Attitude from elected politicians shows we cannot let up in our pursuit of equal rights

Newly-elected MEP Jane Brophy welcomes Mancunians to join the fight for equality this weekend.

I represent a party, and a city, which has led the fight for equal rights for several decades, and I’m immensely proud of that.

As a Liberal Democrat, I was part of the fight to repeal Section 28, which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities and in schools. And in 1994, we unanimously supported lowering the age of consent to 16 for same-sex relationships. 

Then, just as now, the Liberal Democrats were ahead of the curve compared to other political parties. Despite Conservative attempts in Parliament, we supported the Adoption and Children Act of 2002, which allowed same-sex couples to adopt children.

Even today, we see resistance from other parties to further equal rights and it breaks my heart. When I heard Labour MP Roger Godsiff recently voice his support for protesters opposed to lessons about LGBTQ people being taught in primary schools, I was speechless.

Though it is not surprising to hear opposition to equal rights, it is seriously misplaced in elected office. 

We’ve had enormous various victories in achieving equal marriage and repealing ancient, prejudiced laws but we have faced stiff opposition from other parties in both chambers of the House to get there.

It’s this type of attitude which means that we cannot let up in our pursuit of equal rights.

It’s also why it’s not enough to talk about our record in the past, but also what we’re doing now to promote equality for the LGBTQ community.

We now want to see businesses with more than 250 employees record and publish data on BAME and LGBT employees, not just gender. We have to end the completely unfounded blood donation rules based on sexuality rather than science. Gay and bi-sexual men are still excluded from donating blood despite their being no proof that they are ‘contaminated’.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Far from it, in fact. The heroic Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone worked day-and-night for over a year to introduce the Equal Marriage Bill in 2013, which finally granted people of the same sex to marry.

A little closer to home, the always-fervent John Leech dedicated much of his time in Parliament to implementing what now seems like such obvious laws, but at the time were met with huge opposition. Thanks to his work, homophobic chanting at football matches is now illegal and a game-changing inquiry into homophobic bullying at schools meant that thousands of children had their voices heard for the first time.

And this weekend, like every year since 1985, Manchester Pride will take place.

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It’s no coincidence that Manchester should play host to the country’s longest running Pride event. As a city, it’s one which places unique importance on the values of love and tolerance of all people. Our open doors have made Manchester the thriving metropolis that we see today.

Millions of people from across the world have visited our iconic Gay Village, and this weekend will be no different. Pride will provide the perfect platform to renew the fight for LGBTQ rights. 

However, it is tinged slightly that, despite strong opposition from John Leech and his Lib Dem team on Manchester Council, this will be the first time that the main Pride event won’t be held in the Gay Village due to unwelcome property developments.

We only need to look to the last century, and the intolerant, inwards looking policies prevalent at the time to serve a reminder that we cannot allow any rowing back of equal rights.

One of our city’s most famed adopted sons, Alan Turing, was prosecuted for being in a relationship with another man, back in 1952. Despite his heroics in cracking coded enemy messages during the Second World War, leading to millions of lives being saved, Turing’s prosecution for his homosexuality led him to taking his own life in 1954. Thanks to a decade-long campaign led by John Leech, Turing was eventually posthumously pardoned, but how did we allow it to ever get there in the first place?

Ahead of this weekend, those types of stories are a poignant reminder of how far we have come in the fight for equal rights. Many of the victories achieved in pursuing equal treatment for the LGBTQ community have only been won in the very recent history, therefore making them so fragile.

We cannot settle for just protecting those rights. We must build upon them too.

Manchester has two Brexit Party MEPs who still believe that there might be a “cure” for homosexuality. I doubt very much that they will be attending Pride over the weekend but their archaic views are what we must united to reject. They are are not representative of our city, our values or the progress we must fight for. They are least of all welcome over what I know will be a colourful and joyful Pride weekend. 

I know that Manchester – and the Liberal Democrats – will continue to fight for equal rights. Whilst we are not there yet, as some of our less-worthy elected politicians still demonstrate, but things are improving.

This weekend will be a festival of fun, of colour and of life. And I, along with many of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, are looking forward to another weekend celebrating the LGBTQ community.

You’ll be able to spot the Lib Dem group from a mile off so feel free to introduce yourself and join us!

Jane Brophy is one of two Liberal Democrat MEPs for the North West and Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Trafford Council. She lives in Trafford with her husband and three childen.

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