Jeremy Corbyn: Much more needs to be done to tackle homophobia in our society

jeremy corbyn getty

Fifty years ago today, Labour decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales.

It is astonishing to think that as recently as 1967, a person’s sexual orientation was considered a crime. Thousands of innocent people were arrested, imprisoned, and many subjected to cruel and degrading procedures against their will.

These prosecutions are a stain on our collective history. The government’s announcement this year that those convicted could receive posthumous pardons is welcome and overdue.

jeremy corbyn with john bercow and george montague
(Photo by Chris Jepson for PinkNews)

But a pardon for innocent people, who were punished because of their identity and the identity of the people they loved, seems insufficient to say the least. They deserve an apology for all that they suffered at the hands of the state.

As we mark the fifty years since this injustice was ended, we recognise the great strides towards equality that have been made during this time.

I am proud of the role the Labour Party played in these advances, by equalising the age of consent, introducing the Equality Act, equalising adoption laws, and legislating for civil partnerships for same-sex couples. Labour also repealed the deplorable Section 28 in 2003.

I am glad to have supported those changes, and to have voted for equal marriage under the Coalition Government.

But this progress is not down to MPs in Parliament. The change did not come from above, it never does. These achievements belong first and foremost to the LGBT community who have persevered against prejudice for many years.

And the struggle for equality is not over.

Today’s YouGov poll for PinkNews shows that much more needs to be done to tackle homophobia in our society. Homophobic hate crime must be treated as seriously as hate crime based on race and faith, by being made an aggravated offence.

Ensuring that our education system celebrates diversity, fosters understanding and combats prejudice is also essential. Sex and relationships education must be LGBT inclusive, and teachers should receive training about supporting LGBT students and addressing homophobic bullying.

We must also do more to advance trans rights. Last week, I called on the government to reform the Gender Recognition Act to allow trans people to self-identify their gender without being subjected to invasive medical tests. I am pleased to see the government has listened to LGBT activists on this important issue and will now review the Act. Labour will vote into Law any bill to improve the rights of trans people.

The LGBT community has been disproportionately affected by the government’s austerity programme, forcing many LGBT specialist services either to close down or scale back because of cuts to local government and NHS budgets. Labour would protect funding for services which cater to the needs of the LGBT community.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

In addition to improving LGBT rights at home, we must support those struggling for equality across the world. While twenty-four countries now recognise same-sex marriage as a legal right, there are many countries where homosexuality is punishable by death and many more where homophobic hatred and violence are commonplace.

Recently, we have heard the disturbing accounts of the abduction, torture and murder of gay men in Chechnya. This should be front and centre in the minds of all of us who care about human rights.

In America, the Trump Presidency has incited hatred and discrimination against LGBT people. Trump opposes gay marriage and his vice-president, Mike Pence, enacted a religious freedom bill which legalised discrimination against LGBT people.

Other world leaders have been unequivocal with the US President but not Theresa May, who has failed to challenge this in the strongest terms. I am a great believer that through dialogue we can open minds, unite people, and change the world.

Today we celebrate the decriminalisation of homosexuality and recognise the injustice faced by so many under those draconian laws. We are also reminded of how far we have come, and recommit ourselves to continuing to work towards full equality for LGBT people.

The struggle continues. The Labour Party will continue to proudly stand with the LGBT community against intolerance, homophobia and transphobia, wherever it is found.