Tower Hamlets candidate is a no-show at LGBT hustings due to family emergency

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Rabina Khan, the candidate endorsed by former Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman to replace him after he was ousted over corruption, failed to turn up to an LGBT hustings this week after a family emergency.

Rainbow Hamlets held an LGBT hustings in association with PinkNews earlier this week, ahead of the special by-election for the Mayor of Tower Hamlets on June 11 in the East London area. The election follows Mr Rahman’s removal from office after he was found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices.

Tower Hamlets has a growing reputation for homophobic attacks, and stickers were previously put up in the area declaring it a ‘gay free zone’. Former Communities minister Eric Pickles warned last year about problems with extremism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.

Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, Green, Animal Welfare and Red Flag Anti-Corruption candidates turned to the hustings, but front-runner Ms Khan dropped out of the event at the last minute.

In a text to organisers read out of the event, Ms Khan said: “Further to our phone conversation I have taken my daughter to the hospital.  I have cancelled my late afternoon diary. As I said earlier she has a serious condition called mitochondrial disease and requires close monitoring.

“I’m very sorry so say that I don’t think I can attend the event tonight. I have already met you and happy to meet again and will work with your organisation if elected.

“I know you will understand my position. I hope it goes well and of course I’m happy to respond to any questions you may have.”

Jack Gilbert, the chair of Rainbow Hamlets, said: “We are sorry that Rabina’s family emergency meant she was unable to attend. We wish her daughter well.

“However the ensuing hustings went ahead with all candidates being treated equally, and questions reflecting the main areas of LGBT concern: community relations; services; support for LGBT business and venues.

“Our purpose in running this debate was to promote understanding between all parts of the community, and it remains our intention. We are of the view that open access to all political leaders by all members of the community is central to that.”

At the event, Conservative candidate Peter Golds – who is openly gay – spoke about his own experience of homophobia in the council chamber, and called for a crackdown on religious groups.

Tower Hamlets candidate is a no-show at LGBT hustings due to family emergency
He recounted to PinkNews: “My favourite one was during a council meeting, one of the Rahman supporters stood up and said ‘sit down you f***ing old queer’.”

He added: “When we get nutcases putting anti-gay stickers up, the police need to be kicked into action.

“I would take religion out of the council – the council needs to be like others in the country, respecting of religion but secular.

“We need to stop money poured into these so-called faith organisations that look inwards rather than outwards.”

He cited speakers at the East London Mosque who have openly made comments about the murder of “faggots”, and been banned from several other institutions for doing so.

He said: “The East London Mosque gets £3 million of taxpayers’ money. If I were Mayor, I would stand there and say, until you bar all these people that money goes downwards. I suspect that would concentrate a lot of minds.”

Mr Golds speculated about Ms Khan’s attendance before her note was read out, telling PinkNews: “She’d be terrified that anything she said here tonight will go back to her core support.”

Liberal Democrat Elaine Bagshaw warned against allowing the borough to be ‘divided’, adding: “Tower Hamlets as a community should be united by our diversity rather than divided by it.”

She said of her approach: “We will have zero tolerance like homophobia, we’ll work with the police to make sure that’s the case. It’s also tackling the root of the problem, so it’s working in schools and working with the next generation and helping tackle those attitudes before they start.

“Some of it has been inaction in the past – reports of hate crime not being taken seriously people who have had bad experiences in the past of the council and the police. It’s about
making sure we’re responding to that.”

Tower Hamlets candidate is a no-show at LGBT hustings due to family emergency
Labour candidate John Biggs, the former leader of Tower Hamlets council, said that the area has not seen an overall spike in homophobic incidents.

He said: “There have been some incidents and hotspots that have hit the headlines for the wrong reasons, but official figures in Tower Hamlets show there hasn’t been a massive spike of homophobic abuse in the borough.

“We need to stand up against homophobia in the council chamber. What Peter said did happen, and it was an outrage. Any elected mayor should stand up against intolerant behaviour, wherever it comes from.

“There are sub-sections within our committees that are not tolerant and we need to challenge them… there’s certainly some cultural issues, and some denial about sexuality.

“One of the challenges for the next mayor is to bring people together across communities.”

Green candidate John Foster told PinkNews: “I think there is a big problem with homophobic attacks in Tower Halmets.

“It’s an element of education as well – trying to educate people within schools, and talk to people within the community about LGBTI issues.”

Mr Foster also advocated for the abolition of the role of mayor entirely.

Animal Welfare Party candidate Vanessa Hudson and Red Flag Anti-Corruption’s Andy Erlam both also spoke out against homophobia.

UKIP’s candidate Nicholas McQueen was out of the country, PinkNews understands.