This week, GAYLIFE Manchester spoke to Manchester Central's parliamentary candidates about issues affecting the LGBT community.
To read the full article and other candidates' responses, click here.
In 2013 MPs voted narrowly in favour of Gay Marriage. Now in 2015, (and still without a single inter-sibling marriage in sight), British politics still appears to be a rather homophobic place. The recent resignation of the UKIP LGBT chair, Tom Booker, who sited a “lack of gay friendly tone” amongst his reasons, seems to prove this. How can today’s politicians engage with the LGBT community more?
Well it doesn’t surprise me that the UKIP LGBT chair found that his party a homophobic place to be. UKIP’s record on gay rights in Europe is appalling and Nigel Farage was an open critic of gay marriage when it was discussed in Parliament. All politicians and political parties have a duty to reach out and engage with all communities but particularly those who may be harder to reach. Manchester is a fantastic city precisely because it is so welcoming and diverse, proud of its support for the LGBT rights. Labour has a good record here – we have lots of LGBT councillors and make a real effort to engage with local people. I think we’ve come an incredibly long way on LGBT rights in the last twenty years and the country and politicians – in the main – are much more tolerant. Yes there are still issues with fringe parties like UKIP and parts of the Conservative Party but the homophobia we saw in the past has reduced markedly although of course there is more still to do. Labour brought about the vast majority of the legislative changes that benefit LGBT people today whether that was civil partnerships, equalising the age of consent, ending the ban on LGBT people in the military, opening up adoption or the Gender Recognition Act. Equal marriage was another important step on the road to equality.Iwas incredibly proud to supportit. I think this is a good example of how politicians can engage with the LGBT community more – equal marriage was a priority for the LGBT community after we achieved civil partnerships and I think the groundswell of support for moving further than this to full equality on marriage was achieved because of the engagement between the LGBT community and politicians.
We regularly hear cases of gay people who seek asylum in Britain, ending up in detention centres with the threat of deportation hanging over them, and having to answer insulting questions to “prove” they are gay. How can this be tackled in a more appropriate manner, whilst maintaining asylum targets set by the government?
Labour are against the government’s net migration target exactly for this reason. We understand the need to control immigration but this needs to be done in a fair way and I do not think that it is fair to include asylum seekers in a figure for net migration. It is a crude way to control immigration and risks punishing people who come to the UK for vital protection from persecution. LGBT people across the world face horrific violence and injustice and we have a moral duty to be a safe haven and to use our international standing to encourage countries to improve LGBT rights. There does seem to be a problem with the implementation of government policy for LGBT asylum seekers. There have been reports of shocking practices such as sexually explicit questioning which is unacceptable. Sometimes the questions asked by the Home Office mean that the applicant is set up to fail and based on a distorted view of what an LGBT lifestyle must look like. It is slightly unusual to ask an asylum seeker living on £5 per day whether they have been visiting gay clubs or buying gay magazines for example. There have also been cases where the Home Office have said that gay people can return to their home country and “live discreetly” meaning to hide their sexuality. This was completely wrong in my mind and was overruled by a Supreme Court judgement. Manchester is renowned for being a gay-friendly city and this is something us Mancunians are very proud of. This is a stark contrast with the situation in other parts of the world where often the rights of LGBT people seem to be being taken away rather than strengthened. I want the UK to be proud of our record on gay rights but also work to promote the rights of LGBT internationally
With homophobic attacks and bullying, seemingly back on the rise throughout the UK, what do you think are the reasons behind this, and what are the best ways to tackle it?
Research by Stonewall has shown that more than half of gay young people have experienced homophobic bullying and that for the majority this affects their school work and can impact on their self-esteem and ambitions. These young people are often more likely to self-harm and contemplate suicide. Over a third of gay pupils still feel unable to speak out when they are bullied. I think that it is absolutely vital to challenge homophobia in schools through education. Labour has a plan to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying. We would ensure that all new teachers are trained to tackle homophobic bullying; provide support for those teachers already in the system to receive training to tackle homophobic bullying; make age appropriate sex and relationships education compulsory in all schools; promote mental health services for young people living with the consequences of homophobic bullying and provide a national best practice ‘toolkit’ to equip schools with the resources to tackle Homophobic, Biphobic and Transphobic bullying. We also need to make sure that people feel confident in services like the Police when they are reporting crimes and we need to create a culture that is clear that homophobiais not acceptable. Increasingly bullying takes place online through social media and we need to be clear that bullying online is not acceptable either and make sure that agencies like the Police are able to deal with this new challenge. Labour have pledged to toughen up the law around hate crime.
In the event of another coalition government, which party do you see yourselves working with the most effectively, and why?
In my role as vice chair of Labour’s general election campaign I am working hard campaigning for a Labour majority. Labour have a clear set of policies we believe in and it is now our job to sell them to the country. We believe Britain succeeds when working families succeed and we’ll be taking that message out to the electorate during the campaign.
It seems like we are ‘sleepwalking’ our way out of the EU. Is it still important for the UK to remain, or has the passage of time made the EU irrelevant for modern Britain?
As the world becomes a smaller place with globalisation and mass travel the EU has become more not less relevant. Yet under David Cameron there is a real danger of “sleepwalking” our way out of Europe. David Cameron has shown that he is weak in the face of his Eurosceptic backbenchers and UKIP defectors and as a result, Britain has become more isolated and less influential under his watch. I’m very clear that we benefit from our membership of the European Union and we are stronger together. British business relies on our trade with EU states and although there are reforms we would like to see in the EU to make the Union more effective and more focused on dealing with the problems we face our membership of the EU far outweighs any negatives.
Manchester’s homelessness crisis is getting worse. You cannot walk down a street anywhere in the city without being approached at least twice. There’s not enough night shelters and those there are, are overcrowded and undermanned. How do we tackle this head on as a community?
There has been a big rise in homelessness under this government and the hugely unfair cuts to Council budgets like Manchester means there is even less money to support people who need it. Between 2010/11 and 2015/16, Manchester has experienced the eighth biggest cut per resident to its spending power out of all councils in England – this equates to £311.94 less per head whilst some Councils in the affluent south have received no cuts at all. I have met with homeless services in my constituency including the fantastic Chapter One The Limes and heard about the increasing challenges they face trying to support homeless people. One of the things that they have noticed is that more and more people are receiving benefit sanctions when they have done little or nothing wrong and this can have a devastating effect on homeless people. The Tory Lib-Dem government have set targets for jobcentres to issue sanctions and this means that many people are being sanctioned simply to meet targets. This is a completely unacceptable way to treat people and Labour have said that they would scrap benefit sanctions targets
Now that the economy is on the mend, can we expect to see grants for some of Manchester’s most important LGBT and AIDS charities re-emerge?
The truth is that Tory Lib Dem cuts to Manchester Council’s budget has been huge and unfair and the result is that vital services are at threat. The economy has eventually started to improve but this improvement will not be shared fairly under the Tory plans. Tory cuts to Councils like ours cut the very support that many groups like this rely on. If the cuts had been fairer and more balanced across the country Manchester City Council would have had a million pounds more per week to spend on services.
LGBT events in the city, allegedly receive grants of far less value than those given to other events. For example ‘Manchester Day’ and ‘Chinese New Year’. Why is this?
I am very proud to represent such a diverse and interesting constituency. Manchester Pride is an incredibly popular and successful event which honours LGBT people in MCR and promotes the village and the city in general and something which we are very proud of here. I don’t know the figures for the grants received by the range of events that take place in Manchester but I have been proud to attend Pride with my children. I think it is important to celebrate the huge strides forward in this country but also to acknowledge how much more there is to do around the world.
Labour plan to make LGBT-inclusive sex education compulsory in schools. How would that be enforced with teachers who do not agree or those with religious arguments?
Promoting, supporting and observing the rights of minority groups, including LGBT people, are exactly the sort of values that we should be teaching the next generation. Labour’s plans place the importance of respect for each other, whatever a person’s sexual orientation, at the heart of our children’s development. We’ve had a number of opportunities in this Parliament to strengthen sex and relationship education but the Tories and Lid Dems have not supported this. It is disappointing that the Tories have not supported Labour’s plans on the teaching of sex and relationships in schools.
Finally, can you sum up for us, why members of the Manchester LGBT community should vote for you on May 7th?
Throughout my life I have been a passionate supporter of LGBT rights and have championed equal marriage, adoption rights, support for LGBT children and the right to be free from discrimination at work and in public. The Labour Party has been at the forefront of the fight for change and will continue to do so. Labour’s record in government shows our commitment to LGBT rights- an equal age of consent, the right to adopt children, scrapping the homophobic Section 28 (Clause 2a in Scotland), banning discrimination in the workplace, creating civil partnerships and backing gay marriage and allowing Trans people to have their true gender recognised in law. Ed Miliband recently announced a pardon for anyone convicted under old homosexuality laws. This acknowledgment that their convictions were wrong would be a powerful symbol of acceptance for their families. There is much more to do and I will continue to take up the fight for LGBT rights.