International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia: We’ll never stop fighting for equality

Six years ago, when I was Equalities Minister, I was due to attend a celebration of International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). My colleague, Lynne Featherstone, who was instrumental to the Same Sex Marriage Bill, had worked up a document that called for action on LGBT+ rights and which was to be signed by a dozen European Ministers at this event.

In the months leading up to it, the Conservatives were copied in on the different versions and didn’t say a word. So we all thought they were fine with it all.

But then, suddenly, just three days before I was supposed to travel and sign the document on behalf of the UK, I was told I could no longer go and we wouldn’t be signing the pledge that we had written…

I asked why, but no reason or rationale was given. I offered to look into making changes to the pledge so that it might become palatable to the Conservatives. We had advisers working on finding a way through, and we even asked if Nick could speak to Cameron, but the Prime Minister was out of the country and we just didn’t have enough time. So I didn’t go, and we didn’t sign it.

Just a few days later, the Same Sex Marriage Bill came back to the House of Commons for Report Stage. And I thought that that must have been the reason why the Conservatives had suddenly changed their minds. They knew they had a few difficult days ahead with their backbenchers and didn’t want to ruffle any more feathers when they needed the votes to get the Bill through. Fair enough, I thought.

The solution was obvious. We would just sign the pledge a few months later, with less fanfare. So I went back and asked again. And again, I was told no. In fact, the following year while I was on maternity leave, Jenny Willott was also prevented from attending the same IDAHOBIT event.

That’s when it became obvious. This wasn’t just about unfortunate timing. While for us the Same Sex Marriage Bill is still to this day one of our proudest Coalition achievements, we recognised then and still do now that so much more needs to be done to protect the rights of the LGBT+ community – both here in the UK and all around the world. Same Sex Marriage was a huge win, on a long journey.

But for the Conservatives, the Bill was all they needed to do to be able to say they’d done something for LGBT+ rights. Another box ticked, and there was no need to upset the dinosaurs on their backbenches any more for the sake of equality.

This is exactly why the UK is in such desperate need for a strong liberal movement. For us equality isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have, and we’ll never stop fighting for it.

* Jo Swinson is Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire, and was a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Equalities Minister from 2012-15.

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4 Comments

  • Martin Land 17th May '19 - 6:43pm

    Great work, Jo. But it’s not what’s being discussed at locals or on doorsteps across the country. I hear you may want to be our next leader. I hope you are not going to be like Theresa May and see your new role as trying to get through unfinished business from your days as a minister. Let’s hear your views on the Economy, the increasing inter-generational conflict, housing and the environment. So far, my impression of you is that of a one-trick pony. Let’s see and here other sides to you, please.

  • OnceALibDem 17th May '19 - 9:58pm

    “This is exactly why the UK is in such desperate need for a strong liberal movement.”

    But what did this strong liberal movement acheive in this story. Other than roll over.

    “For us equality isn’t a nice-to-have, ”

    This story shows that equality was exactly that. A nice to have that wasn’t worth fighting hard for in coalition.

    Where was the strategy here? Was this story leaked? Did you get an awkward squad back bencher to ask some awkward questions or tee up any friendly journalists to do similar. All those things could have been done rather than just accepting it had to be the way the Tories wanted.

    This seems to have happened several times and no Lib Dem ministers had the political skills to deal with it. If you want to be leader what have you learnt from this and how would you do it differently if you had a do over.

  • Nom de Plume 19th May '19 - 4:53pm

    Excellent article, Jo. Some have axes to grind.

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