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Comment: Pride in London should ensure UKIP’s LGBT group can march safely

David Chalmers June 9, 2015

David Chalmers writes for PinkNews on why he thinks LGBT in UKIP should be allowed to march peacefully during Pride in London, later this month.

On Friday night as I was travelling back from Plymouth to my home in North Devon, having just attended the hustings for the leadership of the Lib Dems, I kept thinking back on the speech that Norman Lamb, one of the two contenders, had delivered earlier that evening.

In response to criticism that the Lib Dems were irrelevant after the recent election, Norman inspired us by reminding the audience that our country needed a liberal party now more than ever, that it was our duty to stand up unequivocally for the basic values of liberalism, to defend the rights of the individual and ensure that all are treated equally and fairly, because the Conservatives and Labour would always find excuses and good reasons to waiver and encroach on those principles. I had not anticipated how soon those principles would be tested until I looked down at my iPhone and read that Pride had decided to exclude UKIP from taking part in this year’s Parade.

I can imagine that it was not an easy decision for Pride and from what I have heard it divided opinion on the Community Advisory Board.

This is nothing new. We have been here many times before.

I remember when we contemplated banning the police, because the Force was regarded as homophobic and had been instrumental in enforcing our discrimination. Eventually the group representing LGBT police officers were allowed to join the march. I think most people would now agree that we did the right thing.

Accepting a political party like UKIP presents an even greater challenge, but the principle has to remain the same.

You cannot single out one group just because you find some of the things that it does or what some of its members say or do offensive, because – where will this end?

For each person who is offended by UKIP’s presence there are just as many who would want to exclude certain religious groups for arguably equally good reasons.

I have heard some suggest that UKIP should be allowed to reapply in the future when they have made more progress in showing their support for LGBT rights. How would you define that?

In some ways it was easier in the past when we all walked as individuals publicly proclaiming our sexuality.

For those living In London in 21st Century this does not really have such significance any more, but for people working in an old fashioned conservative company or from a village in North Devon or as members of a political party that is not so sound on defending human rights, where they have to put up with daily abuse or hide their sexuality from friends, family,  neighbours and colleagues,  marching In London Pride is still as important as ever it was.

Many groups especially corporations, use the participation of their LGBT employee networks to market themselves to potential customers and future employees. It was not so long ago that they were not so keen to be associated with Pride and we confuse their presence in the march with endorsing what they do. Lets get it clear – we are not.

This could not be more true than with UKIP. We are not proclaiming our support for what they stand for. But it is too easy to label them simply as homophobic and racist.

Over 4 million people voted for them at the General Election. Many people did so because they feel left behind, alienated from modern Britain. and untouched by the prosperity enjoyed by the London elite. UKIP does not have the answers to their problems but it appears to many to be the only political party that is listening to them.

I recently stood in the local elections in North Devon because I realized that the incumbent ‘independent’ Councillor for my ward had switched to UKIP and I did not want to be represented by that party.

Where I live UKIP received the highest vote in last year’s European Elections and were seen to have a fairly good chance of winning the Parliamentary seat as well.

But on May 7 I beat the UKIP candidate by over 200 votes and I did so by persuading many people who voted for UKIP in the General Election to cast their vote for me locally.

I was slightly bemused at first when voters told me that they had split their vote between me and UKIP . They had seven other candidates to choose from and I had not texactly hidden my sexuality during the campaign.

I had referred to my experience with Kaleidoscope Trust to show how I might help the people of North Devon to find their voice and many of them had listened and put their trust in me. It is a very humbling experience.

One of my first tasks as a Councillor is to set up an LGBT action group in North Devon to ensure that we are treated fairly and receiving proper services.

In the process I shall be engaging with all political parties including UKIP . During the election I managed to get their Chairman to declare his support for non discrimination.

I need to hold him to that and also work with the two UKIP MEPs representing the South West.. How can I expect them to show tolerance and support our work when Pride looks to be doing exactly the opposite?

I really hope that Pride will reconsider its decision for all the reasons above. but also for what it says about our country to the rest of the world.

Yesterday I received a note from the organisers of Pride giving as the main reason for excluding UKIP that they could not guarantee the safety of its members taking part. That is exactly the excuse used by authorities in Eastern Europe to ban their Pride marches. They are wrong and we would be wrong. It is society’s duty to defend the right of its citizens to gather together, demonstrate and march peacefully.

Some people have said that should UKIP join the Parade then they will exclude themselves from taking part.

That would be a shame but that is their decision as it will be mine should UKIP’s ban be upheld.. But that is exactly the point – we can decide for ourselves if we want to participate but we cannot pick and choose who to exclude. We are lucky to live in a relatively liberal free society and its decisions like these that test our ability to ensure that we continue to do so.

David Chalmers is a councillor on Fremington Parish, co-founder of the Kaleidoscope Trust and a former Director of the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard.

As with all opinion articles, the does not necessarily reflect the views of PinkNews.

More: LGBT, Pride, Pride in London, UKIP

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