Comment: Standing on the shoulders of giants
Labour MP Stephen Doughty writes for PinkNews on how a future Labour Government would tackle global LGBT inequality.
For too long coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) in the UK meant giving up the opportunity – but not the hope – of being seen as equal under the law. It meant no chance of getting married or having a family, it meant the real possibility of being fired from your job or attacked on our streets simply because of who you are.
Much has changed since our laws marginalised and criminalised LGBT people. Whether it was Roy Jenkins’ decriminalisation of homosexuality with the Sexual Offences Act; or Tony Blair’s revolutionary civil partnerships legislation, scrapping of the pernicious Section 28, equalising the age of consent and the raft of other measures which culminated in the Equality Act – I am proud that Labour has led the charge on LGBT rights.
I know that today we stand on the shoulder of the giants who made these changes possible.
Each of those hard fought battles built a consensus on LGBT rights and paved the way for the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. I was proud to serve on that Bill’s committee and to know that I was making a small contribution to that journey. I was prouder still to know that this wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the Labour movement marching ahead, leading a coalition of progressives with politicians of other political parties, from those of different faiths and those of none, and of campaigners from charities such as Stonewall.
Sadly our progress here in the UK stands in stark contrast to the situation in too many countries around the globe.
This contrast was made vividly clear when I met Pepe Julian Onziem at the Stonewall Awards, a Ugandan activist who spoke passionately about his work campaigning for equality in the face of threats of unimaginable violence.
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The violence targeted at people like Pepe and LGBT people is a real threat and in too many places is getting worse.
In countries where dogma trumps democracy, and homophobia remains unchallenged, people’s fundamental human rights – whether that’s their right to worship, assemble or love – are snatched away.
Speaking up about these attacks and supporting LGBT people around the globe should of course be a key part of Britain’s approach to protecting human rights through our foreign policy. We have a responsibility to share our experiences in fighting for equality to support fledgling campaigns and movements around the world.
As a Labour Government, we’ll stand with activists like Pepe and support their plight. Ed Miliband’s appointment of a fellow LGBT Labour Patron, Lord Cashman, as the Labour Party’s special envoy on LGBT issues worldwide clearly demonstrates the importance that the Labour Party places on this issue and the priority a future Labour government will give to tackling it.
While we all hope that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice, achieving it is by no means inevitable. Only brave leaders, activists and campaigners will make the difference. That’s how it’s always been and it’s how our movement was formed. It’s how we secured legal equality in Britain and how we’ll make sure that those fighting for their fundamental human rights have a voice and an ally, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition.
Stephen Doughty is the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Cardiff South and Penarth, an Opposition Whip, and a patron of LGBT Labour. He tweets @SDoughtyMP.