Labour leadership candidates admit party’s gay rights failures

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The five candidates for the Labour leadership have answered gay rights questions from members of the party’s gay group and readers.

The contenders – Ed Miliband, David Miliband, Ed Balls, Diane Abbott and Andy Burnham – answered questions on homophobic bullying, the blood ban on gay men, gay marriage and LGBT asylum seekers.

They were also asked about Labour’s mistakes while in power and three of the five said that the party had let down gay people on a range of issues.

Ms Abbott said that the party should have introduced marriage equality, done more to tackle hate crime and attended more Pride events. She added that sex education had failed LGBT students.

Mr Balls promised to repeal an amendment to homophobic hatred laws and added that Labour had not done enough to help asylum seekers persecuted because of their sexuality and should have worked more to move forward the issue of blood donation.

Ed Miliband said Labour should have succeeded in passing legislation outlawing incitement to homophobic hatred and that the party was wrong not to overturn the blood ban.

Each, as previously reported by, supported gay marriage, although the issue of lifting the blood donation ban was divisive.

Only Ed Miliband and Ms Abbott stated they would end the blood ban. David Miliband and Mr Balls said they supported the current review of the ban, while Andy Burnham said he had consulted experts who believe the current risk of HIV transmission is still too high.

Mr Burnham, who told recently that he believed he was right to vote for the ‘need for a father’ in access to fertility treatment, said he supported the “right of LGBT couples to have families”.

The opportunity to quiz the five was arranged by LGBT Labour, which is not supporting any one candidate.

LGBT Labour co-chair James Asser said: “We’re delighted that all candidates have worked with us, answering our members’ questions, attending Prides and other events and ensuring that LGBT issues were part of this leadership debate in a way they have never been before.

“It was also very positive to see the candidates giving interviews to I would like to thank for helping us ensure the wider LGBT community have been able to hear the candidates’ views.

“What is clear, as ballot papers go out to Labour Party, union and affiliate members, is that all the candidates are committed to supporting LGBT equality (including marriage equality which all candidates have committed to) and to listening to the LGBT community.

‘Whoever is elected Labour leader, LGBT Labour and the wider LGBT community can be confident that they will be able to work with them to ensure the policies are in place and that the next Labour government builds on the achievements of the last and continues to work for LGBT equality.”

Labour had a strong record in government on LGBT equality, but is there any area of policy or approach in which you think Labour should have done more, and if so what will you do about it?

Andy Burnham: Labour has always been the party of equality, and I’m proud of the great strides we made in our time in government. For me, though, it is time to go further and bring forward gay marriage, so that committed couples can share the same status, regardless of their sexuality.

Diane Abbott: Labour should rightly be proud of its LGBT equality record in government, but there were times when we didn’t do enough, and now there is still much to do. Firstly, it was a mistake of us to only offer civil partnerships to same-sex partners, when full marriage equality was what was needed. Secondly, the homophobic murder of Ian Baynham in London last year was a sobering reminder that homophobic hate crime is on the rise and we still need to do more to empower the police to deal effectively with the causes and results of all forms of hate crime, as well as encourage more people to report incidences of hate crime. Thirdly, we as a party need to be seen as the progressive voice within this country countering the homophobia of the right wing press, rather than pandering to it: we need to do more to support Pride festivals and other grassroots campaigns for LGBT equality. Finally, we all know that cuts to public services hit groups like member of the LGBT community very hard. So if elected as leader I will campaign against all Lib Con cuts. I will be the leader for all members of the party and ensure that the voices of LGBT people and campaigns for LGBT equality are at the forefront of our activities.

David Miliband: I want to tackle homophobic bullying, particularly in schools. As a start we need to make sure our Equalities Act, which strengthened the public duty to promote equality is implemented in full. We also need to make sure we have high quality education and support for young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people as well as their peers. Our schools should be places of safety where young people can feel comfortable with their sexuality.

Ed Balls: We can all be proud of the great steps forward that were made by the last Labour Government but I was disappointed that we were unable to secure Incitement to Homophobic Hatred onto the same legal footing as Incitement to Racial Hatred due to the so-called ‘Waddington Amendment’ forced through by Tory peers. I am clear that a commitment to repeal this amendment should be in our next manifesto, so we can ensure its removal regardless of the behaviour of Conservative peers. I also think we should have done more to move things forwards on the ban on blood donation and on asylum issues.

Ed Miliband: I’m proud that the last Labour government stood side by side with the LGBT community as we together achieved an equal age of consent, gay adoption and legal recognition for Trans people. It’s inspiring that we now have openly gay men and lesbians serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite this record, I do not believe Labour got everything right. I wish we’d succeeded in changing the law to make incitement to homophobic hate a crime. Cameron’s Tories in the House of Lords forced through a ‘freedom of speech’ opt-out frustrating our efforts. Homophobic attacks are on the increase and this amendment has made it harder to convict someone for killing someone because of their sexuality than for their skin colour. I would introduce homophobic hate crime legislation.

How will you tackle the issue of the blood ban for gay and bisexual men, as it is still one of the discriminatory measures that affecting the LGBT community, and do you support ending the ban?

Andy Burnham: This is a genuinely difficult issue. In my role as shadow health secretary, I have taken advice from haematology experts and, while screening blood procedures have vastly improved in recent years, their view is that the risk of blood-borne viruses being transmitted is still too high. However, I am keeping this under review, particularly with the fast pace of change and progress in medicine.

Diane Abbott:The lifetime ban for gay and bisexual men from donating blood in this country is archaic and discriminatory. It is deeply offensive to suggest that all gay and bisexual men are at risk of contracting HIV and the messages we are sending to young LGBT people about safer sex and blood donation are contradictory. A number of LGBT organisations like Stonewall and others organisations like the National Union of Students have prominently campaigned against the ban for several years and have more recently been joined by many medical professionals in questioning the legitimacy of a ban that presumes all gay and bisexual men are high risk regardless of sexual history. I support an end to the ban and a new system that screens for high risk sexual behaviour rather than the current system that scapegoats entire communities.

David Miliband: I support the National Blood Service’s ongoing review because I think decisions should be based on science not prejudice. I agree with the Terrence Higgins Trust that the overwhelming priority should be to make sure that people are not infected unnecessarily.

Ed Balls: Whilst we led the parliamentary agenda on many reforms for LGBT equality, often long overdue after 18 years of Tory inertia, we should have moved quicker to remove the outdated ban on donating blood by gay men who are low risk donors. Of course we’re talking about genuinely low risk blood donors who should be able to donate in a safe way. A lot of this is led by the National Blood Service and the independent advisory group of scientists, but it’s important to look at international examples where there’s been progress on this issue for countries with similar demographic risk profiles to ours. I am glad this is currently being reviewed at the moment but I think the blanket life time ban was a knee jerk action in the panic of the 1980s and it is time to move away from that.

Ed Miliband: We were also wrong not to overturn the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood. There’s enough medical opinion that it is unnecessary, it doesn’t exist in other countries and sends a disastrous message to young people. I would end the blood ban.

What actions do they advocate to combat homophobic bullying in schools?

Andy Burnham: We need to equip our teachers and youth workers better to spot homophobic bullying when it is taking place and to tackle it. I will work with Stonewall, who have already done a lot of good work in this area, to ensure that this form of bullying is made a thing of the past.

Diane Abbott: I have spoken out on homophobic bullying in Parliament. I think that it has got worse in recent years. The spectre of the Tories’ discriminatory Section 28 haunts many schools and dissuades teachers from feeling as though they can talk about LGBT issues. This environment has allowed homophobic bullying to become all too common and “gay” and other insults relating to sexual orientation are now recognised as the most common insults in school playgrounds and lessons Pupils need to know that if they report homophobia or transphobia to their teachers the problem will be dealt with quickly and appropriately, and teachers should also feel safe and free from homophobia within the workplace. However, dealing with the symptoms is not enough. The roots of homophobia need to be tackled; firstly, teachers need to be trained and empowered to feel confident enough to deal with issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity; and secondly, teachers and pupils need to feel comfortable enough to come out at school and be confident in who they are: positive role models are crucial for building self-confidence within young LGBT people.

David Miliband: Homophobia is one of the most persistent forms of bullying we see in our schools. I’d like to see greater education and support for young people. That means ensuring staff have the right training, it also means working with groups like Stonewall to make sure we know the extent of the problem, and how to combat it.

Ed Balls: Bullying is wrong and sadly too often prejudice and hate are seen in schools where every child should have a right to learn in a secure environment. As Schools Secretary I took the initiative in this area, working in partnership with Stonewall and Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH), we produced the first-ever guidance on tackling homophobic bullying as well as guidance on sexist, sexual and transphobic bullying too. In opposition we must make sure that the Conservative-led education department keeps up the support and pressure to tackle homophobic bullying. Whilst in government we had a programme of training for teaching assistants which we were working on to include action on homophobic bullying but the entire programme was one of the early Coalition cuts.

Ed Miliband: Yet there is still so much more to do to root out the causes of homophobic bullying which is endemic in our education system and preventing it claiming the life of another young person. In office, we required all schools to have anti-bullying strategies in place. Now the task is supporting, and persuading, schools to take seriously their obligations to LGBT students, for example not tolerating the casual use of ‘gay’ as a term of abuse and standing up against hate speech in music.

The LGBT community is rarely reflected in secondary education. Where do you stand on school’s responsibilities to ensure students realise and accept that homosexual relationships are as valid as heterosexual. Would you support integrating LGBT lives and issues into the curriculum, for instance in subjects such as History, English Literature and sex education (including in faith schools)?

Andy Burnham: I am a strong advocate in comprehensive education, and that means an advocate for a comprehensive curriculum that properly reflects society. Just as I would oppose a heavy-handed approach to exclude gay literature and history, so too would I oppose a similar approach to include it. We must work in partnership – parents, schools and agencies – to ensure that the curriculum is properly integrated, so that homosexual relationships are accepted and not seen as different from heterosexual ones.

Diane Abbott: LGBT lives are valid. They are just as valid as non-LGBT lives not only within schools, but within every aspect of society. The contribution of LGBT people throughout history is rich and diverse and should be both understood and celebrated within schools. For too long sex education has failed LGBT students and whilst some schools exhibit good practice and inclusivity within sexual health and relationship education, they are definitely in the minority. All schools should provide a welcoming and tolerant atmosphere for LGBT pupils, with no exceptions for faith schools.

David Miliband: LGBT History month has helped, and diversity in literature is good not only for equality but for learning. In government we began the process of overhauling Personal, Social and Health Education to make sure our support and guidance was fit for purpose. I want a broad curriculum that provides young people with the foundations they need to thrive in the real world.

Ed Balls: I agree that children from all backgrounds should find their community reflected in their education so they can grow up with self confidence. It’s important that ‘sex education’ or Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) isn’t the only place where LGBT issues arise but it is an important place to start. English, history and modern languages are areas where we need to support teachers in ensuring their teaching and their curriculum is reflective of the diversity of our communities including LGBT lives and issues.

Ed Miliband: Teaching people the history of civil liberties movements, including the gay rights movement, is an important part of how we create a tolerant and equal society and how we tackle the causes of bullying. Repealing Section 28 was one of Labour’s major and lasting achievements, and we should be proud that we got rid of that disgusting legacy of Thatcher’s Britain, in the teeth don’t forget of Tory opposition. That we won these battles and won mainstream public opinion to our cause means that politicians like David Cameron can never again accuse Labour of “moving heaven and earth to allow the promotion of homosexuality in schools”. The curriculum is certainly one area we should look at as a way to create a tolerant and equal society and tackle the causes of bullying. It’s important we also ensure that casual homophobia in language and the media is never seen as acceptable.

Increasingly countries are legislating for full marriage equality for same-sex couples. Nick Clegg supported this before the election and David Cameron has said he would ‘look into it’. Do you support marriage equality and would you try and implement it as soon as possible should Labour win the next election?

Andy Burnham: Absolutely. Not only was I the first leadership candidate to support it, I announced my support in a Catholic newspaper.

Diane Abbott: Yes, I am absolutely in favour of full marriage equality, and if I am elected Labour leader, and subsequently Prime Minister, it would be one of my first priorities. For too long we have told LGBT people that they are “separate but equal”. Not all LGBT people wish to get married, just as not all straight people wish to get married, but we can no longer say that second-class marriages are enough.

David Miliband: Yes. It is an anomaly that gay couples – although they can call each other husband or wife – can’t say they are married. Canada and Argentina have shown the way forward. That’s why I support calls to change the definition of marriage to include exclusive relationships between couples, regardless of sex. This will mean gay couples will be able to describe themselves as married. We should not force churches, mosques and synagogues to officiate over gay marriages but equally we shouldn’t stop those who want to.

Ed Balls: Yes I unequivocally support full marriage equality, and its implementation by the next Labour Government. Civil Partnerships were the right thing to do at the time where we were able to get the legislation through with a lot of support in order to give same sex couples full equality in rights to married couples but now it’s time to allow full equality for all couples by allowing for same sex couples to marry where they wish to. My uncle came out in his 50s and I only wish he had lived long enough to have a civil partnership ceremony with his partner Glenn – it would have been a hell of a ‘do’…

Ed Miliband: Yes, I do. Introducing civil partnerships for gay couples was a major achievement of the Labour government. LGBT Labour can be proud of the role you played in pressing us to do this and so many of the other steps we took on equality. Now it’s time for us to campaign together to see gay marriage become a reality in our country. I don’t believe that the Coalition are serious about LGBT equality. If I am elected leader then I will stand alongside you and the LGBT community in pressing for gay marriage. If, as I expect, the Tories and Lib Dems have not delivered equality by the time of the next election then, if elected, I will legislate to make gay marriage a reality.

Do you support fertility treatment for lesbian and bisexual women and what are your views on the rights for LGBT people to have families?

Andy Burnham: I do support the rights of LGBT couples to have families but, more importantly even than that, I support the right of a child to be brought up in a loving, stable home. I voted in favour of adoption rights for gay couples and for the right to IVF treatment. In fact, the vote was so important to me that I travelled back down to London especially for it, running the risk of missing the birth of my own daughter.

Diane Abbott: The right to a family life is a human right and access to fertility treatment should be universal, regardless of sexual orientation. Many LGBT people will make excellent parents, if only given the chance, and I am proud that the Labour Party introduced adoption rights for same sex couples within our last thirteen years in government.

David Miliband: Absolutely. In fact without the gay community many children in the UK would remain in care.

Ed Balls: I support the statutory right for lesbian and bisexual women to receive fertility treatment by the NHS, rather than facing discrimination and sometimes making risky arrangements outside the healthcare service, was a significant step forward and sent a clear message on the rights of same sex couples to have families. I also fully support the equal parenting arrangements we brought in along with Civil Partnerships and the action we took on equality in adoption laws, where the UK is in advance of many countries (including some who have marriage equality)

Ed Miliband: I believe that there should be no discrimination in access to any treatment. There are many fantastic gay and lesbian parents in this country, some bringing up children of their own and many having fostered or adopted often very challenging children. As a parent of a young so with another on the way, I am full of admiration for anyone who brings up a child regardless of their sexuality.

How can we ensure a fair asylum system to help LGBT people who face persecution in their countries of origin?

Andy Burnham: Britain has always been seen as a safe haven for the oppressed and dispossessed, something which I am proud of. We must ensure that this continues, and that the information and intelligence we have on the countries and regions of the world is reflected in our asylum policy, so that we do all that we can to ensure that people are not returned to persecution.

Diane Abbott: I understand the many problems with the immigration system better than any of my rivals and I frequently meet asylum seekers within my constituency. The application process is flawed in many ways and lets down LGBT people and many others. Labour should be proud of its strong legislative record on LGBT rights, but it is up to us to help our international siblings in the fight for equality. I will overhaul the whole asylum system and ensure that the UK is a safe place for all LGBT asylum seekers. I would also use our role in the Commonwealth to encourage countries that we have a historic connection with to repeal homophobic legislation and encourage a progressive national conversation on LGBT rights.

David Miliband: Of course someone who is being persecuted for their sexuality should be able to apply for asylum in this country. Some of the stories that have come out of Iran, where people are executed or punished for ‘lavat’ are truly disturbing. When I was foreign secretary I was proud of the work we did tackling human rights abuses around the world.

Ed Balls: I’m sure no-one thinks the current system works fairly even though some people are accepted as refugees because of their sexuality, and recent court cases have highlighted the flaws. The solution must lie in fundamentally addressing the policies and assumptions adopted by the Home Office and Immigration Courts when processing applications. This is something we did take action on during government but we didn’t act quickly enough or go far enough. The UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group did a lot of work in this area but many thought there continued to be a systemic bias against LGBT asylum seekers. I welcome the recent Supreme Court ruling which will send a strong message to the asylum system but there are still dangers – for example the difficulty in establishing you are LGBT in claiming asylum and the limitation of asylum to state persecution. So the Supreme Court ruling is a start but it is still an area we’ll need to work on. We also need to do more to establish LGBT equality as a fundamental human rights issue for all states to respect.

Ed Miliband: A consequence of demonstrating that we were addressing concerns about immigration was that gay asylum seekers were sent home to face persecution. I’m appalled that happened on our watch. More shameful is the fact that many were advised to be ‘discreet’, an admission that the system recognised the dangers of their forced return. My family fled persecution and I will always speak out for the protection of gay and trans people fleeing abuse and against persecution around the world.

LGBT Labour ran Dorothy’s List in the run-up to the general election to support and encourage LGBT candidates to stand for parliament. Do you support campaigns like that and as leader what would you do to increase the number of out LGBT candidates and MPs?

Andy Burnham: Councils, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the House of Commons: all should reflect society. That means it should be a level playing field for candidates seeking selection. But we have to ensure candidates have the support they need, not only to get selected, but as they begin their political careers. In my manifesto, I have said that I will institute accredited training and mentoring for our newly-elected representatives to help them develop and progress. This will be important not only for LGBT members but for young members, for women and for BAME members too.

Diane Abbott: I am proud to be the first black woman MP and I understand how difficult it often is for women, black and LGBT people to climb the political ladder. Parliament should look more like Britain. I am passionate at ensuring representation of all minority groups within all levels of politics. I served on the Speaker served on the Speaker’s Conference on Equality and we made a series of recommendations on this issue, which can be viewed via

David Miliband: I want to lead a Labour Party that represents the communities we serve – this is a vital part of being a modern party that is ready to govern. That’s why I am committed to raising money for a Leadership Academy to support underrepresented groups with mentoring and training. I support Dorothy’s List, and I want to see an increase in the number of LGBT candidates and MPs. I’m very proud that so many of our outstanding MPs, people like Chris Bryant, Angela Eagle, Ben Bradshaw, Stephen Twigg, who are all champions for equality, are supporting my candidacy. As Leader I would be a real advocate for LGBT Labour, supporting their events, meeting their supporters, and encouraging as many who want to , to run as Labour candidates.

Ed Balls: We have to challenge ourselves as a Party to ask why there have been so few newly elected LGBT MPs in recent General Elections. During the last election I was proud to campaign alongside Dorothy’s list candidates like Ben Bradshaw in Exeter, James Lewis in Elmet and Rothwell and Chris Oxlade in Crawley. Dorothy’s list was one of the inspirations behind my plans for the Party’s first ever ‘Diversity Fund’ to help people from under-represented groups, like the LGBT community, get selected.

Ed Miliband: I think the work that LGBT Labour did in the run up to the general election was invaluable. Whether raising funds, campaigning with LGBT candidates or providing advice to those seeking election, it’s essential that under-represented groups get the support they need. I want to see they Parliamentary Labour Party genuinely representative of our society and that means more LGBT candidates. If elected I will sit down with LGBT Labour to discuss what more we can do to achieve that.