Lib Dems’ Christine Jardine: Tories have failed to do anything positive for LGBTQ+ people

The Liberal Democrats have blasted the Conservative record on LGBTQ+ rights, saying they have failed to anything positive for the community.

Speaking to PinkNews ahead of the general election on Thursday (4 July), Liberal Democrat spokesperson for women and equalities Christine Jardine touched on various issues including rising hate crime rates, sex education and a trans inclusive ban on conversion practices.

PinkNews: Why should LGBTQ+ people vote for your party?

Christine Jardine: We have the well-being of LGBTQ+ people, and the LGBTQ+ community in general, and their rights, at the heart of what we believe and what we do. I don’t think it’s a case of “vote for us because we have a [specific] policy” – we do have policies which protect and benefit the LGBTQ+ community – but it’s an attitude, values, beliefs and our history.

It was [current leader] Ed Davey who introduced the clause that abolished Section 28 in 2003, when we weren’t [in] government, and it was the Liberal Democrats in government who worked very hard for, and were able to get legalised, same-sex marriage in 2013. Lynne Featherstone [the Lib Dem’s former spokesperson for home affairs] worked for that.

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And I think we have a clear commitment to respect and defend the rights of all LGBTQ+ people and that in one way for me is both positive and a negative. It shows our commitment but it’s slightly disappoints me that we have to make the same commitments again, that we haven’t made any progress as a society in five years, that the Conservative government has failed to do anything positive for the LGBTQ+ community and the fact that we’re still talking about the same issues that we’ve had a horrible debate on for more than two years, which is damaging and [has] upset a lot of people. It’s a huge disappointment.

[And our manifesto’s] commitment to ban all forms of conversion practices and tackle the shocking rise that we’re seeing in homophobic and transphobic abuse. The culture of disbelief at the Home Office, sending refugees back to countries where they’ll be persecuted – that’s got to end.

We’ve got to take the lead in advancing LGBTQ+ rights. We’ve got to do it not just in this country but around the world. We need a comprehensive strategy for dealing with it and I think the past five years have been a massive disappointment because of the lack of progress the Tories have been willing to allow.

What do you think of the Labour and the Conservatives campaign so far, particularly in terms of trans rights, single-sex spaces and the Equality Act?

It’s appalling, it’s damaging. The Equality Act protects everyone’s rights. It protects women’s rights and it protects LGBTQ+ rights. To start unpicking that is dangerous.

I have to be honest and say I am not really entirely sure what the Labour Party policy is any more and that saddens me because I thought that Labour always had a very strong policy, but I’m not sure where they stand. I know where we stand and, unfortunately, I think the Conservatives stand in a place that I would become uncomfortable with.

When it comes to the Equalities Act, it’s protected rights for 14 years and we should leave it [alone]. We should allow it to continue to do that because as soon as you start – it is a little fine tapestry – [to] pick one bit of it, the whole thing will come unravelled. It’s working, its protecting people and we need that protection.

The Tories have taken us backwards in a lot of areas and [their] toxic debate [has] fanned the flames around it and that’s why it’s so important that we have a change of government on Thursday. I hope that with that change of government, comes a change of attitude: a much more open, refreshing attitude. I don’t know what the Labour Party’s position is but I know if I’m re-elected, and if my colleagues are re-elected, we will be doing everything we can to change the direction of the narrative.

According to the TransLives Survey 2021, 40 per cent of transgender people face discrimination when seeking housing, 63 per cent face discrimination when seeking employment. What will you do to get these numbers down?

We have to tackle the horrific rise we have seen in homophobic attacks, but to me that’s symptomatic of an attitude in society that we have to address and we have to make sure that we clamp down on that. Education is important [so] that young people understand the issues and understand that we are all the same and that the debate which has happened over the past two years has been hugely damaging. Everything comes back to that.

The culture of disbelief at the Home Office has contributed to it but if we [are to] tackle the rise in homophobic and transphobic hate crimes, it will be by training the police better and taking the hostility out of the debate and if we do that, then we will begin to clamp down on the undercurrent of discrimination. Again, [this] is being fanned by the toxic debate and we have to get away from that. Once we [do], hopefully we will begin to see the debate quieten down.

Trans people are waiting years for gender-identity clinic appointments, what will you do to bring those numbers down?

I worry, I think all the hostility has contributed to that. There is a lot in the Cass Report that I didn’t agree with but one thing she did say was that the toxic debate – I’m sorry to keep coming back to it but it has been so damaging and it’s everywhere – has made it difficult for medical professionals. They don’t want to put their heads above the parapet for various reasons.

We have to get away from that and reassure them. We have to ensure that there are more, and better, medical facilities, but we have to make sure the politicians don’t dictate what they are and how they operate. We have to allow the medical profession to work on that and improve facilities.

Waiting lists in general, we’ve made clear that we want to invest in more GPs, more appointments, more mental-health professionals – crucially in schools – by tripling the digital media tax, so we provide the support which so many young people need.

And I think in a sad way that kind of goes hand-in-glove with your question about waiting lists because there is incredible mental pressure on young people who are waiting to see professionals and we need to help them and support them through that, but we need to, at the same time, invest in bringing down those waiting lists, make sure more facilities [are] available, invest [in] more clinics, more training, make it easier for GPs, make it easier for medical professionals. Make it easier for the treatment to be available and the appropriate treatment, make it more inclusive.

We’re becoming very exclusionary in our society, we have to reverse that and we have to be thinking more about vital services being available. One of the things I have found most difficult, being our women and equalities spokesperson over the past few years, when I am speaking to members of the trans community, or trans groups within the party, is that society as a whole, and politicians specifically, are letting them down.

[On] the availability of treatments for children and young people, I always try to think about what I’d want for my child. At the moment, I would be shockingly disappointed in the system for its failure as a politician, but as a parent I would be disappointed in our politicians.

We have to make sure the next government, which will probably be a Labour government, has a much healthier attitude and a much more progressive attitude and that we put pressure on them wherever we can, as we have in the past.

Countries such as Belgium, Denmark and Iceland have self-ID for trans people. Would you want that in Scotland? 

That’s one of the things which is in our manifesto. We want to de-medicalise the process, make it easier for people to have self-ID. That is vital, we [must] move forward as soon as possible.

We continue to support the same changes we put forward in 2018 to make that process simpler, less intrusive and, as I said earlier, the fact these are the same proposals as 2018, that’s a failure and we need to move on from there and we need to make it happen.

Would you ban conversion therapy, including those targeting trans people?

Yes. I wouldn’t call them therapies though, I would call them practices, because some of them are just horrible. Here is another frustration: the Conservative government promised to do that and they haven’t done it.

We have to do it. There were two private members bills in the last parliament… we’re not talking about genuine therapies where people want to talk to someone about what they’re going through, that is a completely different thing from conversion practices. Conversion practices need to be banned, the government promised it, failed to do it, and yes, we would support it – including the ban on trans conversion practices.

How would you ensure that sex education remains LGBTQ+-inclusive?

I have to be absolutely honest and say I would take guidance from our education people. I am very aware that I am not an education specialist but it’s about the language we use. Interestingly, I was at hustings at a mosque last night where one of the mothers was talking about how we don’t think about the language in religious education and what it says about Muslim children and how it makes them feel excluded. I know that is a completely different thing but it’s the same principle. The language we use in sex education can, even at its most innocent in terms of intention – its intention is not to exclude people – exclude.

The first thing we have to address is the language and make sure that children get the sex education they need. The current proposals the government put forward are ridiculous. The time they’re talking about introducing sex education into schools is too late. Most kids will know more than the teachers are about to tell them or at least as much. So, to me, that’s ludicrous.

To exclude young people from talking about the things that matter to them, young people who are struggling with their sexuality, and maybe beginning to think about it for the first time, must be able to talk about it in school. It must be accepted in school. We’ve got a long way to go before we achieve that.

We do need to make sure that children don’t feel restricted in what they can talk about. At the same time, there’s a very fine line to be drawn, [and] parents have to feel included. But I appreciate, from talking to the trans community, particularly, that that can be a very difficult situation because not all parents are necessarily supportive.

I do feel it’s vitally important that young people are able to talk about the issues that concern them about their sexuality and gender, in general as early as possible. We need to stop making it such a big deal to talk about in school… it’s something that people need to talk about, it’s who we are, and who we are is a myriad of different things. Just because you are “different” in some way from the person sitting next to you in class, shouldn’t be an issue.

Sexual-orientation hate crimes having increased five-fold between 2011 and 2023. What will you do to tackle anti-LGBTQ+ hate?

Like everything else, we have to get away from those toxic debates. I know I have said so often that has been the most damaging thing in this country, to our well-being as a society, for the [past] few years. Progress has stalled, we have to invest in combating all forms of prejudice and discrimination wherever they exist.

Diversity is a strength. When it comes to the increase in homophobic and transphobic crimes, we have to educate police officers and the prosecutors [about what to] look for. There has to be training available to them, we have to invest in that and in in all sorts of views, but when it comes to homophobic crimes, training is going to be essential for police officers, for prosecutors, for the criminal justice system in general.

I am a great believer that you have to address the issue at source and it’s all about education when we are young. Children are not born hating anyone, they’re not born seeing anyone as different or unusual, or having any kind of prejudice.

We teach them that as they grow up, and we want to address this issue. [If] we really want to stop homophobic crimes, any kind of discrimination in this country, it has to start by having a much more open, tolerant approach in schools, encouraging young people to reject any kind of discrimination because they learn [it] as they grow up.

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