When I came out as gay in 1997, LGBT people in Britain didn’t enjoy the rights we have now. There was no formal recognition for gay couples; openly LGBT people were banned from serving in the armed forces, lesbians had no rights to fertility treatment on the NHS and there was no equal age of consent. It is hard to believe that was only twenty years ago, and even harder to believe that back then the shameful Section 28 was still enshrined in law. I was proud to be part of a Labour Government that go rid of that and did more for the advancement of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans equality than any other government in British history.
Throughout our history there have been remarkable individuals who never let the hatred and hostility they often faced stand in the way of the fight for equality. In the 1970s and 80s, politicians like Harvey Milk in the USA and Chris Smith in the UK, bravely fought to brake down discrimination against LGBT people.
They, and so many others, helped put us on the road to where we are today. But in a world where people can still be denied a wedding cake for being gay, there is still much more to be done.
In some countries being LGBT is punishable by death or it can lead to people losing their jobs or their homes. The barbarity of the so-called ‘conversion therapy’ is still causing needless pain for young LGBT people all over the world and needs to be outlawed. There is also still more to be done to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools and workplaces.
Hilary Clinton recently said that ‘gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights’. These comments, by a leading Presidential candidate, show that we’ve come a long way and should be an inspiration to us all at the start of LGBT History Month.
They should also serve as a reminder that we’ve now got to increase our efforts to end discrimination wherever it occurs so that LGBT people and their families can live, learn, marry, and work just like everybody else.
Angela Eagle MP
Shadow First Secretary of State and Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Enterprise