Justine Greening, the UK’s first openly lesbian cabinet minister, launches campaign to save LGBT+ venues after lockdown

Justine Greening campaigns to save LGBT+ venues after lockdown

Former Tory equalities chief Justine Greening, who was the first-ever openly lesbian cabinet minister, has launched a campaign to ensure LGBT+ venues can reopen after lockdown.

Greening, who came out four years ago today during Pride in London 2016, announced the campaign, “Together Tomorrow”, in a letter to current Conservative equalities chief Liz Truss.

She is calling on the government to take two specific actions to make sure that LGBT+ venues – which have been shut for three months during the coronavirus pandemic, with many of them, like the iconic Royal Vauxhall Tavern, launching crowdfunders to stay afloat – can safely reopen.

The former MP – she represented the London borough of Putney from 2005 to 2019 – famously quit the Conservative party last September after blocking Boris Johnson’s plan for a “no deal” Brexit with a group of other Conservative rebels.

“LGBT+ venues have played a huge part in our community’s struggle, from the first Stonewall Riots in 1969 to the 1999 bombing of the Admiral Duncan right here in London,” said Greening, who was minister for women and equalities between 2016 and 2018.

“These venues are community hubs, often the only place that LGBT+ people regularly gather but COVID-19 poses them the greatest threat in a generation.”

The LGBT+ community has experienced increased isolation during lockdown, with many young people trapped at home with unsupportive parents and older LGBT+ people speaking out about the loneliness coronavirus has wrought on them.

The LGBT Foundation has said it has seen a huge increase in the number of calls to its helpline since the coronavirus pandemic started, with the number of calls received in one week mid-March more than double the number received in the same period last year.

Justine Greening, who left the House of Commons in November 2019, continued: “These venues are safe spaces for so many people across our country and we’ve already seen that the venues which are most at risk are those in areas where they might be the only place for miles around that LGBT+ people can be themselves.

“Disproportionately those venues that are forced to close will be also ones that serve women and people of colour, as well as working class members of our community.

“So not only does it pose a threat to our whole community but the impact would be felt the hardest by those who already sometimes feel excluded from our community.”

Her two demands of the government are that they ask councils to identify the LGBT+ spaces and venues in their local areas, and create extra protections for these with an aim to ensure not net loss of venues from year-to-year.

Secondly, Justine Greening is asking the government to work with local authorities and LGBT+ groups to set up an LGBT+ Cultural Preservation Fund, which could then offer grants to at-risk LGBT+ venues.

While this fund could not save every venue, business or job, she says it would be intended for venues with particular cultural, historic or community value while council-led protection plans are put in place.

“We all know the role that community spaces play in everyone’s lives and in the same way, these LGBT+ community spaces are so important in many people who are part of that community too,” Greening said.

“Without them, our community will be worse off which is why finding ways to protect them matters so much.”