Cross-Party support is vital to refine legislative measures that will give protection from discrimination
Until recently the UK was a world leader in the defence of minorities and equality before the law. This LGBTQ+ history month, we must remember rights and freedoms are achieved across thousands of generations and must be guarded and protected.
I recently took part in a discussion for BBC’s Newsround and a sixteen year-old asked what I learnt about LGBT+ history when I was growing up?
It was sad to recall that there were no positive references to LGBT+ people, we only existed in scandal sheets where we were misrepresented and stereotyped.
I said that I had lived most of my life without any protection from discrimination and that just being gay could lose you your job, your home, your place in your community and indeed in some instances you could lose your liberty. He was shocked; it was a world he and most of his generation could not understand.
So, I told him also of the time before the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, of the arrests, the threats, and the joys of the bars and clubs that we could call our own – sometimes for one night only – where we could be ourselves.
The heady happy days after the swinging sixties when flower power was raging and how when our community was hit by a mysterious virus in the 1980’s we were not offered support or understanding but instead portrayed as a threat.
AIDS and HIV were dubbed by the media, pundits and some politicians as ‘the gay plague’. Onto the back of this came the first anti LGB law in a hundred years, ‘Section 28’, a measure designed to force us underground. Instead we as a community with our allies fought back for equality.
Russell T Davies brilliantly revisits 1980’s AIDS/HIV pandemic in ‘It’s a Sin’ and reality hits home.
But for me, this isn’t a history lesson. My late husband, Paul Cottingham, and I lived through it and I have revisited it in my memoir, One of Them. I’ve remembered my feelings of disbelief as illness struck down one after another and we took comfort in the arms of friends – and, in some lucky instances, families – whilst others disappeared to die a quiet death.
It is vital we continue working cross-party to refine legislative measures that will give protection from discrimination for all people.
There has been enormous progress, but there is no single progressive line on equalities and some commentators and politicians are dangerously rowing back already.
Until recently the UK was a world leader in the defence of minorities and equality before the law. Yet over the last year in particular I have noticed changing tone and tack as Ministers start to redefine or ridicule equality, ditching or cutting back on previously promised provisions whilst calling out others as ‘wokes’ or ‘fighting cultural battles’.
The governmental three-year prevarication over reform of the Gender Recognition Act created a vacuum which has been filled with myth, stigmatisation and defamation of trans-people including trans-teenagers and it shows no sign of abating.
Equality is portrayed as a threat. Yet the simple reality of equality is that we all live by the same laws, abide by the same rules, and enjoy the same equal protection of the law.
We must sanction law breakers and those who transgress and let everyone else get on with their lives, becoming their true selves and living freely and openly in society. Nobody has anything to fear from equality before the law.
It is vital we continue working cross-party to refine legislative measures that will give protection from discrimination for all people. I have done this with the Policing and Crime Act (2017) seeking to widen the disregards and pardons and the Armed Forces Bill (2021) (Common’s Briefing) extending posthumous pardons.
History teaches many things; rights and freedoms are achieved across thousands of generations and must be guarded and protected. It also teaches us that if you feed intolerance eventually it will eat you too.
One of Them, a unique story of rags to riches, love and LGBT+ history in Britain, told by Lord Cashman is available from the 18th February 2021. You can pre-order a copy here.