Baroness Lynne Featherstone: The fight for LGBT equality is far from over
PinkNews catches up with the recently ennobled Lynne Featherstone as she releases a book charting her battle for same-sex marriage.
As a junior minister in the coalition government, Lynne Featherstone championed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, ensuring that lesbian and gay couples in the UK won the right to marry.
She consistently fought for the rights of gay people, helping a community she felt had been mistreated and ignored and deserved equal recognition in the eyes of the law.
After losing her seat in last year’s general election, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey now sits in the House of Lords as Baroness Featherstone of Highgate.
Her book, Equal Ever After, details the road achieving same-sex marriage and how she plans to continue the fight for equality.
Your work as politician had a huge effect on the lives of many gay people. How do you plan to continue your work now that you are in the House of Lords?
Well, Tim Farron – in his great wisdom – decided to put me in charge of looking at the environment and climate change, which is fantastic as it is an issue that threatens the whole world.
But I am keen to continue fighting for the issues that I’m passionate about. In the epilogue of the book, Equal Ever After – catchy name, don’t you think? – I chart the work I’ve done and plan to do for gay rights internationally.
We’ve made massive leaps in this country – especially legally, as we begin to fight against gay conversion therapy and the blood ban – but internationally, the situation is worse than dire, I mean its quite horrific.
I also have the opportunity to use the platform I have to make the government answerable and hold their feet to the fire to ensure the great work we did for LGBT rights remains in place.
I also plan to continue my work fighting for disabled people internationally – who are often subject to immense cruelty, beaten and chained up.
I will continue my work educating young women on FGM – an issue that still effects so many girls and often those who are most vulnerable.
You are only supposed to have one issue or group you’re backing – I’m going into the Lords with about ten…
In your book, you talk about the resistance you encountered whilst pushing forward with same-sex marriage.
Yes, it took over two years to push through – as it wasn’t greeted entirely enthusiastically by the powers that be.
Look, my book states that I stand on the shoulder of giants and that my journey starts at the end of the fight for equal marriage.
I thank Labour for civil partnerships, David Cameron for pushing it through and Nick Clegg for standing by it – as well as all of the campaigners and civil servants who made it possible.
But then I say, to those who are not in this and think they should be, my apologies. And for who are and think they shouldn’t be, then tough.
More importantly, I wrote this book to get my story and the story of the Liberal Democrats on record – because really, the Tories and Labour would like to wipe us out of history.
And yet it was me and the Lib Dems that did this – although we could not have done this without each other.
Once we got it into Parliament, I wasn’t worried about getting it through, as I knew Labour would vote for it and least half of the Conservatives.
But I am a bit peeved about the way they tried to wipe us out of history.
And whilst I give credit to others, they haven’t reciprocated with the same grace I have.
And what role did the media play during that time?
The two media outlets that get the most praise form me in the book are PinkNews – PinkNews is the best documented day by day, blow by blow account of the journey of same sex marriage.
I used it a lot, it helped so much. And the other, ironically, was The Telegraph. They covered it religiously – even though they were not as progressive as I’d have liked.
But PinkNews really was amazing. Knowing what each of the leaders said, the history of the fight. Knowing what David Cameron had said, even Nick Clegg.
You got all three of the main party leaders on the record – including Ed Miliband, who was a real champion during his time as Labour leader.
Speaking of the current Opposition, they have been fairly quiet with regards to LGBT rights and equality. What do you think of that?
I think all of the important issues are on the back burner, as they are to busy fighting.
They have taken the eye off the ball, which is why divided parties do so badly. Its all about whether you are for or against Jeremy Corbyn.
LGBT still matter hugely in this country and there is still a lot of work to do – there is still so much discrimination.
There is such a long way to go with a lot of theses issues, such as those facing the trans community and I don’t think Labour is going to be looking at it for quite a while.
They are not really able to help anybody and not help the people that need it – but hopefully it will pass.
And after the defeat of the Lib Dems of the last election – you lost 49 seats – do you think is a way back for the Lib Dems, considering Labour’s problems as a party?
I’d love to think that those genuinely progressive Labour members could talk to us and maybe if they wanted to find a home of us, then hopefully there would be.
I mean, its up to the voters at the end of the day – but we are a progressive party that is here for the people of this country and those that want to help them.
How do you feel Tim Farron is performing as leader of the party?
I think he is doing really well – I don’t think he has put a foot wrong. I obviously chaired Norman Lamb’s campaign, but it was a good clean fight.
Everyone has their say and Tim is listening to everybody. He has been very strong with regards to LGBT issues – he came to leadership with a few question marks regarding a cock-up.
But I have no doubt that he is on the side of LGBT rights and I’m 100% his on track now.
He is getting used to being leader, to having his personal views challenged. But the proof in the pudding is what you do as leader – and he has been really strong on LGBT issues since he took the role.
Do you think the House of Lords still have a part to play in British politics or do you the idea is a little archaic?
Definitely, I think we still have a very important part to play – especially as Lib Dems – we’re a strong group in the Lords.
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We stand up for what is right for the country and what is right for the people in the Lords. Other people may stand up for or cover other sectors, but that is what Lib Dems stand for in the Lords.
I would prefer an elected chamber, obviously and hopefully one day I’ll be able to vote myself out of a job – but while we do exist we’ll play by the rules and use the system to the max.
I heard a rumour that you wanted to be ennobled a Lord Featherstone – is that true?
It is true; I did say to garter that I would like to Lord Lynne – and he laughed.
The point I was making is that there is a lot of inequality. For example, William Hague and I got ennobled on the same day – his wife becomes Lady Hague, I don’t actually have a partner but if I did they wouldn’t even get a title.
It is not something I am going bother with, but I didn’t want it to pass without comments. But this the House of Lords – its not the House of Baronesses – that is the point I was making.
So, my children call me Lord Lynne – and yes, they do have to bow or curtsey.