Our Pink Parliament 2015-2017: A look back at the gayest-ever parliament
The legacy of the UK’s 2015 to 2017 parliament will live with us for generations to come. But the parliament that gave us the EU referendum, which in turn led to the UK pulling out of the EU, was also the gayest ever. That, at least, is something to celebrate. Thirty-two, a record number, out gay men and lesbians were elected in 2015, and, on top of that, other MPs, including government ministers, took the opportunity to come out over its course.
Maybe, therefore, an apt description of the last parliament should be the Poof’s Parliament or, drawing on parliament’s long history, the Molly and Tommy Parliament, or better still the GenderQueer Parliament; or should we just stick to Queer? How about Pink? So while the seventeenth century may have had its Rump Parliament, we have had our Pink Parliament.
So how did parliament get to be so gay?
Much of the responsibility for the queering of the legislature lies with the Scottish National Party (SNP). When they marched south in June 2015, 13 percent of them were gay or lesbian. And a fine clan of homosexuals they are! During the General Election, David Cameron had terrified the English with descriptions of marauding Scots joining forces with bumbling Miliband and all the dire consequences that would flow. But the opposite has turned out to be the case.
The SNP has enhanced the quality of Westminster, and much of the credit for that falls to the extraordinarily able LGBT Members. The moment the then 20-year-old Mhairi Black stunned the nation with her maiden speech, which was so wise and articulate, there was a recognition that a new force had entered British politics.
The other six gay and lesbian SNP MPs have also consistently raised the level of debate. With old lags like John Nicolson, who learnt his trade on the sofas of breakfast TV, this was no surprise, hence why compatriot Andrew Neil chooses to cosy up to him on night-time telly. They’re all just astoundingly good. The astute Stewart McDonald leads on LGBT and he keeps the pressure up.
And then there’s Labour. Where would the LGBT community be without them? That extraordinary moment when, in 1984, the doughty Chris Smith came out blazed the trail. All the major changes that have taken place in relation to LGBT equality stem from the Labour Party. We have so much to be grateful to them for. And whilst it is possible to be critical of how they handled certain issues, the party’s consistent commitment to LGBT people is without question.
Gay and lesbian Labour MPs have been proud examples of what LGBT people can achieve if society allows us. Chris Bryant, as a Foreign Office Minister, put LGBT persecution on the map well before Hillary Clinton had made this the cutting edge international human rights issue it’s now recognised as being. Angela Eagle, despite having to weather too much abuse focussed on her sexuality, is in many respects the conscience of us all. And new boy Peter Kyle brings hope and freshness to Labour Party policies.
The Conservatives are extraordinary. They tormented us until the early 2000s and then they saw the light. And in that way that when that party gets behind an issue they drive policy through, so much has now changed for LGBT people thanks to the Conservatives.
Most of their MPs have form, including the Prime Minister, but whilst once she voted to harm LGBT people, she, like David Cameron before her, has evolved. And when the Tory leadership gave the LGBT community their seal of approval, our equality was ensured. They have made us respectable. Cameron may not have got equal marriage through without Opposition support, but we wouldn’t have equal marriage without Cameron.
And there was that Glorious Moment in 2015 when the UK had a Prime Minister, a Chancellor of the Exchequer, a Home Secretary and a Foreign Secretary all of whom actively supported LGBT equality. Amongst their ranks, the Tories have some remarkable gay and lesbian MPs.
The quiet dignity of Margot James makes clear that a truly diverse society is a kinder society, and the swashbuckling Crispin Blunt defies classification. The determined Nick Herbert, since 2015, has been juggling Brexit with parliament’s new All Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT Rights. How he promotes LGBT rights in parliament in the future is something to watch out for.
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The smaller political parties made less impact on our Pink Parliament. The Lib Dems are a conundrum. LGBT equality has always been central to their policies, but they’ve had no out MPs. The Green Party’s one MP, Caroline Lucas, a truly loyal LGBT ally, represents one of the UK’s largest LGBT constituencies, Brighton Pavilion. As UKIP no longer has any MPs we need not reflect further upon them.
Our 2015 Pink Parliament has been ably supported by the House of Lords, and members of that House have been exceptional in ensuring that LGBT issues are at the forefront of UK policy making. Here the Lib Dems flourish. Baroness (Liz) Barker, for example, is exceptional, and possibly the LGBT community’s greatest ally, Lord (Anthony) Lester has consistently pushed forward the equality agenda from the Lib Dem benches.
An unsung hero, we owe Anthony Lester more than we all realise. Lord (Michael) Cashman for the Labour Party is relentless and Lord (Ray) Collins, who shadows on Foreign Affairs, never misses an opportunity to make the case for our cause. And for the Tories, Lord (Guy) Black puts his authority behind LGBT equality. And then there is Alistair Cooke (aka Lord Lexden), who has been outstanding in putting LGBT issues on the agenda.
In its short life, our Pink Parliament did not achieve as much as it will have wanted to for LGBT people, both here in the UK and abroad. Our great gay and lesbian legislators were regrettably too distracted by Brexit. But their presence was felt and, even if the numbers of gay and lesbian MPs are reduced after the 2017 election, our Pink Parliament has established that the UK parliament is a parliament for everyone and that includes us.
Jonathan Cooper is a human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chamber and you can contact him at @jonathancoopr.
More: Angela Eagle, Caroline Lucas, Chris Bryant, Chris Smith, crispin blunt, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, equal marriage, Gay rights, General Election 2017, John Nicolson, LGBT, LGBT rights, London, Margot James, marriage equality, Mhairi Black, Nick Herbert, Peter Kyle, stewart mcdonald, Theresa May