Opinion: A new member’s views on equality

We have heard Nick and Tim’s comments on advancing women by means of all female shortlists. In many ways this is admirable but it’s arguably discriminatory. Firstly it reflects the outdated, but still common, view of gender in terms of men and women when it fact gender variance is far broader; we should be and are the party of the androgynous, gender queer, intersex and all other genders, however by not including them we exclude them, discrimination by omission.

Secondly we are a broad party and need to ensure that all can truly fulfil their potential regardless of whether they fall within the protected characteristics of the Equality Act or not. Yes there may be, and I would argue are, more obstacles for some groups than other but that does not mean that anyone group should be prioritised thus creating or reinforcing “a hierarchy of diversity”
I have often heard and indeed even today heard that it is easier and more effective to focus on one issue and when we have got that right to move on to others. The problem with this thinking is at least twofold.

We have been working on Race and Gender equality since the 70s and neither has yet been fully achieved how much longer do we give these issues to be “cracked”, 10 years, 20 and what happens to the other issues long left on the back burner. Yes lets advance race and gender issues but let us work to remove all barriers for all groups and if that means slowing down race and gender for the good of others then let’s all be gracious about it.

In addition this view alienates and marginalises other diversity streams (including white heterosexual males). We are the party of fairness and equality and if we do not say so then we will not attract natural Lib Dems to join the party of even vote for us. I have seen a Lib Dem Facebook page refer to anti homo, bi and transphobia polices as being “anti homophobia”. Seeing this simple choice of language, many Bi and Trans people would walk away in disgust. Fortunately for the party the error has been corrected, but this should not happen as when it does it says “you are not important”.

It is therefore time perhaps after the election that we revisit our entire diversity approach. A joint diversity committee bringing the relevant SAOs together for example, a guide and code of practice, but something that recognises at the very least that equality and diversity affect us all from white heterosexual males to a person with multiple protected characteristics. After all I am Trans, a woman, have a sexuality, and multiple disabilities, I also have a race and creed.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I approve of this post.

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordo 7th Nov '14 - 2:14pm

    What Jenny said.

  • For anyone in the party whose refrain for 30+ years has been “there are more options than the two most widely promoted ones that get all the respect and attention”, grokking bisexuality and gender diversity should not be a huge leap of intellect.

  • matt (Bristol) 7th Nov '14 - 3:10pm

    As someone who often feels himself to be at the (small, ill-furbished) socially conservative end of the party, I am surprised by how much I agree with this post.

    I am self-critical enough to naievely hope that I would feel the same way about it if the references to white, heteresoexual males were not there, but I cannot be sure of this.

  • Gemma Roulston 7th Nov '14 - 4:58pm

    I fully agree with this post. It is interesting that there is a Diversity Engagement Group – which all equality strands (LGBT+, race, gender, disability and youth) are represented and that is supposed to be making sure that we are more inclusive. Yet, you hardly ever hear about it, its work, who its members are etc.
    Language is important, and yet people still get things wrong. Homophobic tweets from the party don’t help.
    Access is not just about getting into buildings, it is also about access to information etc.
    Women are getting more support and success with Gender Balance taskforce and Lib Dem Women, LGBT+ have had success with equal marriage. But what about a race strategy? Or a age strategy (youth as well as senior citizens), Disability strategy anyone – not likely with this Party. We don’t seem to care about other characteristics except those that might get us votes. Hello, think about 6million carers, 10 million disabled people etc..
    Not sure which Presidential candidate is going to improve things for people with disabilities.

  • Shirley Campbell 8th Nov '14 - 1:03am


    Thank you Lauren for your contribution and for demonstrating the fact that there are still some true modern day Liberals out there. YOU CATEGORISE ; YOU CRUCIFY.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 8th Nov '14 - 9:14am

    From my experience Lauren’s opinion will win much support from those who have not worked within the equalities arena, for what Lauren says should make sense, but…..

    Sadly the introduction of a need for a single equality strategy, instead of stand alone strategies covering the individual Protected Characteristics (and including the crossover issues), has actually meant that overall many of the issues have been, if not ignored, then certainly watered down.

    Unfortunately we seem to have got ourselves in our Party into a place, where if someone speaks out in favour of one strand within the Equality Act, 2010, then they are liable to be accused of flagrantly ignoring others, and worse. This is not only nonsensical and self defeating, but frankly is not the case most of the time, although I admit that it is clear on occasions that some people appear to believe in “four legs good, two legs better!”, but then we can still seek clarification without using abuse and negative innuendos.

    Those of us who are genuinely supportive of the need for change, and are working to this end, I would suggest may benefit from working far closer together, for as Lauren has highlighted we all represented across many strands of diversity, and differing intolerances will impact on us at differing times. Unity amongst the SAO’s also brings greater influence, and the ability to create the change that we wish to see.

    We benefit in my opinion from supporting our colleagues championing a solo issue, for in doing so all benefit, the acceptance of intolerance is pushed back another yard, and therefor everyone benefits.

    Let us not allow our liberal beliefs to stop us from being ‘intolerant of intolerance’, for if we remain committed to a belief in evolutionary change alone, the intolerable abuses that far too many people needlessly suffer from will continue.

    In the Liberal Democrat Party, we profess fabulous principles, so the seeds of change have existed for decades, so we simply require a revolutionary approach to tackling inequality, which means doing something, and now would be the appropriate time I would suggest.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera

    Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat (EMLD) – Vice Chair

  • Shirley Campbell 8th Nov '14 - 1:27pm

    The fundamental liberal tenet of fairness and equality is not negotiable, ever. No group of whatever race, creed or doctrine should ever be encouraged and aided to gain prominence over any other group.

  • Zoe O'connell 8th Nov '14 - 2:11pm

    I share the concerns aired above about the DEG – it does not have a high profile in the party at a time when it really should do. It does not surprise me that new members don’t know about it given that, even as someone who has been on the executive of a diversity SAOfor a few years I hardly hear mention of it.

    Perhaps work is needed by someone in HQ to increase the profile and effectiveness of DEG? I am not sure who, because I do not know who the DEG is accountable to – it’s certainly not the (S)AOs, but it strikes me that those are exactly the groups it SHOULD be accountable to.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Nov '14 - 3:39pm

    Lauren this is a good article, but as someone who has been banging my head against a wall for two and a half years on this topic, even moving left on it in a desperate attempt to find some common ground, my experience is that some influential extremists aren’t willing to budge an inch and simply don’t listen.

    By now we know all the arguments, but some aren’t listening, so we have no choice but to undermine them and remove them from power.

    Best of luck.

  • I seem to be the only one, but I found this post rather confused.

    >>Firstly it reflects the outdated, but still common, view of gender in terms of men and women when it fact gender variance is far broader

    Yes, I am aware of that. I don’t see why we can’t simply have non-male shortlists instead of all female shortlists. This is a good policy, seeking to bring greater balance to our party; it just needs to be broader to account for the gross over-representation of men.

    >> Yes there may be, and I would argue are, more obstacles for some groups than other but that does not mean that anyone group should be prioritised thus creating or reinforcing “a hierarchy of diversity”

    Women are over 50% of the UK population, but come nowhere close to that in Lib Dem positions of power. For me, that women are so grossly represented means that it *does* make it the most important issue. That is not to say that we should not be working on other areas of diversity (we should; urgently), but that this is the biggest mountain we have to climb. Special help must be given to women who face further marginalisation as a result of their ethnicity or sexuality, for example.

    >> we are a broad party and need to ensure that all can truly fulfil their potential regardless of whether they fall within the protected characteristics of the Equality Act or not

    I am not sure if I am reading this correctly, but my interpretation is that you are arguing for some sort of merit-based system; this has served us very badly so far, and is a complete cop out for several reasons. One, certain groups (white, elite men) are more likely to be seen to hold the characteristics that are traditionally desired when choosing candidates . Two, on a practical level, merit-based systems assume that everyone begins at the same starting line, but they don’t. If that were the case the HoC would be far more diverse than it is now. Wealthier people, for example, will be able to spend more money campaigning to get selected. Some groups have unfair advantages that must be corrected for. I apologise if I have mis-read you, though.

    Overall, this post does not seem to be advocating much of anything to fix what amounts to quite a substantial problem.

    (By the way, I am a cis woman, but I was also raised on benefits by a single mum, and I have a disability, so I do know that other groups can be marginalised)

  • Lauren SALERNO 10th Nov '14 - 5:00pm

    Thanks to all those who have commented

    Eddie I agree there are vested interests but that is understandable though not desirable

    Natalie I agree on your first point but see below. As for your second point by that thinking the smallest minorities would have to wait for a very long time to achieve equality. One of the principles of diversity and in law is not the size of the group but the proportional impact. Therefore if a policy affect 1 in 10 women but 1 in 1 of trans people the proportional impact is greater on that strand, I would argue that we work on this principle. Thirdly I for the sake of brevity did not explain what I meant by “removing all the barriers”. This for me would include and has to include reviewing and reforming all structures and systems currently in place. As these were originally designed by and for white middle class men then they may not be appropriate today. However we cannot build new structures around any specific group or groups rather find one that is suitable for all or more likely least unsuitable for all

    Ruwan I by and large agree with you and am no fan of single equality strands which are ineffective. However as I hope I at least intimated all strands need to come together and agree on how to work together to ensure mutual advancement. At this moment in time I doubt the party could really support a Trans PCC and so this may not be up for consideration (yet) however it certainly needs to raise its awareness of Trans issues. Between the strands we could agree and work together on joint priorities

  • Shirley Campbell 12th Nov '14 - 2:05pm

    Oh my Lauren, don’t bother to respond to me because I am a so-called “girlie”,with long hair and long legs and so do not justify anything like an acknowledgement.

    Seemingly, there is a category of women who do not qualify to be considered as new members of the Liberal Democrat machine. Do we cut our hair and cut our legs off at ankle level? Certainly, my local Constituency Office is bloated by self-satisfied articles who seek to promote “their brand” of Liberalism.

    I do not care; I have never cared a care and I will be a LIBERAL until the day I die. LIFE, LIBERTY AND PROPERTY.

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