Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner on her ‘natural affinity’ with LGBT+ people and ‘accidentally’ turning up to a fetish night

Angela Rayner was elected deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party by its half a million electorate. (Martin Hobby)

Angela Rayner has always thought of herself as an underdog.

Aged 16, she was told she would never amount to anything.

Raised in a Stockport council estate, Rayner left school without any qualifications. She was pregnant, never went to university and was devoted to caring for her mother.

Aged 40, she is the deputy leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party.

Radiating resilience and defying a Westminster defined by and stuffed with wet, newspaper-haired men with silvered backgrounds, Rayner was elected on Saturday.

A former shadow education secretary and Ashton-under-Lyne MP, Rayner drew 52.6 per cent of Labour’s half a million voters. A decisive mandate that, much like new leader Keir Starmer’s, almost felt inevitable throughout the 12-week contest.

While Rayner’s campaign of everyday socialism was powered by her past and the coronavirus pandemic changing the priorities of the present, the future Rayner envisions, when it comes to LGBT+ folk, is a positive one.

Angela Rayner's rise through the ranks captures the ingenuity and resilience praised by Britain's Labour Party. She's now its deputy leader. (Martin Hobby)

Angela Rayner and her rise through the ranks captures the ingenuity and resilience praised by Britain’s Labour Party. She’s now its deputy leader. (Martin Hobby)

Labour may have been defanged by last December’s devasting election result, but Rayner is determined to keep LGBT+ rights front and centre, reflecting her sturdy history voting in favour of the community.

Speaking to PinkNews at the 2020 LGBT+ Labour hustings – in February, before the coronavirus pandemic changed everything about life as we know it – she described why trans rights are human rights and when she accidentally went to a fetish night at a gay bar.

Happens to the best of us, Angela…

PinkNews: When did LGBT+ rights become part of your either your political or personal agenda? 

Angela Rayner: I think it was because my friend and I could tell that people treated her differently, because one of our friends at school was outwardly gay and came out at 14.

I was brought up in Manchester in the 90s. And it was such a wild place in the night and we had the Hacienda. It was just a real hotbed of difference. And the LGBT+ community in Manchester, especially around that period, was really out there.

I think it was probably at school and I thought – it’s the injustice bit. It’s not about who you have sex with, it’s about acceptance for who you are.

And as a ginger kid off a council estate who never really felt quite good enough, I always felt that natural affinity [to the LGBT+ community] because I was always the outsider.

So as someone who was a bit loud – and, as a child, people don’t like loud people – I was bullied. I felt, actually, that it was about celebrating who you are, and liking who you are.

Do you remember the first time someone came out to you and how it made you feel at the time?

Yeah, I think it was, again, my friend who wasn’t so openly like, “I’m gay”, it’s was just that we knew that we were different. And people were different tend to find each other.

We found each other because we were both different, and people were bullying us because of that. And I think that was the kind of thing that stood out to me.

And then as I got older, I noticed that there were specific instances of why people treated my friends differently, who were lesbian and gay.

Former shadow education secretary Angela Rayner. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

And we also knew about the 80s with HIV. I remember the advert with the grey, big words and the homophobia that was around at the time was absolutely dreadful.

I remember seeing all of that and being in the hotbed of Manchester and realising that […] it was just always natural to me. It was just fun.

It felt like you could celebrate and be rebellious about who you were. It was negative in some regards because I remember the hostility.

But there was a sense of solidarity for me because I’d always been bullied and not accepted. So being part of the LGBT+ community was somewhere where I felt I could be myself and love myself for who I was.

With a rise in transphobia both in the media and a rise transphobic hate crimes out in the streets, do you have any general message for trans people?

You’ll always have an ally in me.

I’m so sorry that you’re facing that Section 28 moment today, but you know, look back on what happened with Section 28 and the horribleness.

Look how far we’ve come! I’m so sorry that society has still not been accepted.

But I promise you, I will always fight to make sure that things are changing and do change.

And I have signed the pledges. I have been out there making sure that compulsory education is in schools so that people understand their prejudices, and making sure that society really pushes forward.

It’s not about what genitalia you have – you should be able to self identify who you are and be loved for who you are.

So please don’t ever let anyone put you in a box and tell you you’re not good enough, because you’re amazing.

In 2019 the Tories promised they were going to help teachers tackle bullying, which includes homophobic bullying. If a school child was to call someone a ‘tank-topped bum boy’, what do you think the punishment should be?

Boris Johnson shouldn’t be fit to be an MP let alone the prime minister.

He’s a homophobic, racist, misogynist and he’s got no place in parliament and that’s actually been penalised by the parliamentary standards more times than I think any other MP for breaking the rules so it shouldn’t be in there, full stop.

Angela Rayner, MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, out campaigning in Oldham, Manchester. (Nicola Tree/Getty Images)

Angela Rayner, MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, out campaigning in Oldham, Manchester. (Nicola Tree/Getty Images)

But actually, if it’s happening in the school, the teachers have to intervene and they have to make absolutely clear what that is – educate – and if it carries on that school that people should be excluded, there’s no place for that in our education system.

And I’m really proud that I’ve actually led the way for the Labour front-bench on compulsory sex and relationship education in schools.

I’ve supported the government in making sure that what happened in Birmingham is crushed, so it doesn’t happen again that we have Exclusion Zones, so our kids don’t have to walk through riots of adults that should know better.

We have to just keep pushing forward.

I’m sorry that society still hasn’t moved on enough to ensure that everybody feels loved and accepted, but I won’t stop as deputy leader, a member of society, or a member of the Labour Party until everybody feels loved and valued and welcome.

Because that’s why I joined the Labour Party – it was a natural home for me, and we’ve got to make sure that everybody feels that they’re loved and valued.

What’s your favourite memory of a Pride parade?

It’s got to be [2019], because I did the Terrence Higgins Trust. I was there for the PrEP: Can’t Pass It On campaign.

And I was so fortunate to be there and actually I went viral because somebody had said, “Look at the state of her, she wants to be your education secretary and everything.”

Everybody – including tourists – literally piled on this guy and the message went absolutely viral because of the dancing I was doing with my legs out as a glama. And people were like, “What She’s a grandma?” And it’s like, “Yes I am.”

So I think I picked it up for the girls to say yeah, as a grandma we still got it, especially after Theresa May did her robot dance. I think Pride gives you an opportunity to show that you’ve got moves.

What we want is an Angela Rayner and Theresa May dance-off.

I’ll win. It’s no competition!

We’re sure you won’t have to imagine very hard, but say you’re in a gay bar… What are you ordering at the bar and what song is going to get you to the dance floor?

OK, I don’t even know if I should say this, but I’m gonna say it.

I was in Glasgow for the hustings and Polo Lounge, which is a great gay bar, which if anyone hasn’t been you need to go – I mean, obviously not as good as Manchester, but anyway, the story!

So, it had been vandalised so I thought I’ll go along after the hustings to make sure that I show solidarity to the gay community in Glasgow.

Within weeks of announcing her deputy bid, Angela Rayner barrelled into the lead. (Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Within weeks of announcing her deputy bid, Angela Rayner barrelled into the lead. (Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

We got there did a picture went inside and thought, “Oh, this place us really nice.”

It was a fetish weekend.

I ended up at the Polo Lounge… on a fetish weekend.

So it was very, very exciting. Lots of staff who were with me were educated for the weekend on some of those things.

But I think it’s got to be something Venga Boys – “Going to Ibiza”. And that drink has got to be a Pornstar Martini!

You signed the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights pledge, which is brilliant. Tony Blair then came out and said he wouldn’t sign the pledge and that Labour shouldn’t get involved in the “culture war”. What was your reaction to that?

The war is our war. It’s exactly our war.

Well, we should be fighting.

Transgender women did not ask to be a political football in this and people are dying, people are killing themselves and feeling that they’ve got nowhere to turn because of this debate

I want to make sure that everyone feels valued and our trans sisters, our sisters, they are women and they deserve the right to be protected.

And I think it was really unhelpful and I’m quite upset by what Tony said.

Whenever there is an argument, you have to do what’s right, not what’s right by you. You have to do what’s right and that’s what the Labour Party stands for.

Otherwise, we stand for nothing at all.

Who’s your gay icon?

Anyone who is openly celebrating who they are, so Foo Foo Lammar was.

Obviously Alan Turing, and Emmeline Pankhurst, rocking it from Manchester.

So if you are Mancunian and you’re out and proud, then you’re absolutely fantastic!

And Carl Austin-Behan, who went out there and rocked it as our first openly gay mayor, I think was great!