This is a key moment in history – we must support all the oppressed and victimised

I have felt numb over the past few weeks, shocked that police could act in the way they did in the United States, but then worried as the Black Lives Matter debate took hold in the United Kingdom. Not worried about the protests – it is our democratic right to protest and question, even during a pandemic. But I was worried about what this would mean for the wider equality debate.

I am an openly homosexual white man, I state that because I am well aware of my privilege, my social scorecard only reducing when people realise that I am more effeminate and then gay. I have known ignorance and bigotry for most of my adult life, and, yes, it does still exist within our Liberal Democrat party.

I grew up with Section 28 wrapped around my neck, preventing holistic age-appropriate sexual education to take place, but, more importantly, protection from educators in my school environment. I felt constantly worried and sometimes terrified about going into school, with my teachers unable to discuss the root of my feelings. I remained ‘closeted’ until I went to university in 1999. However, I still struggled and only embraced myself after I turned 20. I am proud of who I am and what I am – something that still, to this day, many in the LGBT-plus community struggle with.

I am old enough to remember the protests against Section 28, the fight for the equalisation of the age of consent and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, that still rages on today, 40 million deaths and counting. I also remember with horror the nail bomb attack on the Admiral Duncan Public House in the Spring of 1999. This came alongside the bombing of Brick Lane and Brixton, also in London, by a far-right fanatic. We didn’t flinch as a country in opposing the hatred that was unleashed, not just on the minority communities, but as we saw it as an attack on the entire country.

So what has changed in 21 years? We have had a tsunami of bigotry delivered to the people of this country by our print and broadcast news media. The internet has opened up, allowing opinions on every point of the debate to be seen with equal weight. We have lost faith in our experts. Education has become a vice, in a country that has struggled with its identity in this new century.

The European Union referendum in 2016 took the Pandora’s box that had been systematically bashed (to get it open) for the preceding 20 years, and ripped the lid off altogether. That debate has consumed our country for 4 years and divided us like never before, and patriotism has become a watchword for the Leavers/Brexiteers/Nationalists alike. I wish to say right now that I am a patriot, I love my country and will fight to preserve our democracy and way of life, however I am no nationalist.

We now see ourselves at a crossroads as a country, whether it be Black Lives Matter, historical statues of slave owners, Churchill and his flawed existence, or transsexual rights. I hope to be on the right side of history – not because I can be or should be, but simply because I will always stand up for, and next to, the minority view. I will protect those oppressed and victimised for nothing more than the colour of their skin or who they chose to love. – Because our fights are not exclusive but they are bound together. To be accused of virtue signalling at this moment in time, does the weight of the issues being protested and debated a disservice, and merely highlights the accuser’s own ignorance and privilege.

I urge you all to look past the pandemic, past the right and wrongs of seemingly lawless acts and note that this is a moment in history that we will all be judged on. Support those calling for help. It is, after all, the Liberal way.

* Simon Lepori has been a member since 2015, has stood at local council and parliamentary elections and has been a local party officer and key campaigner working alongside Cllr Jane Brophy during her Greater Manchester Mayoral and Euro Election campaigns. He is currently a member of LGBT+ Lib Dems, and is working on the NHS frontline during the Covid crisis.

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Jun '20 - 12:14pm

    A fine piece, thanks Simon and appreciation for your work in this crisis, in health services.

    I do not agree with the over use of that word privilege, in one sense. I think what is as a word, appropriate is, advantage, and here is my thought often on that. Privileges are rare and held by elitists. If much of a country is white, and many of those are poor, and few are black and many of those are poor, do not the black poor and the white poor share more, than not?

    Privilege is not felt if partly disadvantaged, or mostly.

    I have been highly educated, but, due to personal circumstances, a car accident, change of work, loss of house,
    have struggled. I am not privileged to be white. If it is felt i am, it implies that white under all circumstances is better than black. This is why also, that word is misused in my view. It is not my privilege to say it or that speaks thus. It is my egalitarianism!

    I spent much of my school years defending my best friends who were called gay, as an insult, or wiping off national front graffiti because it disgusted me.

    I marched to free Mandela, heard Tutu and many speak, and work on issues against prejudice. I did not do these because of my privilege but because of my sense of equality and kinship.

    I am at an advantage because I am white sometimes if confronted with a racist. As I never encounter them , I have not been aware of being white as other than being me which is being aware that my being white is not what defines me.

  • Wish someone would focus on a here and now issue like the Windrush Generation. How many are still in limbo and why is it taking so long to give people who came here as kids 50 years ago the right to stay? Would have liked to hear Pritti Patel taken to task on that rather than going on about bloody statues. Oh sorry that’s not an agit prop issue.

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