PRIDE AND POLITICS
Welcome to our latest newsletter!
With the election on the horizon this newsletter includes the 'greatest hits' of our most recent interviews. An article from patron Peter Gibson MP, news on our letter regarding Ukraine and even more!
Keep an eye out, tomorrow you'll receive the nomination papers for the election..
Elena Bunbury, Chair and Editor
Full interviews linked below
STEVE BAKER MP
Back in 2013 you voted against equal marriage but I think I’m right in saying that your motivation was more to do with the state’s role in marriage rather than the specifics of gay people getting married? Could you explain a bit more about why you voted the way you did and if you’d do the same thing again?
I am relaxed about same-sex marriage and I have two married same-sex couples as friends. I was proud and humbled to be invited to one couple's wedding recently, which seemed to me a major gesture of forgiveness and reconciliation. The other couple took my wife and me to Vegas some years ago, which was hilarious!
However, many people in Wycombe are not relaxed in the same way. The episode was undoubtedly the most difficult and painful in my entire parliamentary career, without exception, because so many issues of identity, love and faith were engaged. We seem to have forgotten that to be tolerant is to agree to disagree, not to converge on one point of view. We only tolerate that with which we disagree. We ought to rediscover that idea.
That is why I wanted to denationalise marriage. Today when I am lobbied over humanist marriage, I remain convinced it would have been the better way.
The same question will not be put again, however. In hindsight, it would have been better politically to vote in favour. People will note that I did vote for various measures to make the Act work successfully.
In 2017 you attended Wycombe Pride, the first ever Pride event in your constituency. What made you want to attend and was it a turning point in your understanding of our community? We hope you got fully into the spirit and danced with a drag queen or two!
I attended because I was invited by gay friends and I was glad to accept. It was not really a turning point because I was relaxed about the community already. I enjoyed it but I was not popular and I am not a big dancer. Let a thousand flowers bloom!
For those of our members who may not be aware, at the start of each parliamentary session, 20 backbench MPs are selected by lottery to put forward a piece of legislation of their choice, known as a Private Member’s Bill. If you were picked out first in the next ballot for PMBs, what would you put forward?
I never apply in the ballot for various reasons, but if I did and I came out first I would denationalise money.
CRISPIN BLUNT MP
In 2013 you ran into some problems with your local party leading to you being temporarily deselected by your association executive. This happened not long after you made the brave decision to come out as gay. Do you think these events were linked and do you think gay candidates still face prejudice from their selectorates?
They were undoubtedly linked and the people who supported my deselection were unwise enough to say so. That made the ensuing campaign to get the support of the whole Association very straightforward as there was no performance or political positioning issue to address. 86% of local members voted in a secret ballot to endorse an out gay candidate.
I don’t think gay candidates still have to worry about this kind of thing, no.
During the EU referendum in 2016 were keen to reassure people that Brexit would not put LGBT rights at risk. How do you think we can improve the lives of LGBT people in our new place outside the EU?
An important part of our task in this Parliament is to clearly establish what Britain is for outside the EU. Our values must include being leaders on supporting individuals’ rights to be themselves, both in the UK and globally.
Earlier that year you raised eyebrows by stating that you had a history of using poppers during a debate on the ban of legal highs. Do you think the reaction to your comments showed a naivety from the government and wider society about gay culture?
Other than a typical Sun frontpage splash, No. The government’s response was to withdraw the proposed ban on poppers.
ANDREW BOWIE MP
Another unique element of Scottish politics is that the debate around the rights of transgender people became part of the mainstream political conversation much earlier than in the rest of the UK. Why do you think this might be and do you agree with us that health services for trans people across Britain need urgent reform?
I’m not sure why it seems to have gone further or faster in Scotland, but it has, and the debate is being had now. I do struggle with the tone of that debate sometimes; It is such a sensitive topic with feelings running high on both sides, so I do wish that the heat was taken out of it and in making their incredibly valid and important points, both sides treated the other with some more respect.
As you know, you have become somewhat of a heartthrob to many of our members, who have often seen you throwing shapes at our conference parties! Why do you think it’s important to mix with our members, and show up not only when the media is there or for formal events?
Hahaha…I think ‘throwing shapes’ is a generous interpretation of my attempts at dancing! It’s so important to mix with members – not just of your organisation (which does and has done such good work, by the way) but with ALL members. It’s members that deliver leaflets, knock on doors, support us on social media. As MPs, particularly MPs that are in or close to the Party machine or Government, it’s so important to thank people, make the feel appreciated, and in my case, with your parties I can’t resist some cheesy pop!
I also think, on the LGBT+ side, we have come such a long way from the party of Section 28 and all the baggage that came with that – I mean, it is incredible to think that so many Conservative MPs were against equal marriage less than a decade ago! But having so many friends who are out and proud, I know how difficult it can be in the public sphere sometimes, so thanking you guys for the support you give to all those out there who you give a voice to and encourage, is so important.
And I’m very flattered to be a heartthrob for your members!
You’ve done a lot for us over the years, not only publicly but behind the scenes and we’re so thankful that you are such a champion of our community! What actions do you think are needed from Parliament and the government to further protect the rights and freedoms of LGBT+ people?
As I’ve said, we’ve come a long way, but I don’t think we’re yet at a point where people’s sexuality isn’t a question and that’s the point we need to be at if we are ever going to be a truly equal society. So, continuing to promote LGBT+ causes across the country and indeed the world is really important and I 100% think it should continue.
ANDREW BOFF AM
The campaign to legalise cannabis is one that you still speak passionately about. What method do you support, legalisation or decriminalisation, or do you think there is another solution?
I support any solution that protects young people from the damage that drugs can do to them. Decriminalisation goes halfway towards regulation (often called legalisation) but doesn’t really solve the problems of the cannabis supply being in the hands of violent criminals. In many parts of London it is easier for young people to get hold of high-potency cannabis (which can lead to long term mental health issues) than tobacco or alcohol because they are licensed and regulated.
Protecting and representing sex workers has been something you often speak about and advocate for. You’ve shared experiences you’ve had visiting brothels and various establishments where sex work takes place. What do you think is needed to protect the sex workers of London?
Better liaison with the Police and changes in the law to allow sex-workers to work together in safety and outside the control of pimps. The criminalisation of sex-workers and their clients has never worked and just led to them being less safe.
You seem to be a believer in free choice, less state intervention and allowing people to live their lives as they wish. What helped found your liberalism principles and why do you think being a liberal is important?
I heard the word “freedom” a lot growing up, usually from trots and socialists. It occurred to me that for them it was just a word thrown about to gain support because they realised it was a popular concept amongst British people. But when I looked at what they actually believed, liberty was the last thing on their minds. It was all state control and misanthropy. People thrive when they allowed to plough their own furrow.
Moving onto your personal life, you are very openly and proudly gay. In 2005, you were one of the first people in the United Kingdom to enter a same-sex civil partnership. What was the response to this publicly?
Somewhat muted as the local Labour Council had to drop the idea of publicising Hackney’s first Civil Partnership because I would have been in the photo!
CAROLINE NOKES MP
Following the restoration of the whip, you stood for and won the election for Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee. What attracted you to this role?
Oh it is varied, fascinating, and as a cross cutting committee it means there is not a single part of Government business I cannot go and scrutinise. I have discovered I am a much better poacher than gamekeeper. I love it - 10 years into my parliamentary career I finally found my niche.
Despite your current strong support for LGBT rights, particularly trans rights, you voted against equal marriage in 2013. What led you to that decision and do you regret it?
First and foremost I don’t think the newly divorced should ever be allowed to opine on the subject of marriage. At that time I could not comprehend why marriage mattered, and was very heavily swayed by the volume of correspondence I received from constituents. I would not make the same mistake again.
A number of your colleagues such as Nadine Dorries, Alun Cairns and Colonel Bob Stewart have also spoken of how they regret voting against equal marriage. Do you think it’s important to be forgiving of those who admit they were wrong and apologise in order to achieve equality?
Yes - and we need to recognise that people’s views change - we learn more, understand more.
When did you first start to take an interest in trans rights and what do you think encouraged you to become such an outspoken and fearless supporter?
Listening to the voices of trans people, who all too often are the most marginalised, the most likely to be abused, the most likely to be discriminated against at work, bullied at school. I can remember a trans activist in my constituency, Andi, coming to see me absolutely years ago and listening to their story and the stories of the people they represented. I simply don’t comprehend why people are so hostile and so unaccepting. I am always very honest about my own knowledge gaps, and owe a huge debt to organisations like Mermaids and Stonewall, who have been incredibly helpful and allowed me to ask lots of questions without judgment.
THE PLAN TO END NEW HIV CASES BY 2030
By Peter Gibson MP
As Conservatives we can be proud of the momentum our Government is building toward the goal of ending new cases of HIV by 2030. Not only was it a Conservative Government that made this global UNAIDS target national policy, we have put our words into action: fully funding the roll out of PrEP in sexual health clinics and making £20 million available to normalise HIV testing in 20 plus Emergency Departments.
Our HIV Action Plan published on World AIDS Day 2021 will oversee progress on prescription-free PrEP being made available from GPs and pharmacies, better testing in local communities and prisons, and much more besides. Taken together these measures aim to see an 80 per cent reduction in new diagnoses by 2025, a key milestone according to the HIV Commission which included former minister Steve Brine MP.
To keep the pressure up on ourselves, the health secretary will report annually to Parliament on the progress toward the 2025 and 2030 goal. We could well be the first country to end new cases of HIV in this way, I hope the Health Secretary is surveying the nations hot on our heels which includes Australia and France, so we learn best practice before it is too late.
I was proud to support National HIV Testing Week in February and show how quick and easy it is to test. Scaling up testing is a crucial part of work to reach the 2030 goal. I know colleagues are keen to get opt-out HIV testing in another 35 A&Es too, not an arbitrary figure but enough to cover all areas of high HIV prevalence. GPs in these places should be offering HIV tests too.
I personally am worried about how Covid has impacted HIV treatment. The latest HIV figures show a 20 per cent increase in the numbers of those diagnosed with HIV lost to care or follow up. This is bad for the individual as they are very likely not to be taking their medication – this means the virus could be attacking their immune system and it risks them being able to pass on the virus. We cannot let this persist or become a trend. I know HIV organisations like Terrence Higgins Trust, National AIDS Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation are keen to press this point and get action. They need our support.
My hope is that it was not just a Conservative Government that has focused the country towards the 2030 goal, but it is a Conservative Government in power when it is achieved. Let’s make that happen.
COUNCIL MEMBER OF THE MONTH
"Rhys has done some brilliant work this month, representing us at an area conference. He continues to put himself forward to be the face of our organisation, whilst also sharing his own personal insights and lessons. He's a great addition to the team."