Comment: Labour must listen and lead in the fight for LGBT equality by Ed Miliband

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Ed Miliband, one of the five Labour leadership candidates alongside his brother David Miliband, writes for calling for full marriage equality and an end to discrimination for LGBT people.

The fight for equality is a proud and successful one, but it must continue.

The achievements in recent decades of those activists who are out and proud are a powerful lesson for those campaigning for equality in every walk of life. When you look at what’s already been achieved for gay and trans equality, I suspect that Britain just twenty years ago would seem like a different country to today’s gay teenagers.

I’m proud that the last Labour government stood side by side with the LGBT community to achieve so many of these changes, including an equal age of consent, gay adoption and legal recognition for trans people. We now have openly gay men and lesbians serving on the frontline of our armed services. And it was important that we rid this country of the hated Section 28.

I believe we’ve also shifted public opinion. Those who once stood against gay equality now find that they are the minority voice. Where once David Cameron accused Labour of “moving heaven and earth to allow the promotion of homosexuality in schools”, now he knows that to do so would be to place himself well outside the bounds of acceptable mainstream opinion. This change in the terms of public debate is also part of the achievement of the last decade.

But while much has been achieved, injustices still remain and the fight for equality must go on. I am determined that Labour must be part of that fight. Listening to the LGBT community and leading in the country. If I become Labour leader we will do both.

That is why, as a party, we are listening now on gay marriage. I know that civil partnerships were a major step forward, but I also hear those who want the genuine equality of gay marriage. How fantastic it was to see the those crowds cheering outside San Francisco City Hall as Proposition 8 in California was overturned and gay marriage was once again legal. Who could fail to be moved by the daughter’s simple plea: “Please don’t divorce my dads” in the Courage Campaign’s video, Fidelity.  

“Separate but equal” is not good enough and’s own recent poll demonstrated the huge support in the LGBT community for a right to marry. The cruel consequence of the current compromise is trans people forced to divorce their partners before they could be legally recognised in their new gender. I want to see heterosexual and same-sex partnerships put on an equal basis and a Labour Party that I lead will campaign to make gay marriage happen.

I also want Labour to lead where in the past it has failed to do so. We were wrong while in government not to overturn the ban on gay men donating blood. Many gay men would be very low risk donors, exactly the kind we need to encourage to address shortages in blood and many other countries run very safe systems without such a ban. I’m determined to find a better way of ensuring blood is safe.

I also wish we’d succeeded in changing the law to make incitement to homophobic hate a crime. I was angry when I saw the House of Lords force through a “freedom of speech” opt-out to our legislation and I think along with many others I felt there could be no better argument for why the House of Lords and our politics needs reform. Homophobic attacks are on the increase, such as the vicious murder of Ian Baynham, beaten to death in our capital city.

Yet this amendment means it’s harder to convict someone for killing someone because of their sexuality than for their skin colour. I was proud to have insisted that our manifesto at the last election included a clear pledge to reverse that defeat and I’ll keep fighting until we achieve it.

I also believe we needed to show greater leadership on the question of those seeking asylum because they face persecution in their home country because of their sexuality. The fact that many forced to return to their home country were advised to be “discreet” is tantamount to an admission that the system recognised the dangers of their forced return but did too little about them. I don’t believe the answers are easy but we must find them even when they are difficult. My family fled persecution by the Nazis and I will always speak out for the protection of gay and trans people fleeing abuse and against persecution around the world.

But it’s not just laws that have to continue to change in Britain. It is also attitudes. Laws send powerful messages but, for young people in particularly, the influence of our media and music industries will always be stronger. We have to prevent hate speech in music. We must take on the casual use of “gay” as a term of abuse in our schools. There’s casual homophobia dressed us as entertainment on our screens. Headline writers will still go for the gay innuendo. The discovery of someone’s sexuality is front page news. All of this needs challenging if we are to root out the homophobic bullying endemic in our schools and prevent it claiming the life of another young person.

I want Labour to be a party of the LGBT community and for the LGBT community. I have been a passionate advocate for equality and human rights all of my life. It’s why I am in politics and it’s why I want to lead the Labour Party. I will always stand up for gay and trans people but I also recognise that it’s you, not the politicians, that are at the frontline in this fight. You will be leading the battles to come for those final changes to the law and for the bigger changes to attitudes. I hope you’ll allow me to fight alongside you.

You can see the Courage Campaign’s video ‘Fidelity’ at

Mr Miliband has agreed to be interviewed by ahead of Labour’s conference but offered to write a comment piece ahead of the meeting. If readers have any questions they would like to ask Mr Miliband, please email them to [email protected].