Last month, we invited PinkNews.co.uk readers to submit their questions to Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. The overwhelming subject mentioned was gay marriage, showing how important an issue this is for our readers. Other popular questions were on homophobic violence, faith schools and LGBT asylum seekers. We also gave readers the chance to ask questions on wider policy issues, such as identity cards and student tuition fees.
The number one question submitted by our readers was on whether Nick Clegg and his party support gay marriage. Mr Clegg said last month he supported civil partners calling themselves husband or wife but would he change the law to allow gay civil marriage?
Yes, I support gay marriage. Love is the same, straight or gay, so the civil institution should be the same, too. All couples should be able to make that commitment to one another.
Your party is mostly white heterosexual men. How can you make the Liberal Democrats and parliament as a whole more representative? And how would proportional representation work under the Liberal Democrats? Daniel Ross
The Liberal Democrats as a whole are a diverse party, with members and councillors of every background, race and sexuality. But you’re right that we don’t have enough diversity among our MPs, and that’s something I am determined to change. We need to make Parliament much more open, changing the culture so it isn’t just a 19th century-style club for middle-aged white men. We need to make it easier for people to stand as MPs and juggle their home life with the demands of campaigning for election. And we need to be proactive, encouraging people of all communities who have the potential to put themselves forward: that’s why we have a diversity fund, and why my party is actively training and promoting people from a host of different backgrounds who we hope will be the next generation of Liberal Democrat MPs.
On electoral reform: I want to see a proportional system, so that every vote counts. One of the best systems, in my view, is the Irish one, where there are multi-member constituencies elected by the Single Transferable Vote. But there are alternatives and ultimately it should be up to the voters to decide.
How would freedom of speech be affected under a Liberal Democrat government? Should homophobic Christian street preachers or Muslims extremists be allowed to make statements like ‘homosexuality is a sin”? Johanna Greening
Homosexuality is normal, and I wish everyone accepted that. Sadly, not everyone agrees. I find it as upsetting as you do, but I’m afraid I believe freedom of speech is vital in a free society like ours. Too much has already been taken away, and we would protect it. Of course, if people are inciting violence against gay people – or anyone else – they should be stopped. But you don’t defeat hate by silencing it. We have to show and persuade people that homosexuality is normal. And we mustn’t allow people with abhorrent views to be the only ones speaking out – that’s why events like Pride are so important.
Do you believe that under a Tory government, gay rights would deteriorate? And what measures would you and your party take to bring the subject of homophobia and homosexuality into schools in the UK? It is never discussed in my school and people can be homophobic. Rachael
I hope not, but I don’t have much confidence. There is no evidence that gay rights would make any progress under a Conservative government, which is one of many reasons why I’m campaigning for a Liberal Democrat government! On homophobia in schools – I totally agree that change has got to come to the many schools where it isn’t dealt with properly. I want every school to have an anti-homophobic bullying policy in place, that makes it absolutely clear that this kind of bullying, even if it’s subtle or insinuated, has to be tackled (only six per cent of schools have a policy like this). As part of that, teachers should take appropriate opportunities to explain to pupils that homosexuality is both normal and harmless.
Ed Balls gave faith schools opt outs in sex education legislation, allowing them to teach about sexuality ‘according to their ethos’. To many LGBT people, this sounds like a euphemism for reintroducing Section 28 by the back door. What is the Liberal Democrats’ policy on faith schools? How are you going to ensure that school children at faith schools are not going to be indoctrinated with homophobic dogma in sex education classes? Adrian Tippetts
Every school, including faith schools, should have the anti-homophobic bullying policy in place that I mentioned in my answer to the last question. It must make clear that homosexuality is normal and harmless, and that teachers should explain that whenever appropriate. But my starting point is that there are millions of people with faith who understand, preach and teach that homosexuality is normal. So even as we recognise the problems of stigmatisation in some faith-based institutions, we must support and encourage progressives within faith communities and build on the principles of tolerance and understanding that are at the heart of all major religions.
What practical measures can Britain take to defend the rights of gay people in countries like Uganda, Nigeria, Iraq and Iran (and many others) where they face active persecution, and in some cases judicial murder? Henry Lawson
We can make sure anyone who escapes those countries and comes to our shores in search of sanctuary is not sent back. We can condemn those countries in international forums, and I would support the suspension, for example, of countries from the Commonwealth if they continue to deny LGBT people their human rights. And we can continue the fight for human rights everywhere through international law, aid, development and public information campaigns. I wish we could do more; I wish we could wave a wand and end all persecution of gay people, as well as of women and of ethnic and religious minorities. The sad truth is that it will be a long and slow battle, but that’s all the more reason never to give up.
Do the Liberal Democrats believe that British aid to murderously homophobic African countries like Uganda or Malawi should become contingent on these countries fully decriminalising homosexuality? What precautions will be put in place to ensure that not a single penny of British taxpayers’ money is used to oppress LGBT people? Simon Murphy
I find it abhorrent that there are still countries in the world where gay people are oppressed, criminalised and persecuted. We have to promote human rights everywhere in the world, including the rights of everyone to their sexual identity. We must exert whatever pressure we can on these countries – perhaps delivering less aid through governments and more through NGOs and charities. But cutting off aid to millions of people in some of the poorest parts of the world will only do harm, including to gay people, and it would slow or reverse the development that can, so often, bring social progress.
Given the shocking increase in homophobic violence over the last year in Britain (the recent attack on a young police trainee in Liverpool and the murder of Ian Baynham in London), what would a Liberal Democrat government would do to make our streets safer? Stephen Walker
We want to put thousands more police on the street, but for that to help, of course, we need to continue to dismantle any institutional homophobia found within the police. Police officers need to know that any homophobic language or bullying will be disciplined, if we are to stop it from being tolerated.
The only way to end homophobic violence, however, is to end homophobia, and that means action in our schools, where far too many people learn that it’s ok to bully and stigmatise people for their sexuality, or perceived sexuality. Challenging the bullies before their taunts have settled into the consciousness of all pupils is a vital part of the work of teachers, which must be encouraged and supported in every school.
Do you think gay men can be trusted to vouch for their sexual histories, and that provisions to allow gay men to donate blood – with caveats – should be introduced to overturn the harmful discrimination of the current lifetime ban? Simon Reader
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Yes, this should change. The NHS is always in need of blood, so a blanket exclusion is just daft. We all have to vouch for our history if we give blood, and frankly I cannot fathom why gay men aren’t considered as trustworthy as everyone else. The NHS should review this and work out appropriate rules so that gay men can give blood safely if they want to.
I would like to know what policies you will put in place to ensure that LGBT asylum seekers are not deported to countries where their safety may be endangered. Some judges have sent LGBT people home to oppressive countries and told them to be “discreet”. Luke Burke
It is completely unacceptable for the government to deport gay people back to the countries where they will be persecuted because of their sexuality. The government’s whole asylum policy is wrong-headed because they are only interested in looking tough, not in protecting people. We will change the regulations, recognising in guidance countries where LGBT people risk persecution, and stopping deportations to those countries for those people.
Many gay people vote Conservatives despite their appalling and continuing lack of support for gay rights. What do you say to gay people planning to vote Tory? Paul
The same thing I say to anyone planning to vote Conservative (or Labour): do you really trust them? If you want real change, choose the Liberal Democrats.
University tuition fees are being reviewed and you and your party have clearly said that you would want to scrap them. Do you yet have a plan on how you would scrap tuition fees? Daniel Ridsdale
Yes: we will scrap fees over the next six years, starting with final year students to make it easier for people to complete their degrees. I’d like to be able to scrap all fees immediately, of course, but with the government finances in such a mess, we need to be responsible and phase out fees over an affordable timescale.
What assurances can you give that the Liberal Democrats would scrap ID cards and the identity database? Sion Lester
Every assurance. The ID card system is expensive, illiberal, un-British, and won’t keep us safe from terrorists, stop benefit fraud, cut crime or reduce government administration. It would be closed down on our first day in office.