This Saturday will see Bristol at its very best. In the morning the heart of our city will be filled with music, colour, affirmation and celebration, as people from across Bristol’s wonderful lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community will take to the streets in the annual Bristol Pride parade. In the afternoon on the Downs, the party will continue with the Pride Festival, and celebrations will no doubt continue well into the night. I wish everyone who has organised, and volunteered for this year’s festival and all the previous ones, a very happy 10th anniversary of Pride. I’ll see you at the parade.
There is much to celebrate. This week, Parliament voted overwhelmingly to support equal marriage in Northern Ireland. I was so proud to vote in favour of this important change, and I pay tribute to Conor McGinn MP and Love Equality Northern Ireland activists who have fought so hard to overturn this injustice. This is not the end of the road; there are still a number of stages to go before this becomes law. But it is an important step that on Tuesday voted by a majority of 310 to correct this injustice where LGBT people across the UK still do not enjoy equal rights – 5 years on from the first same-sex marriage ceremonies in England, Wales and Scotland.
For my entire career, I have campaigned for compulsory relationships and sex education (RSE) in schools, which is fully LGBT-inclusive, and I was pleased to be part of the team that made this law two years ago. I was delighted that earlier this year, Parliament voted in favour of new guidelines which make clear schools’ responsibilities to teach young people about sexuality, gender identity and healthy relationships.
While it is vital to acknowledge the progress we have made, I am acutely aware that Pride is not just a celebration, but also a campaigning event. This year, 50 years after the Stonewall riots that gave birth to the modern pride movement, a spirit of protest and of standing up for LGBT rights has never felt more central to the message of pride.
In Birmingham, for example, campaign groups have whipped up hatred and subjected headteachers who have promoted inclusive RSE lessons to appalling and abusive protests. I utterly condemn this misrepresentation of what it means to teach people about healthy relationships. I was disgusted that candidates for the Tory leadership contest endorsed this overt homophobia. As my colleague Angela Eagle MP, the second out lesbian MP, recently said in Parliament, as a Labour MP I will not allow these protests to usher in a return to the days of section 28.
Globally, we have seen minorities’ rights – and especially LGBT communities – become objects of attack for homophobic and misogynistic regimes. From Donald Trump, to Vladimir Putin, to Jair Bolsonaro, lesbians, gay people, bisexuals and trans people have seen their rights and their safety put at risk.
In April, when Brunei implemented a new penal code which sanctioned the death penalty for gay sex, and permitted horrible violence for lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, people across Bristol West were – rightly – outraged. I immediately secured a Parliamentary debate to call on the government to stand up to Brunei – to refuse to allow a country which is part of the Commonwealth, and with which we have long-standing economic and strategic links to behave in a way that is so detrimental to our values. Thanks to parliamentary pressure, and superb campaigning work from LGBT and human rights charities, Brunei have agreed not to implement the code – through the battle remains to have these laws removed from the statute book, not just left unenforced.
It is in this context that my work between now and Bristol Pride 2020 will focus on how we – as a country – can bring true equality to all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people across the world. I have followed closely the Bristol Bisons’ #KeepKenHome campaign and, though I am not Ken’s MP, I have and will continue to support LGBT people in similar situations. I am inspired by the solidarity shown by Bristol’s LGBT sporting community. The issue is a serious one, with wide-ranging implications for government. The Home Office should not be threatening deportation of people to countries that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office do not consider to be safe for LGBT British travellers. I will be working in my capacity as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Refugees to look at what reforms need to take place, so we have an asylum system that is trusted by the LGBT community.
So we must – of course – celebrate the progress we have made towards an equal society. But it also needs to be affirmed and protected. I will always endeavour to be an ally to the lesbian, gay, bi and trans community in Bristol, and will always welcome your suggestions and ideas about how we can make Bristol – and the world – a more equal place. In the meantime, I wish everyone reading this a very happy Bristol Pride.