Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn speaks to PinkNews about his long history of supporting equality – and how he would be happy to work with the Conservatives on progressing LGBT issues.
In an exclusive interview, Mr Corbyn said he would put LGBT and human rights in front of relationships with overseas nations.
Read the full interview below:
You don’t really shout about this much – but you were actually one of the first MPs in Parliament to break ranks and vote for LGBT equality. You were campaigning well before many of your peers-
Well, I’m older! [laughs].
That may be true, but you were supporting LGBT rights back when it was still incredibly radical for a politician to speak out for gay rights, even in the Labour party. What was that like?
I joined Parliament a long time and one of my first political acts was defending the North London gay community center as councilor in Haringey – it was a small centre, just off in Finsbury Park.
The local National Front decided the centre was offensive to the entire community and tried to barricade the place, abuse anyone that was using it and close it down. They didn’t reckon that the local community would support the community centre – which they did.
I was a councillor for that ward and it turned out that the very substantial Irish community in the area bitterly disliked the way the National Front and came to defend that centre and stand side by side with the local gay community.
That was, to me, a very early example of two groups of people who were both suffering forms of discrimination, standing together to oppose it.
During the miners’ strike, I was there when ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ first appeared. It was a magic moment when they came together. They said, ‘actually, we’re both being very badly treated by Margaret Thatcher’s government. Let’s march down the road together.’ And it was quite nice to be there at this year’s Pride in London parade with a replica of that banner, marching down the road at the same time.
I was also in Parliament when Section 28 went through. Section 28 was preventing local authorities using their public premises for anything that was deemed to be promoting homosexuality. We’ve moved on a lot since then.
To me it was therapeutic to be marching through the lobbies in support of equality of marriage legislation with some older Tories, who themselves had voted for Section 28 all those years ago. I was ungallant enough to remind one or two of them of the passage of history and they just smiled. But at least they were there voting for it.
As someone who was calling for marriage equality early on, do you regret that it was the Tories who were actually the party that finally managed to put it through, after the Labour leader Gordon Brown ruled it out in a PinkNews Q&A?
I do regret it – but it went through and that’s the important thing. And it only went through because Labour voted for it! There were not enough Conservative votes for it to go through on their own.
We should give credit where it’s due – credit to those who campaigned for a very long time to achieve this, and credit to Labour for putting through the civil partnerships legislation. Many of us at the time questioned it and said, ‘why can’t it be marriage? Why does it have to be civil partnerships?’
I also pay some credit to David Cameron for being prepared to push equal marriage.
Before the election, Ed Miliband pledged to appoint Lord Michael Cashman as an LGBT rights international envoy. Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham have both told PinkNews they would keep him in the role. As leader, would you?
I’d keep the role, yes – and if Michael Cashman wants to do it, I’d be very happy with that.
I would also put requirements on delegations of the UN Human Rights council, so that during every universal periodic review of human rights in every country in the world, we would question their record on LGBT rights, question their levels of discrimination, question any violent actions that have been taken against people and question countries that advise to the criminality of gay relationships, which just happened.
Britain now does that with countries who carry the death penalty. I attend the UN Human Rights Council, and whenever there’s a universal periodic review coming up, if it’s a country that practices or indeed has the death penalty, Britain always objects to the human rights report and requires a special point to be written in about that.
I would want the same thing for LGBT rights and although it doesn’t solve everything, it is part of ensuring the acceptability of the rights of LGBT people to relationships, whatever their sexuality.
In the case of the most extreme countries, such as Uganda, I think we’ve got to be far tougher with them. Indeed, I’ve had meetings with Ugandan delegations and ministers that have been quite difficult, to say the least.
During his recent trip to Kenya, Barack Obama spoke publicly about his support for LGBT rights, leading to a clash between himself and Kenyan leader Uhuru Kenyatta.
Would you risk harming diplomatic ties with countries you are affiliated with – for the sake of, not just LGBT rights, but human rights as well?
Yes, you have to. There are various stages by which you can do it.
For example, countries that have trade agreements with the EU – all EU trade agreements have a human rights clause.
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Many of those countries have knowingly signed trade agreements. It is a question of enforcing those human rights clauses, which can, of course, lead to economic and diplomatic consequences.
Recently an All-Party Parliamentary Group was formed to work across parties on international LGBT rights. Do you think that you’d be capable of working with Tories on some issues?
I have obviously my own political views and principles, but there are some issues we can work together on. I think we should have cross-party work on a lot of subjects.
I’m in a number of all-party groups on different issues, and I’m the chair of four all-party groups.
The Chagos Islands group, for example, had me as Chair and Vice Chair was Andrew Rosindell, who is a… let’s just describe him as a very patriotic member of the Conservative Party!
We don’t agree on too much, but we do agree on the issue of the Chagos Islands and we work together on that. That’s how it is.
As well as the marriage vote, the Republic of Ireland recently passed a new gender recognition law – which is actually more progressive than current UK legislation, which Labour put through back in 2004. Do you think it’s time that we readdressed it?
Yes, I do. I’m in Belfast soon for the West Belfast festival, and I’m taking part in a public debate with the Unionist parties, as well as others. No doubt, this issue will come up.
I do think what happened in the Republic with the same-sex marriage vote was absolutely seismic. It would not have happened without a lot of steadfast campaigning for a very long time by a lot of people, and congratulations to them.