Norman Lamb: I will stand up for LGBT rights as Lib Dem leader

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Norman Lamb, one of the candidates for Leader of the Liberal Democrats, writes for PinkNews on his commitments to LGBT rights.

Children denied a family because of same-sex couples being refused the right to adopt.

Teachers legally barred from telling children the simple truth that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay.

Loving long-term gay and lesbian couples unable to have their relationship recognised by the state in any way, let alone marry.

Schools doing almost nothing to record and counter incidents of homophobic bullying that ruins so many children’s lives.

This was the reality, enshrined in law, when I entered parliament just 14 years ago.

It has been a privilege throughout that time to have had the chance to be part of the movement to change these profoundly homophobic laws that institutionalised bigotry, created misery and held back people’s freedom to love and thrive.

So far, my contribution to that change was as Health Minister in the Coalition government. I made the cause of equality for those suffering mental ill health a true NHS priority for the first time.

I recognise the impact of mental ill health on the LGBT community. I introduced the first maximum waiting times for mental health treatment.

I also worked to tackle the evil of gay ‘conversion therapy’, that treat people’s sexuality as a sickness rather than something to celebrate.

I proposed and secured the first ever memorandum of understanding with all the key bodies to commit clearly that this so called therapy has no place in a modern country.

As a proud and consistent ally of the LGBT community, I am delighted that so many champions for LGBT equality are supporting my campaign for party leader: Lord Anthony Lester, who instigated the first Civil Partnerships Bill in 2002 – Lynne Featherstone, the driving force behind marriage equality, who is chairing my campaign – Baroness Liz Barker, Stephen Williams, Stephen Gilbert and Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett.

I also know we must go much further in the fight for equality. Gay men must be allowed to give blood on an equal basis to straight men, we must introduce gender neutral passports and end the spousal veto.

We must also allow straight couples to enter into civil partnerships and give new rights to cohabiting couples.

But in the coming years, we will reach a point where the LGBT community has, in almost all respects, achieved equality under the law. Some will say the fight is over in Britain. They will be wrong.

According to Stonewall, more than half of lesbian, gay and bisexual school pupils are bullied for being gay. 57% of gay and bisexual boys think about taking their lives, as do 71% of lesbian and bisexual girls. As a former health minister, I know the trauma too many in the LGBT community face. As a father, my heart sinks.

Until every young person is proud of who they are, who they find attractive and who they love, our fight will continue – and to achieve it, we must bring about profound cultural change that challenges institutionalised homophobia.

We must end the presumption forever that all children will grow up to be straight.

It was not enough to repeal Section 28, a ban on the ‘teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.’

We must do the exact opposite. We must make sure every part of government – especially schools and local authorities, are promoting the total equality of same sex attraction, relationships and, yes, sex. Not to achieve this leaves us open to the charge of hypocrisy – legislating but not fully meaning it, leaving young LGBT teenagers totally confused and vulnerable.

I have always believed in logic over dogma, in safety over taboo, in education over prejudice.

We must have compulsory sex and relationships education in all state schools, including faith schools, in a way that makes no assumptions as to whom those learning will choose as their future partner.

This must of course be age-appropriate, but the basic principle must stand that when a topic is deemed appropriate in the context of straight people, it is also appropriate in the context of LGBT people.

There will be an outcry, as there always is – and then it will come to pass. Standing up for what is right and taking on prejudice and ignorance is at the heart of being a liberal.

Furthermore, it is deemed inappropriate to show same-sex couples on children’s television – in a manner not dissimilar from the treatment of mixed-race couples a generation ago.

Our broadcasters must realise that sexuality is not, fundamentally, about who you want to have sex with – but who you are, and who you love.

Why would a young person, perhaps questioning their sexuality, know that there was nothing wrong or strange about being gay if everything they had ever seen told them otherwise? I have written to the heads of the main TV channels demanding action.

Our sports industry also has a huge role to play, and the work of people like rugby star Ben Cohen and his StandUp Foundation in promoting inclusive sport has been phenomenal.

Equality of esteem takes time, but it matters profoundly. That, to me, was the most important part of passing same-sex marriage; that it told our young people our society was open to everyone. No-one should ever feel imperfect or abnormal because of their sexuality – and too many still do. We must gain that equality and improve the lives of millions, in a way that will last a lifetime.

That is the future of the struggle for LGBT rights in Britain. Under my leadership, the Liberal Democrats will lead the way.

Norman Lamb is the MP for North Norfolk and a candidate for Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

A PinkNews interview with Mr Lamb will be published next week.