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Rebecca Long-Bailey on her unflinching support for trans rights and why Boris Johnson is the biggest threat to queer people

Josh Milton and Ryan Butcher March 4, 2020
Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

British Labour politician and leadership hopeful, Rebecca Long-Bailey. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

It was supposed to be the dawn of a new era for Britain.

The most left-leaning leader in a generation, Jeremy Corbyn, would take the Labour Party and Britain into a new chapter of social and economic reform.

Yet, instead, on a cold December morning, the lawmaker was photographed hugging supporters in a community centre cafeteria. He later announced he was stepping down as leader following a devastating election loss.

Politicians have scrambled to decide which direction to take the Labour Party moving forward. Would the party reject Corbyn’s socialist vision – once thought of as salvation to consecutive Conservative governments – or would they push through the electoral calamity and continue the fight for a radical future?

The answer to the latter, some feel, is 40-year-old Mancunian Rebecca Long-Bailey.

She worked in a pawnshop, a furniture factory, a call centre and as a postal worker before studying to become a solicitor.

Years later, and Rebecca Long-Bailey would become Labour’s main speaker on business, energy and industrial strategy.

On April 4, she may become the first-ever female leader of the Labour Party.

Rebecca Long-Bailey gestures during a media interview prior to setting out her vision for the party at an event in Manchester, England. (OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Rebecca Long-Bailey gestures during a media interview prior to setting out her vision for the party at an event in Manchester, England. (OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Rebecca Long-Bailey was an architect of the Labour Party 2019 manifesto, one lauded by LGBT+ activists for its progressive policies. The MP for Salford and Eccles has consistently voted in favour of LGBT+ reforms, marriage equality and laws that promote equality and human rights.

At the LGBT+ Labour leadership hustings last month, Rebecca Long-Bailey offered a glimpse to PinkNews of what her headship would mean for LGBT+ people.

PinkNews: When did LGBT rights first become part of your political agenda? When did you first think, ‘This is a cause I really need to fight for?’

Rebecca Long-Bailey: There wasn’t a one moment where a switch was flipped.

I remember in the 80s, my sister was a nurse and she was helping out the Terrence Higgins Trust. So she was spending a lot of time in [Manchester’s gay] village.

And I was kind of pottering around with her sometimes and seeing what was going on and the campaigns that were happening.

Rebecca Long-Bailey (R) on a penal with her two rivals, Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy. (Martin Hobby)
Rebecca Long-Bailey (R) on a penal with her two rivals, Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy. Some analysts have seen her as the natural successor to Jeremy Corbyn. (Martin Hobby)

So it’s something that I was very aware of from a young age, the political aspect of campaigning for those rights. But it’s something that, and I think everybody in the Labour Party would say this, we are the party who is the moral compass of politics.

We want to have an inclusive society where everybody has the rights that they should, where they’re respected and they’re loved and it’s not a question of suddenly picking a campaign and following it.

It’s just because it’s the right thing to do.

Moving forward to 2020, what do you think is the biggest issue that’s facing LGBT+ people in the UK today?

Well, the big elephant in the room, I think, is Boris Johnson.

We’ve got a prime minister who is quite alarmingly taking British politics to the right, is openly discriminated against women, LGBTQ+ people, and will laugh it off as if it’s normal, and it’s socially and morally acceptable, and it isn’t.

And the worry is that the longer this buffoonery or the way he tries to package it off, carries on, the more socially acceptable it will be for those sorts of criticisms and comments to be made.

We don’t want to regress back to where we were in the 1950s, 1960s, or even before then and we should never take the rights and the respect that we’ve got for granted that we currently have at the moment we know that hate crime is spiking in many of our communities now and that is symptomatic of the culture in the and the feeling within politics at the moment.

Rebecca Long-Bailey speaks at the LGBT+ Labour leadership hustings. (Martin Hobby)
Rebecca Long-Bailey speaks at the LGBT+ Labour leadership hustings. (Martin Hobby)

PinkNews: How would you counter the threat of populism and safeguard LGBT+ people across the country without falling into the trap of mainstreaming some of the views?

Rebecca Long-Bailey: Unfortunately, I think we’re way beyond worrying about these views getting into the mainstream because we have a prime minister who thinks it’s acceptable to talk about tank-topped bum boys, calls Muslim women letterboxes and calls black people piccaninnies with watermelon smiles.

This is a right-wing government that is making this form of discrimination morally and socially acceptable. And that’s something that we need to tackle as a Labour Party quite urgently.

And then whoever becomes the leader needs to do that. And that requires a number of things. 

It requires us empowering our members to organise within communities; to educate beyond the party as to why this isn’t morally acceptable.

It also requires us to have social media operations that are able to go toe-to-toe with the Conservative Party. They ran quite an insidious campaign in this general election, they were targeting specific demographics.

Unfortunately, we were nowhere near that level of expertise. And we need to be able to do that to reach into people’s houses into their living rooms and change the way they think and the way they feel about society.

I don’t think we should take for granted how far we’ve come.

In terms of LGBTQ+ rights, or indeed any of the other rights that we’ve acquired over the last 50 years, they can be taken away very, very quickly, and so can those beliefs of the inclusive society that we fought so hard across this movement to gain for many within our communities today.

That’s what we need to do within the party, empower our members and fight back.

In 2019, the Conservative Party promised that we were going to help teachers tackle bullying, which includes homophobic bullying.

So if a school child was to call a classmate at tank-topped bum boy, like our prime minister does, what do you think the punishment should be?

He should have at least been in detention for that. For God’s sake.

Yeah, the naughty step!

Do you think that any state-funded school should be able to opt-out of [LGBT] inclusive sex and relationships education?

No, because it’s about teaching our children what a loving and respectful relationship is. And some of us were lucky to get that education from our parents, but some aren’t that lucky.

Shadow secretary of state for business, energy industrial strategy Rebecca Long-Bailey. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

PinkNews: We’re seeing a rise of transphobia in the media and rising hate crimes on the streets. Do you have a message for any trans voters who might be reading this, in terms of the transphobia that they have to face every single day? 

Rebecca Long-Bailey: Trans men are men and trans women are women.

And we know the mental strain and anguish that many within our trans community are under and the process to self identify at the moment. It’s intrusive, it’s dehumanising and it’s demeaning.

It takes a considerable amount of time for people who are under extreme mental pressure, and the process should be easy and I want it recognised through changes to the Gender Recognition Act.

I’ve said very clearly that I support self-ID. But on the issue of transphobic views, they’re not welcome within our party. I’ll be very clear on that.

But there’s been much debate about this over recent days. And that doesn’t shut down discussion, but it must be conducted in a respectful way.

And that’s why I’ve signed the pledges, and there’s no conflict between the rights of trans people, the rights of women, the safety of women and the rights of any other group within our party, as long as we conduct our discussions in a respectful way, and the debate can take place in that way.

And I think it’s important for the leadership to lead by example, ensure that we don’t tolerate any kind of discrimination or behaviour that puts anyone in a terrible situation.

You signed the trans rights pledge which is absolutely amazing. But Tony Blair has said that he refused to sign that pledge, and argued that Labour shouldn’t get involved in the “culture war”. I was wondering what your thoughts are on that?

The reason that I signed the pledge is that I understand what our trans community have to go through.

When we spoke earlier about my pledge to ensure that self-ID brought into law and the processes made far more streamlined and humane for many of our trans community, you have to go through that process.

But it’s also about within our party ensuring that we can have debates about the rights of trans people, about women, about any other minority, but we do it in a respectful way. And we don’t condone transphobia or racism or any form of sexism.

And that’s what the pledges were about. It was about making sure that we were a welcome party.

How did you feel the first time you witnessed homophobia or transphobia?

I’ve not witnessed it directly. And I think I’ve been lucky to not witness it directly. But I’ve certainly heard the stories that many of my friends have told me about what they’ve experienced.

Particularly older friends who grew up in a time where it wasn’t like it wasn’t now but it was extremely difficult to come out as gay and the hatred and the mistrust and the feelings that they got from their own family members, never mind those within the wider community and it’s quite upsetting to hear those accounts really.

(Leon Neal/Getty Images)

PinkNews: This seems to be a massively incorrect assumption that some communities in the north aren’t quite as accepting as LGBT+ people as those down south.

Rebecca Long-Bailey: There is a misconception. I mean, you only need to go to the village to see what a great community it is and how vibrant it is.

And many of our towns and cities right across the northwest are really vibrant places. Salford has a huge and gay and lesbian community.

We’re proud of it. We have a pink picnic every year to bring families together.

And so obviously we want to adopt it as an alternative to Pride where families could come and have a picnic and have a day out. So we do that every year in Peel Park. It’s really good!

OK now for quite a divisive question – Madonna or Cher?

Madonna!

When was the first time someone came out to you? And what did it mean?

It happened in a very bizarre way. And it’s one of my friends who’s sadly passed away now, and I’m not sure if he’d come out to other people before, but he was in his 70s.

He was the long-standing Labour council aide on so much in Salford for the Labour Party, and he helped me to become a candidate and to become an MP.

And he started coming to Pride in Manchester and he’d always turn up with his rainbow laces on, and I remember one day I put a post on Facebook and I said something either about homophobic hate crime or something like that.

And he put a little response underneath and he said: “As a gay man, it’s been very difficult for me to come out. We’ve always got to stand up for the rights of gay people across the country.”

And I thought, my God, you know, no one knew he was gay because he never said: “Hi, I’m John, you know, I’m gay.”

Everyone knew he was though, it was a bit like Pride the film where the brother comes out to his sister and says, “I’m gay,” and she says, “I know.” That’s what we were like.

(Martin Hobby)

PinkNews: Rebecca Long-Bailey, picture yourself. You’re out at a gay bar. What’re you ordering to drink and what song is it going take to get you down on the dance floor?

Rebecca Long-Bailey: Oh god. I mean, it’s not long since I’ve been on a night out now, because I’ve got a seven-year-old so we’ve not been out literally nearly for seven years.

And what would it take to get me on the dance floor? Probably quite a few drinks and something a bit rave-y rave-y, like The Prodigy or something like that.

If you gave me some glow sticks, that’d be me. I’d be away!

Do you have a favourite memory of a Pride parade?

Well, the funniest thing that’s ever happened to me at Pride was one year when I was walking down the street and a guy in a vest just picked me up and grabbed me and ran down the street with me. I have no idea who he was but I was screaming. It was funny.

He must have been a strong guy I mean, you know I’m not that small but yeah, he was picked me up and run down the street with me. [laughs]

Are you a rugby fan?

Salford Reds, that’s my rugby team.

How should LGBT+ rugby fans and allies greet the infamously anti-gay Australian rugby player Israel Folau when he’s over here playing against British teams?

We can’t condone any form of discriminating a homophobic, transphobic sexist behaviour in sport at all.

I think we’ve got a role to politically and a fans to make sure that we stamp out any form of discrimination in rugby.

And in football, we still don’t have an openly gay football player. That’s absurd.

What that tells you about that the culture that many players feel that they can’t come out and they can’t be public about how they feel and who they are.

This article is formed from a series of questions put to Rebecca Long-Bailey both on and offstage at the LGBT+ Labour leadership hustings, presented by PinkNews. 

 

More: 2020 Labour leadership, LGBT+ Labour leaders hustings, Manchester, Rebecca long Bailey

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