London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone on ‘ex-gay’ buses, policing and the White Swan

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Ken Livingstone, Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London in this week’s elections, has answered questions from readers.

Siobhan Benita, Jenny Jones and Brian Paddick have so far agreed to face readers’ questions. Mr Livingstone declined to take part in a live question and answer session because of time constraints, but has sent the following responses to questions sent in by readers.

With about half of the UK’s HIV positive population accessing care in London what will you do as Mayor to ensure that treatment and care budgets are not further cut over the term of your office? What will you do as Mayor to support efforts to tackle the high rate of new HIV infections, particularly amongst gay men?

The Mayor does not have powers over the NHS or health services. However, I committed in my manifesto to work with community groups to defend existing funding and services such as the Pan-London HIV Prevention programme that provides crucial support and resources for LGB&T Londoners. I also recognise there are large health inequalities which are often overlooked facing LGBT Londoners besides HIV and sexual health, including smoking, alcohol and drug use and coronary heart disease.

Despite having promised not to, this Tory government is starting to privatise the NHS, spelling disaster for a free health-care service generally and specialist services in particular. I will stand alongside Londoners, nurses, doctors and other health professionals in opposing the Tory attack on the NHS.

Conservative Mayor, Boris Johnson, promised to oppose health service cuts when he was running for Mayor, but in office he has not opposed a single hospital closure made by his Tory government colleagues. I will deliver Labour values on protecting a free, public health service. Boris Johnson will support a Tory agenda of supporting privatising the NHS.

As a lesbian and a parent I am concerned about homophobia in schools. What will you do with your community safety and policing role to lead on and tackle homophobia in schools?

The bigoted legacy of Section 28 continues to haunt London’s schools, with many pupils feeling unable to be openly LGBT or to challenge homophobia. Despite Labour repealing Section 28 in 2003 (and being heavily criticized for doing so by Boris Johnson), the current Tory-led Government wants to allow academies and free schools to only recognise heterosexuality – effectively reintroducing bigotry by the back door. I will challenge such institutionalised homophobia. We need to prevent the continued isolation, self-harm and suicide of LGBT young people and support schools to create healthy, inclusive schools which respect LGBT culture.

I will continue to support projects that tackle homophobic bullying in London’s primary and secondary schools, working with Stonewall, School’s Out, schools and other expert partners. I will also ensure that young LGB&T Londoners are included in all consultations, strategies and other Mayoral initiatives for young people.

When the StraightWay Foundation congratulated you on your meeting with Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and you thanked them for their letter, were you aware they were a gay cure group?

My record on opposing organisations that attempt to ‘cure’ homosexuality is unequivocal: so called ‘ex-gay’ movements are fronts for deeply-held homophobic beliefs and their existence only serves to harm LGBT people and the wider community. In fact I think it is disgraceful that an ex-gay Christian organisation managed to have advertising for London’s buses signed off and ready to go out on London buses. Boris Johnson may claim that eventually stopping them was a victory but the reality is that his eye was off the ball – this homophobic campaign should never have been allowed to reach the stage it did.

When I was Mayor of London there was a zero tolerance on homophobia and all controversial advertising campaigns had to be approved by the Mayor’s Office. For example, I banned the holiday company Sandals from advertising on London’s public transport because they did not allow same-sex couples to visit their resorts. My ban led to Sandals changing their policy and ending this discrimination against lesbian and gay couples. If elected I will ensure that LGBT-friendly policies are reinstated to prevent the sort of mistake Boris has made – which could now result in an expensive legal action footed by the tax payer.

The rift between the LGBT and Muslim communities in London has been very high-profile over the last few years, with homophobic crime on the increase and growing Islamophobia. What would you do to heal the rift?

It is a myth that sexual orientation and faith are incompatible. As Mayor, I always prioritised giving resources to LGBT Muslim support groups who face the double discrimination of Islamophobia and homophobia, including support for conferences and a visible presence at London Pride. Furthermore, Stonewall’s Living Together Report (2007) showed that while religious attitudes are thought to be a cause of homophobic views, the majority of people with faith agree that homophobia needs to be tackled and laws need to protect the rights of LGBT people.

When I was Mayor, we also prioritised bringing Londoners together through the State of London conference, the successful Rise anti-racist festival, by winning the Olympics and standing shoulder-to-shoulder when the 7th July bombings took place. Sadly, many of these initiatives, which brought Londoners together to debate, find common ground and celebrate their differences, have been axed by this Mayor, who has seen them as City Hall ‘waste’.

I have spent four decades backing lesbian and gay rights and I will continue to support LGBT Londoners. In April I released my LGBT manifesto to cover these issues comprehensively (see Boris Johnson treats LGBT people – who could account for up to 750,000 Londoners – as an afterthought. Boris is only publicising an LGBT manifesto – days before the election – after pressure from the LGBT community who noticed that LGBT people, and the issues which affect them like hate crime, had not been mentioned in any of his manifestos.

The public perception of, and trust in, the Metropolitan police is at an all-time low. A police force which lacks the trust of the citizens it is supposed to serve loses effectiveness, making crime harder to prevent. This is a serious concern for minority groups that are at higher risk of crime, such as LGBTs, blacks, Muslims and the disabled. What would you do to reverse this?

I will do what I have always done – work closely with all those communities most affected by hate crime including the LGBT, disabled, Muslim and black communities and provide clear leadership to the Metropolitan Police to tackle hate crime as a priority.

After five years of increased homophobic hate crime, including the murder of four gay men and two trans women in the capital, I will ensure there is joined-up, pan London work with the Met to ensure that the best and most effective methods of responding to, monitoring, reporting and publishing data on LGB&T hate crimes are followed.

I will review the network of borough LGB&T Liaison Officers to ensure such structures are as effective as possible and confidence to report is increased.

I will work to build and publicise a network of hate crime reporting hubs in appropriate venues and I will also support the annual ‘17-24-30’ Hate Crime vigil and build alliances across and between London’s diverse communities to provide a united response to hate crime.

Elderly LGBTs are one of the most economically vulnerable groups in our society. Few have families, often because until relatively recently the state severely restricted LGBTs’ ability to have children through adoption or similar means, and also because until relatively recently it was very common for LGBTs to be disowned by their parents and siblings upon coming out. If elected, what will you do to combat the economic and social deprivation they face?

My older Londoners’ manifesto sets out five key proposals – to cut energy bills, campaign against the Tory ‘Granny Tax’, protect the Freedom Pass, provide better local bus services, improve door-to-door and community transport and extend the Freedom Pass to the cycle hire scheme to make it free for older people. Older LGBT people I speak to talk about the importance of the Freedom Pass – especially as their close friends and families live all over London and they are more likely to live alone. As I have always done, I will use all my powers as Mayor of London to oppose this government’s cruel spending and welfare benefit cuts which most impact on older and disabled people.

Many legal protections have been established in the last 20 years that benefit LGBT people. There are still more (e.g. bullying in schools, hate crimes) that could be that require cultural shift. How would you encourage London to shift its cultural perceptions?

Legislation is often the start point for deeper social change and we have seen a huge change in attitudes about LGBT people in the past generation, led by Londoners and by successive Labour Governments implementing equalities legislation and repealing anti-gay laws introduced by the Tories.

As Mayor of London I will challenge discrimination (as I did with Westminster and Bromley Councils when they tried to ban rainbow flags and civil partnership ceremonies respectively when I was last Mayor), promote good practice and celebrate LGBT culture. For example, I will continue support for Pride London as a free, world-class event for all in central London, reinstate an annual Pride event at City Hall and support the diverse Pride community events across London. I will also establish the first-ever celebratory event for trans Londoners and support equality in marriage and civil partnership with both open to both same sex and opposite-sex couples, and inclusive of trans people.

Will you commit to de-twin the London and Tehran, the capital city of Iran, a country whose penalty for being gay is death?
London and Tehran certainly were not twinned when I was Mayor and I find it hard to believe that that has occurred since. But in any case I do not support such an arrangement.

Do you think schools which cannot demonstrate sufficient action to address homophobic bullying should fail their Ofsted inspections?

Yes. Schools need to be safe for all their pupils, however too often LGBT pupils are blamed for being different rather than schools keeping their legal responsibility to protect pupils from bullying and violence. Ofsted should name and shame these schools and encourage them to implement measures that protect all pupils from homophobia and transphobia.

Do you believe it is important that the mayor’s office supports benchmarks which measure diversity e.g. Stonewall Diversity Champions?

Absolutely – I was very proud that the Greater London Authority was ranked as the country’s best LGBT employer when I was Mayor which reflected my leadership and commitment to LGBT equality. I was very disappointed to see the Tory Mayor withdraw the GLA from the Index as it sent out all the wrong messages – that LGBT people, and the bullying and discrimination they so often face in the workplace are not serious issues worthy of interest and action by the Mayor. I will, of course, immediately put the GLA into the Stonewall Equality Index.

Do you support plans by Tower Hamlets Cllr Khan who plans to ban “sex establishments” in Tower Hamlets in order to reduce female exploitation? Do you believe this should include the only gay pub in the area, the White Swan which has an amateur strip night?

I whole-heartedly support the White Swan as a long-standing and much-loved venue for the gay community in the East End and long may it remain in business.