Monday 7 September 2015

An Outing to Westminster

Less than a month after the UK’s General Election on 7th May when a record number of out lgbt MPs were elected, our newest parliament broke its own record again when a government minister, Nick Gibb, revealed he was also gay and was going to marry his partner.

The record that was broken on 7th May was that 32 openly lgbt MPs were elected, the largest ever number of candidates voted into national office on the same day anywhere in the world, and formed the largest group of openly lgbt members in any national parliament in the history of politics.

In this special year when we celebrate 750 years of the current form of parliament and 800 years of the Magna Carta it is fitting that we celebrate this achievement.

I’d like to think that each lgbt MP was elected because of his/her politics and not because of his/her gender/sexuality. No-one will deny that some voters would have deliberately voted against an lgbt candidate, that’s their right, but also some voters would for them.

A lot of research has been, and is still being, carried out by the LGBT Representation and Rights Research Initiative. This is the first academic programme in the USA, located at the University of North Carolina, which centres its research on how the lgbt community is represented in governments around the world. Their website is here.

I’ve illustrated the current state of parliamentary representation here in the figure of the Big Ben clock tower. Included in the number of lgbt MPs is Nick Gibb. The squares represent each UK constituency, coloured and grouped according to party. Constituencies which elected lgbt members are coloured pink at the top of their respective party group. BLUE is the Conservative Party, RED the Labour Party, and YELLOW the Scottish National Party (SNP). Other parties not electing lgbt members are at the bottom (for our purposes it’s not relevant to name them).

The total numbers of out lgbt candidates in the election was remarkable enough in itself. There were 155 who had declared their sexuality/gender prior to the election – far too many to list in details, so I’ll refer you to that analysis I just mentioned where the full list is given. At the previous general election of 2010 there was no definitive list of out candidates other than those who represented the three major parties (Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat).

There are other facts not mentioned in the LGBT Representation analysis. The first is that the SNP achieved a 100% record of having all 7 lgbt candidates elected. Among those 7 is another record breaker. Mhairi Black, the newly elected MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, was only 20 when she won her seat. That makes her the youngest MP in the House of Commons. Not only that but because between 1832 and 2006 the minimum legal age anyone was eligible to stand for parliament was 21 Mhairi is the youngest MP the country has had in over 183 years.

Since the 2010 general election UK politics has seen several major changes. The first is the SNP’s rise in national politics outside Scotland. Another is the more spectacular rise of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). In the popular mind UKIP has been given a right-wing stance which had been traditionally homophobic. UKIP put 6 lgbt candidates forward at the election, all but one of them coming in the top 3, but none of them winners. The 7th candidate, David Coburn, came 4th (out of 5), but as he is already an MEP I doubt if he or UKIP are very disappointed.

The election also highlighted the delicate path a candidate walks before an election. While representing his/her political party he/she has to be careful not to express a personal opinion. Many homophobic remarks have been spoken by candidates of all parties. Kerry Smith (UKIP, South Basildon and East Thunnock candidate) was heard to say last December that gay UKIP are “poofters”. He apologised during his election campaigning and blamed it on the medication he was taking!

Sometimes a candidates remarks from further back come back to haunt them. Rupert Reed (Green Party, Cambridge) was questioned about words he wrote in 2013 that people should not be forced to accept transgender women as “real” women. He too apologised.

A more serious allegation was made against Jason Zadrozny (Liberal Democrat, Ashfield), who was arrested on suspicion of child abuse with his partner just weeks before the election. Even though he was never actually charged with any offence he was deselected by his party and replaced. However, Jason stood as an independent candidate in the local elections held the same day and retained his seat for Ashfield on Nottinghamshire County Council.

The Labour Party came under fire over several unsubstantiated and false claims of championing equality, including that of its candidate for Sutton and Cheam, Emily Brothers, who claimed to be the first openly transgender candidate. Within hours people (including 2 transgender candidates from previous election) were informing her that she was, at least, the 4th.

Among other facts disclosed by lgbt candidates was that several revealed their HIV status – Adrian Hyyrylianen-Trett (Liberal Democrat, Vauxhall), Paul Childs (Liberal Democrat, Liverpool Riverside) and David Kirwan (Green, Broxtowe).

There’s a whole mountain of other information and analysis, but that’s enough for now. What will the new parliament hold for the lgbt community? It may encourage more lgbt politicians and candidates to be open about their sexuality and gender in the future, and may even influence politicians in other countries to do the same.

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