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Comment: Now is the time to register to vote

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LGBT Labour National Secretary and Oxford City Councillor Tom Hayes writes for PinkNews of the importance of registering to vote in this year’s general election.

When you see same-sex couples kissing on the street without passers-by batting an eyelid, it can be easy to forget how much has changed. It can be difficult to remember how much campaigning there is to do, furthering our cause and protecting our gains.

That’s why you need to spread the word that LGBT people may not be able to take part in the next general election. And that they’ll see our politics dominated by those who say gay donkeys try to rape horses and would use their vote to make things worse for the people you love.

Your vote is crucial for defending and advancing equality issues. But the Coalition’s revolution in how we register to vote means you – without even knowing it – may not be able to vote on 7 May.

The switch from household to individual registration has scratched many hundreds of thousands of electors from the register, particularly those who are young renters, university students, and people whose first language is not English. No longer will one resident in a household be able to register all occupants in the same property. No longer will universities be forced to register their students.

Local councils of every political leaning are focusing their meagre resources on registering electors lost in the switch-over, but they’re facing an uphill battle and need five minutes of your time. Please go online to check whether you’re registered to vote. If you’re not, and you want to have a say over the decisions affecting your future, register now. Obviously once you finish reading this piece. Then push the five or so people at the top of your phone’s messages list to do exactly the same.

I’m not going to pretend that utopia lies on the other side of the election or that voting magically will solve every problem. But governments have the power to change things and they listen to people who vote. Every step forward for LGBT rights, however small, has been taken by people like you on that path to the ballot box.

In 1997, there was no equal age of consent; gays were barred from serving in the military; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people couldn’t adopt children; there were no partnership rights for couples; and Section 28 was firmly in place in schools. When Labour’s last government ended in 2010, this had all changed and then some. Discrimination in the workplace was banned and hate crimes covered homophobia, trans people had new legal rights, lesbians enjoyed a statutory right to NHS fertility treatment, and civil partnerships were introduced. And, in this Parliament, we have seen cross-party support for the introduction of same-sex marriage.

All of these gains matter, but they don’t wrap up our campaign for equality. The feeling of progress is different for people based on their jobs and schools, their neighbourhoods and communities. For too many, social exclusion and even bricks through the windows or physical assault can be a way of life. Remember the last time you heard a slur directed at you because you’re LGBT then think about what it feels like to hear that slur, and may experience worse, every single day of your life.

I’m betting that those who speak up to stand against our gains are all registered to vote. And I’m betting they’ll be up at dawn to cast their ballots on 7 May.

So, you have to decide if you’re going to make your vote count and your voice heard. If you want to free classrooms of hateful taunts, if you want to eradicate workplace bullying and blocked ambition, if you want to tackle health inequalities affecting LGBT people, and if you want to tackle hate crime that bruises its targets, physically and psychologically, then open that new browser window, ensure you go on having your say, and vote to make the country better for the people you love.

You can register to vote here: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Tom Hayes is the LGBT Labour National Secretary and a Labour Oxford City Councillor. He tweets at @CllrTomHayes

As with all comment articles, the views expressed may not necessarily reflect those of PinkNews. 

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