Unions call for removal of Evangelical Christian from equality commission

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The Trades Union Congress has called for Joel Edwards to be removed as an Equality and Human Rights Commissioner.

Mr Edwards was a controversial choice for the public body tasked with promoting a fair, equal and diverse society and tackling illegal discrimination.

He is director of the Evangelical Alliance, one of the most strident voices against gay rights in the UK.

Last year they gave evidence to a House of Commons committee opposing a new crime of incitement to violence on the grounds of sexual orientation.

They also launched large-scale campaigns against the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which ensure equality of gay, lesbian and bisexual people when accessing goods and services.

In an unanimous decision at their annual Congress in Brighton the TUC, which represents 6.5 million members in the UK, condemned his appointment and demanded he be removed.

The motion, which was moved by the openly gay president of the National Union of Journalists, James Doherty, said:

“Confidence that the EHRC will promote further equality for LGBT people has been deeply undermined.

“Congress notes that “all (EHRC) Commissioners have a collective responsibility clause in their Code of Conduct” and calls on the General Council to ensure that Mr Edwards and his fellow Commissioners adhere to the code.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission was established by the Equality Act 2006 and began work last October.

It brought together the three existing UK equality commissions – the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission.

The EHRC incorporates three new human rights strands – age, sexual orientation and religion and belief.

Last year a Commission spokesperson defended Mr Edwards’ appointment:

“Joel Edwards has been appointed by the Secretary of State and we welcome him joining the Commission,” she said.

“He is well qualified as leader of the Evangelical Alliance and brings expertise both as a faith leader and a senior figure in the black community.

“The Equality and Human Rights Commission is supposed to represent a wide range of views and opinions and we welcome lively debate.

“No two Commissioners share the same views on every matter; and all Commissioners have their individual disagreements with aspects of law, government and Commission policy; our diversity is one of our strengths.”

Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of gay equality organisation Stonewall, is also a commissioner.

In January the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement claimed Mr Edwards, “has tried to stall or frustrate the passage of almost every single legislative reform or repeal promoting justice and fairness for the UK’s lesbian and gay citizens.”

“Joel Edwards will use his position as an Equality Commissioner – overtly or covertly – to push forward this agenda – an agenda that seeks (a) to declassify LGBT people as a social group worthy of the same protection as race, gender and other equality strands, and (b) to lobby internally for religious exemptions from compliance with equality law,” said the LGCM.

They accuse Mr Edwards of aggressively lobbying against law reforms introducing gay equality, promoting groups seeking to “cure” gay people and seeking “exemptions from the very laws Equality Commissioners are charged with upholding.”