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History has taught us that our hard-won rights can be easily eroded – an attack on one is an attack on all


4 min read

History is a powerful teacher that returns again and again until we learn the lessons.

As we reflect on the past, the present and the future, it’s important to acknowledge that although we have accrued an impressive array of rights and protections it is not our generation that has achieved them. They have been achieved across thousands of generations of women and men – and yes, trans women and trans men – who were brave enough to rise up and be counted. 

It is often said that we stand on the shoulders of giants – a wonderful image, but I disagree. These people were not giants. They were ordinary women and men who would not stand by and would not remain silent. Across thousands of generations they gave their liberty, their futures, their livelihoods and in some instances their lives. They stepped forward and it is we who have lifted them to the status of giants in order that we may revere them. 

Never barter away the rights of another because in time your rights will be targeted too

These people used that which rests inside each and every one of us: courage, imagination and connection. And once those three elements are combined it makes us unstoppable. Because of them – over a thousand generations – we approach equality and because of them we must defend and promote what we have. 

We must remember above all else that human rights and civil liberties are not forever protected and secured in steel and cement – they rest upon a bed of sand which can be easily eroded. All human rights are connected, they are like a house of cards, take one away and eventually the whole lot will come tumbling down. Never, I repeat, never barter away the rights of another because in time your rights will be targeted too. I see this happening now, as shamefully some – even within the LGB community – sacrifice the rights of trans women and trans men instead of focusing on where the debate should be: the defence of rights. 

We are all interconnected, indeed each of us can face multiple discrimination, which is why we need to be as concerned with Islamophobia, antisemitism, misogyny, racism – to name but a few – as we are concerned with discrimination and hatred on the grounds of LGBT+.

In the darkness of AIDS, HIV and Section 28, appalling language was used to portray us as a threat and we fought back. I am a proud co-founder of Stonewall – born out of the battle against Section 28 – and I am gargantuanly proud of Stonewall’s inclusion of trans rights and their defence of trans women and trans men and their families.

This is extremely important because equality reinforces the rights of another – it does not diminish them – the equal protection of the law and the equal obligation to the law protects us all.
But the opponents of equality never go away – and their attack upon one is ultimately an attack upon us all. 

There must be an end to the culture war which is destructive and harms the most vulnerable, with the language used misrepresenting minorities as a threat. The reformed Gender Recognition Act (GRA) in Scotland is a positive step forward – harming no one – and the language used to misrepresent it is dangerous. We must reform the GRA in England and in Wales, and also ensure fully inclusive relationship and sex education in our schools.

And the time is shamefully overdue for an inclusive ban on conversion therapy.

We have nothing to fear from equality but history reminds us that we have everything to fear from those that stereotype, dehumanise and portray others as a threat. 


Lord Cashman, Labour peer and founder of Stonewall.

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