Yvette Cooper: Even if Jeremy Corbyn wins, I will never stop fighting for LGBT equality

PinkNews Exclusive
Yvette Cooper has pledged to “never” stop campaigning for Labour and LGBT rights – even if she wouldn’t serve under Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour leadership candidate spoke to PinkNews about why she would push to outlaw ‘gay cure’ therapy, why she wouldn’t intervene on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, and whether she would serve under Jeremy Corbyn.

She also accused Andy Burnham of using “anti-suffragette strategies” in likening her to her husband, former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls.

At the PinkNews debate in March, Evan Davis joked that one day in the future you could be running to be leader of the Labour Party. Does it seem now that it’s further from your grasp then it was then, given the rise of Jeremy Corbyn?

Well, party members are still voting now – the ballot papers are still there.

Too many people are just writing off this and somehow thinking that they should suddenly believe all the polls, when some of us told ourselves on May 8 that we’d never believe polls again.

It’s all still to fight for, and that’s why I’m campaigning all round the country and will keep on doing so. There’s a really big choice for the Labour party here – about whether we can be both true to our values and also strong enough to stand up against the Tories and credible enough to win the election.

I don’t want us to be ripping up our chances of winning the next election by the decision we make this summer. There’s a lot still to be fighting for and arguing for, and there’s a huge amount at stake.

You’ve said that you wouldn’t serve under Jeremy if he wins. As Shadow Home Secretary you’ve been one of the strongest voices of LGBT equality in the Labour Party – could we end up losing one of the most influential voices in the battle for LGBT equality?

Well, I will never stop campaigning for LGBT equality, and I’m also not going to walk away from the Labour Party.

There are big differences between me and Jeremy Corbyn on a whole series of issues, but none of that will stop me campaigning both for the Labour Party and for LGBT equality.

The things I would like to do now, going further, is I want to have a new Equality Act. I think we should go further on dealing with things around hate crime, I think we should be banning gay cure therapies, and doing more to tackle homophobic bullying in schools.

We’ve got to go back to the medical advice on blood donation – [our approach] is now out of date. There’s things we should be doing on the trans review, and on [gender-X] passports.

There’s a whole series of things, and I won’t stop campaigning for those – I would love to be able to campaign for those as the leader of the Labour Party and to be able to put those at the heart of the things we do.

Whether I’m leader or not, I won’t stop campaigning for those things.

There’s been a lot of agitation about Jeremy Corbyn’s role in the contest and the party. Jeremy was one of the very early pro-LGBT figures in Parliament, backing rights legislation before anyone else. Do you recognise his achievements on these issues, if nothing else?

Yes – I agree with Jeremy on a lot of issues around this and human rights, as well as wider issues.

There’s a lot of things probably a lot of us would agree on in terms of our values, on issues around equality – not just Jeremy, but other people as well.

If you win, would you consider giving him a role, in line with these things you do agree on?

Many people have asked, ‘Will he be in the shadow cabinet?’ The trouble is, Jeremy has voted against the Labour party about 500 times.

You do have to be ready to be part of a team in order to be in the shadow cabinet. That’ll be pretty difficult.

As I’ve said, there are things that Jeremy and I agree on, homelessness is another one, but there’s a lot of things we also disagree on – the economic issues around printing money for example.

We both agree you shouldn’t have 40% cuts to public services that George Osborne wants, but I think you can do that in a credible way that supports the economy and new jobs, whereas Jeremy talks about printing money which we disagree on. We probably disagree as well on Europe, I feel much more strongly pro-European.

At the PinkNews Debate, you were very keen on Labour’s plans for LGBT-inclusive statutory sex education. The plan came under from a lot of fire from people like the Mail, who said was ‘sex lessons at five under Labour’ – but you recently re-affirmed your pledgeCan you explain why you think that this is so important, and why the Mail and Conservative Party are wrong?

I think this is about equality, but also respect in relationships. We should teach respect in relationships from an early age.

It’s part of how young people grow up to be resilient, respectful, and able to have loving relationships in the future.

For young people coming out, the scale of the prejudice which they can face can cause huge harm and real distress.

Look at all the figures around mental health issues and depression and suicide risks for young people – we could do so much to lift that if we had really good sex and relationship education in schools.

We’d have more confident, positive young people if they’d had good SRE – including same-sex relationships, and tackling homophobic bullying as well.

A YouGov study released last week showed that half young people don’t define themselves as ‘100% straight’, and put themselves somewhere in the middle on the Kinsey Scale. Do you think it’s the case that maybe these issues could affect more people in our schools than we’ve previously considered?

I think so – [inclusive SRE] is about all of our young people. It’s not just for those who are ready to come out, it’s not just for those who are gay, it’s for everybody.

It’s about young people being able to feel confident about who they are and not feeling like they have to be defined by other people’s expectations.

Being able to feel relaxed about their sexuality, being able to feel confident about their sexuality, being able to feel confident about every aspect of themselves is really important.

It’s about about how young people feel about themselves, it’s about how they feel about other young people, and about understanding the way in which prejudice and discrimination can hold people back.

Would mandatory SRE apply to religious schools as well? For example, some Catholic schools argue it violates their religious freedom to be forced to teach the value of a same-sex relationship.

I think there are ways to do this. All state schools should have compulsory sex and relationship education.

We’ve had these debates across religions before, and it’s quite possible to build up a consensus about the way in which we can do this.

Different faiths will have their own faith teachings and religious teachings, but at the same time – you say, ‘Legally, this is what the law says, and this is what you’re able to do’.

You should never tolerate prejudice or discrimination, and I don’t feel this is troubled territory. We should be confident about it.

Would you consider the case for banning ‘gay cure’ therapy?

Yes – we need to deal with gay cure therapies.

We should now be looking at a ban for minors, and consulting on what more can we do to strengthen the law to prevent this practice in the National Health Service. The NHS has said it will not facilitate access to this – we also need to look at whether we need to strengthen the law to prevent it as well.

Lord Black of Brentwood is set to introduce a private member’s bill on this in the Lords. If you were Labour leader, would you work cross-party to outlaw gay cure therapy?

Exactly – and if we have the chance to put down amendments to outlaw it, then we will do that as well.

It’s not treatment, the idea of even calling it treatment is actually an abuse, and so we shouldn’t allow anybody to be promoting the idea that this somehow should be treated as a ‘cure’.

You just shouldn’t – I think it’s deeply destructive to do so. And so we should be making sure that that kind of thing is not happening in the UK, and if we have to strengthen to law to do so then we must.

Jeremy Corbyn recently told PinkNews he’d potentially cut diplomatic ties to countries who have bad records on LGBT rights, and would look towards economic sanctions. Is that the kind of model you would take?

The approach that you take will vary from country to country, and that’s why I’m delighted to have the support and endorsement of [Labour’s LGBT envoy] Michael Cashman.

The appointment of Michael to be the envoy across the world in terms of international policy on this is really important. You want to put whatever pressure you can on in different ways.

It is the new frontier now: what should we be doing globally to champion LGBT rights and persecution?

It means looking again at the way the immigration system is working around asylum issues. There’s been obvious cases where that has not worked, and has not been treated properly as well.

I don’t think there’s a blanket approach – we need to look at the pressure we would put on in different ways. By not allowing the rainbow flag to be flown in British embassies, [Foreign Secretary] Philip Hammond is completely turning the clock back.

We should be strongly campaigning and supporting LGBT groups around the world. You want to support local campaigns and local organisations –  and simply having a blanket approach about economic sanctions may not be what they’re calling for at all.

They might want different kinds of support, and help with campaigns in order to change practices in each country.

Of course, Jeremy has previously worked with Iranian state-owned TV station PressTV, despite Iran executing gay people…

I think you should challenge homophobia wherever you find it.

We’re seeing massive movement on same-sex marriage around the world at the moment – Ireland’s landslide referendum, and the US Supreme Court ruling bringing equality to all 50 states. Yet in our own country, equal marriage is still being blocked in Northern Ireland. Ed Miliband pledged to be a ‘warrior’ on LGBT rights around the world – but he couldn’t call for full equality in our own country because of devolution. As Labour leader, would you put pressure on Northern Ireland, to make sure we have equality across the UK? How can we lecture other countries about equal rights if we don’t have them ourselves?

Devolution of Northern Ireland is part of the peace process – and I think that’s really important.

Given what’s happened in the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, there is a great opportunity for Northern Ireland to make progress on this. We have a devolved process, so that’s the right way to push everything forward. This is an opportunity for them to do so, and to be encouraged to do so as well.

The UK government hasn’t really been seen to speak out about this, though – they’ve taken the view that it’s a devolved matter. Is devolution more important than equality?

I don’t think it’s about choosing between the two things. We set up devolution in Scotland, they had a separate set of votes to get equal marriage – but they have done it, and they got equal marriage.

I think you can make progress through the existing devolution settlements. You have a debate in all the different areas. We’ve got a process to do that and we should encourage them to do so.

The Republic of Ireland also recently introduced new gender recognition laws which are much more progressive then ours, allowing trans people to self identify, and separating it out from the medical system. Do you think our system needs a refresh, to keep up?

Yes, I do.

When you have half of trans young people are attempting to take their own life according to current figures and that’s dreadful, just shocking. That shows that the current framework isn’t working.

It shows that the people aren’t getting enough support. There are also wider questions about the law not working. I’ve talked about issues such as gender X passports, like the Australian passport system – there are wider things there as well.

What you need is actually a full review of law to actually look at all the ways in which the laws working and all of the issues that people have raised. Things have changed a lot, and other countries are taking different approaches to this, and I do think we haven’t looked at this for some time.

Andy Burnham told PinkNews recently that he thought the Pope could lead a charge to change the way that the Catholic Church approaches LGBT rights. Do you think that religious groups are going to change?

I hope so. I think they will eventually change, and I will just urge them to keep doing so. When we had the equal marriage debate, my core was to urge all of the faith groups – the CofE particularly, but all groups – to change their approach.

I think they are out of date on this and they should embrace loving relationships. Support loving relationships.

During Lib Dem leadership election, Norman Lamb told PinkNews he wants to see more LGBT characters in children’s programmes like Peppa Pig, to show that LGBT people are a normal part of life. Is this something you’d like to see? Would you like to see a gay character in Peppa Pig?

Yeah, I think it’d be great fun.

The whole point is that actually, for kids growing up – the whole point is for people to celebrating and understanding same-sex relationships because this is the rest of the world around you. This is normal life.

From 1997, Labour won over large parts of the gay community on LGBT issues – but PinkNews polling in the run up to the election showed that LGBT people are now just as likely to vote Conservative as they are to vote Labour. How do you think you could win those voters back if you were leader?

Campaigning for LGBT equality has been part of the Labour party for many years. A whole series of things that we did while in government were all about equal rights.

We’ve got to be much stronger now for the future about all the areas where the rights just don’t happen in practice.

Whether it’s about things like homophobic bullying in schools, or the reality of prejudice, there’s so many areas where we have got to be loud and confident about championing equality, about what we still need to do in order to get the equality in practice.

It reflects all of the things we campaigned on for so many years – that the consensus has changed. The fact that the Tories have had to change their position is a reflection of the campaigning work that Labour have done over many years, but we just can’t stop here.

It’s got to be about recognising the reality of prejudice, challenging it and being very demanding about what we need to do in the future.

Do you think Labour got it wrong on the economy at the last election?

We should have had a more positive approach to business.

Part of our problem was a lot of people working in the private sector – either self employed or entrepreneurs – said, as one business woman put it to me: “I wanted to vote for you but you broke my heart at the last election – you pushed me away.”

We can’t ever be in that position. We had a lot of good strong policies, but we have to be more positive about working with business.

I spoke about doubling investment in science so we can get more high-tech manufacturing jobs for the future. But what I’m strongly opposed to, is the Osborne approach – which is a 40% cut from public services, no productivity or growth plans at all.

There’s no strategy for vocational skills, no strategy for science – so I think we should be setting out an alternative, which is different what the Tories are doing, but it’s also credible for the future, so that we can win – otherwise we’re letting people down.

Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg cited same-sex marriage as one of the Coalition’s proudest achievements. Do you feel that Labour under Gordon Brown made a mistake, by ruling out same-sex marriage in 2010? Although you played an amazing role in getting same-sex marriage through – do you regret that it didn’t happen under Labour in the first place?

I would’ve loved us to have gone further and faster on equal marriage – but you have to remember, we did make huge changes under the Labour government in terms of changing the law.

Whether it was about access to services, or serving in the armed forces, whether it’s about adoption, whether it was the initial civil partnerships which paved the way for equal marriage – huge change were made.

I am so proud of the changes – campaigns against Section 28 and apartheid were the two issues I got involved as a teenager before I was involved in the Labour party – and we had a Labour government that abolished Section 28. We had a lot of those changes that took place.

Of course you always want to go further, of course you always want to be doing more. And a lot of that now is not just about the law, it’s about what actually happens and it’s about attitudes.

A source in Andy’s campaign team recently described your tactics as ‘straight out of the Ed Balls playbook’.  How much of that has to do with traditional gender roles? If you were married to another female politician, do you think people would still refer to you in this way?  

Well, it’s interesting to note that when Ed was standing in the 2010 leadership election, I don’t think he was asked about my views at all.

There is a tendency to do so now. It does remind me of the anti-suffragette strategy, to somehow argue that women can’t do things because they’ll be too influenced by their husbands – that’s what they said about the suffragettes.

Today is 2015, not 1915.

Apparently Ed is not going to go on Strictly Come Dancing… but given controversy over same-sex dance couples, do you think he’d make a statement and dance with a man?

I got into trouble last time I suggested that Ed might do Strictly Come Dancing as a joke! I think I’m not getting to get drawn into anymore Ed on Strictly jokes – because I’ll get in trouble!