Former Prime Minister Tony Blair says gay rights will form “a significant part” of his legacy.
The ex-Labour leader has been named as one of thirty ‘gay icons’ in this month’s special edition of GT (Gay Times), celebrating the magazine’s thirtieth anniversary.
“I remember thinking as a matter of conviction that people should be treated equally”, Mr Blair told GT’s Benjamin Butterworth.
Asked why he chose to pursue a gay rights agenda in government, Mr Blair replied: “I’d been through all those times in the 80s and the early times of the 90s, and I felt it was an argument in which if we actually stood up for what we thought was right, then the country would turn out to be a lot less prejudiced than anticipated.”
Elected as the MP for Sedgefield in 1983, Mr Blair entered politics at a time when homophobia was at its most aggressive in the media.
“It was an aggressive and nasty approach [during] those times,” the former PM recalled. “And I remember Section 28 – that was pretty nasty. It created a very ugly atmosphere in society. It was just horrible. But fortunately those days are gone.”
Speaking of his gay friends that had experienced homophobia, Mr Blair said: “You know, there were personal experiences that I had with people when I was growing up, and I saw the pain that they had in their own lives, because they couldn’t be who they were.
“I also had a basic liberal instinct that people should be able to lead their own lives in the way that they choose. That’s a strongly motivated instinct of mine one.”
As Prime Minister from 1997-2007, Mr Blair presided over a whole host of landmark pieces of equality legislation, including equalising the age of consent, removing Section 28 and banning homophobic and transphobic discrimination in the workplace.
Mr Blair reiterated claims – first made in March this year – with the benefit of hindsight, that it’s possible Labour could have been even bolder with its introduction of civil partnerships in 2005.
“I think, in retrospect, we probably could [have]”, he said.
“There wasn’t a huge pressure at the time for doing it, and I think that people felt that civil partnerships [were] an important and ground-breaking step, and that it was the right way to do it. On the other hand, when we look back and look at the relative ease with which’s it’s been done, you could say, ‘Well, we probably could’ve done it.’ But it wasn’t something that was a conscious decision not to do, as it were.”