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Speaker John Bercow hits out at media ‘muddying the waters’ on transgender rights

Nick Duffy July 4, 2018

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has hit out at anti-trans voices in the media in a speech at the PinkNews summer reception in Parliament.

Speaker Bercow was hosting the PinkNews summer reception in Westminster in partnership with Zurich, which follows events in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast.

Although the holder of the office of Speaker is required to be politically independent, Bercow has repeatedly spoken up in favour of LGBT equality during his nine years in the role.

John Bercow (Parliament)

He made no exception at the July 4 PinkNews reception in Speaker’s House, giving a “most explicit and unequivocal statement of support” for LGBT rights and PinkNews.

In his speech, the Speaker hit out at anti-transgender voices in the media, the week the government launched a much-criticised consultation on gender recognition rules.

He said: “There’s still a huge challenge in terms of the trans community. We need to up our level of standing up for the rights of trans people.

“We shouldn’t allow people to peddle anti-trans messages under the guise of trying to protect other people’s rights. We shouldn’t let people muddy the waters in that way.

“It’s just not people screaming abuse in the streets – it’s sometimes people who have access to the media and can write articulately, and are using their position to push messages which I think result in very considerable and dangerous displays of hostility to trans people.

“Up with that we must not put, as Churchill might have said.”

He also spoke about attempts to use ‘religious freedom’ to justify anti-LGBT bigotry.

Bercow said: “In terms of trying to heal the wounds of the nation fractured on other fronts, surely we want to close down sources of division, of rancour and of bitterness, and find bases on which to unite.

“Gay rights, lesbian rights, bi rights and trans rights are not gay rights, lesbian rights, bi rights or trans rights, they are human rights, and that seems to me to be the inescapable conclusion of any serious consideration of these matters.”

He added: “I respect people’s rights to adhere to and profess their faith, but for me, where there is a clash between somebody’s adherence to faith on the one hand and the acknowledgement of and demonstration of respect for human rights, the latter has to trump the former.

“If there are people who take a different view, no doubt they will profess it, but that is my absolutely clear sense.

“The rights of LGBT people of this country and of such people around the world are human rights and need to be acknowledged as such.”

Bercow also referred to Section 28, the defunct 1980s law banning the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools, as “the single most pernicious piece of legislation in the post-war period.”

Bercow has hosted a large number of LGBT events in his nine years as Speaker, and serves as President of the Kaleidoscope Trust, which works across the globe to advance equality in countries where people face anti-LGBT discrimination.

The Speaker even included a rainbow flag in his official heraldic Coat of Arms to show his dedication to the cause.

The Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, also spoke at the event.

Fowler congratulated PinkNews CEO Benjamin Cohen on his recent marriage.

He said: “With Pride in London and UK Black Pride this weekend, it’s a good time to celebrate the LGBT community.

“This week the government announced their LGBT action plan, which includes a pledge to ban the oppressive practise of gay cure therapy, a move that will be welcomed in both houses.

“We will once and for all make it clear that being LGBT is not something that needs curing.”

Fowler described homophobia and HIV/AIDS internationally as “one of the biggest scourges to affect this world”, adding that the lack of action against HIV/AIDS is “frankly it is an international scandal on a huge scale.”

He also challenged Commonwealth countries who “use history as an excuse” to maintain colonial-era anti-gay laws.

The Lord Speaker added that Parliament’s visible support for LGBT rights “sends a clear message… for equality and freedom.”

A former Conservative minister, Lord Fowler severed as Health Minister under Margaret Thatcher during the AIDS crisis.

Lord Speaker Norman Fowler at the PinkNews Summer Reception
Lord Speaker Norman Fowler at the 2017 PinkNews Summer Reception (Photo by Chris Jepson for PinkNews)

He has dedicated much of his later career to HIV advocacy and LGBT issues, entering the Lords in 2001 and becoming a loud voice on the issues in Parliament.

Lord Fowler told PinkNews previously that Thatcher warned him against becoming the “minister for AIDS” due to his early work on HIV. Rather than take the advice, he became a prominent voice for HIV amid the sexual health crisis.

Newly-released private documents last year showed that Lord Fowler had put proposals to the then-PM for full-page newspaper adverts giving advice about how to avoid HIV transmission.

The ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ adverts would explain, under the heading ‘Risky Sex’, that unprotected anal sex carries a disproportionately high risk of transmission.

However, Thatcher herself intervened – writing in a memo: “Do we have to have the section on risky sex? I should have thought it could do immense harm if young teenagers were to read it?”

Both Bercow and Fowler have previously spoken about the need to challenge Colonial-era anti-gay laws in the Commonwealth.

PinkNews’ summer reception in Belfast last week was attended by all major Northern Irish party leaders, with DUP leader Arlene Foster making her first ever appearance at an LGBT event.

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones spoke at the Cardiff reception, while the summer reception in Edinburgh on June 20 was addressed by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard.

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