistance from the Mayor has contributed to the IGLFAWC being left with a funding shortfall. How does the Mayor justify this denial of a few thousand pounds to the gay football world championships when he has showered billions on the 2012 Olympics?

Where do the other Mayoral candidates stand on funding the gay football world cup and similar gay sporting events? And will they offer financial support to increase youth, women’s, disabled and ethnic minority participation in sport?

Lesbian & Gay Museum

During the 2004 Mayoral election campaign, Ken Livingstone promised to fund a lesbian and gay museum, which is now called Proud Heritage.

The idea is to add to London’s museum diversity by creating a new institution dedicated to documenting and celebrating the lives and contributions of LGBT people, in a similar way to the already existing specialist Jewish, toy, children’s, transport and slavery museums.

It took until 2007 for Ken to grant a rather modest start-up grant of £5,000. Further money was pledged.

Proud Heritage made a bid for an additional £10,000, so it could launch the first-stage online version of the museum this week. The Mayor eventually agreed a further £5,000. This money has been contracted by Ken but not delivered as of 15 April. Why?

On the basis of Ken’s contracted £5,000 grant, Proud Heritage organised development work to be done. This work on the website, which opens on 18 April, has not been completed because Ken’s money has not materialised so far. This has created a big and needless last-minute stress for the Proud Heritage organisers.

Why has Ken delayed his election pledge on the lesbian and gay museum? Why, four years after his promise, has the Proud Heritage project been under-funded by the Mayor?

What will other candidates pledge towards this project?

Proud Heritage is, so far, an only online museum. Will the Mayoral candidates support and help finance a physical LGBT museum as well?

Mayor’s LGBT Forum

The Mayor’s LGBT Forum was set up to liaise with the LGBT community, in order to establish dialogue between the Mayor and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Londoners. But from the outset it has been structured in a wholly undemocratic way.

Why isn’t the forum allowed to elect its own Chair? Why did Ken imposed as Chair one of his own people, a straight woman, Anni Marjoram? Why is the LGBT Forum banned from proposing resolutions or holding votes on policy recommendations to the Mayor?

Attempts to propose and vote on policy issues are ruled out of order by the Chair. This has disillusioned many of us who proposed and backed the Forum as an open, democratic space for dialogue and consultation.

The Forum is now widely dismissed as a PR exercise by the Mayor, with no real power or influence. Many grassroots activists no longer bother to attend. What is the point? Anything that questions mayoral policy doesn’t get on the agenda and uncomfortable debates are curtailed by the Chair.

How does the Mayor explain the fact that many grassroots LGBT campaigners in London no longer participate in the Forum? What does he say to allegations that it has become an unrepresentative Forum attended mostly by pro-Ken factions and LGBT groups hoping to get money out of the Greater London Authority? What would other Mayoral candidates do to rectify this democratic deficit?

Under-funding of LGBT groups and events

The Mayor has given millions to black projects, which is a very good thing. The empowerment of ethnic communities is vital to redress social exclusion and discrimination.

But Ken has granted comparatively little to gay projects. The Mayor keeps promising lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) funding but he seems to rarely deliver. He is quite good at verbal support, but little more.

How does Ken justify the millions of pounds he and the London Development Agency have given to black community groups and the largess provided for the St Patrick’s Day events, compared to the much smaller grants that he has given to Pride London and LGBT community organisations?

In 2006, the Mayor gave £175,000 to the St Patrick’s Day Festival and £288,000 to the Rise Festival – but only £100,000 for the LGBT Pride London Festival.

I don’t begrudge support for Irish, Black, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Muslim and women’s groups and events. The Mayor has duty to support all of London’s wonderful diverse communities. He is right to do so. It helps create a more liberal, tolerant and cohesive city.

But shouldn’t there be a more equitable distribution of Mayoral funding, with all community events receiving roughly similar levels of financial backing? Or at least there should not be such huge disparities in the Mayor’s financial support. Where do the other candidates stand on this question?
Ken’s mishandling of these four issues has implications way beyond the LGBT community. It is symptomatic of a style of governance that adversely impacts on many Londoners. As well as Ken, all the Mayoral candidates need to address this issue, so Londoners know what they will do if they are elected Mayor on 1 st May.

This article was first published on The Guardian’s Comment is Free website. put some of these points to Ken Livingstone earlier this week.

Click here to read what he said.

Full list of candidates for Mayor of London:

Richard Barnbrook – British National Party

Gerard Batten – UK Independence Party

Sian Berry – Green Party

Alan Craig – Christian Peoples Alliance and Christian Party

Lindsey German – The Left List

Boris Johnson – Conservative Party

Ken Livingstone – Labour Party

Winston McKenzie – Independent

Matt O’Connor – English Democrats

Brian Paddick – Liberal Democrats

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