Peter Tatchell / Human Rights Activist News Wire

Gordon Brown - Friend Or Foe?

Absent from 13 of 14 gay equality votes

Doubts over Brown's commitment to gay rights

London – 27 June 2007
Gordon Brown has missed more gay equality votes in parliament than any other MP. In 13 out of 14 votes in the House of Commons Mr Brown has not bothered to turn up and vote.

While I doubt he is homophobic, he has failed to make any serious effort to vote in favour of gay law reform.

The out-going Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and other Labour Ministers have a much better track record when it comes to voting for gay equality.

Gordon's frequent absences send the wrong signal. They suggest he doesn't believe gay human rights are important.

As the new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown inherits the leadership of a
Labour government that is currently backing homophobic discrimination in six key policy areas:

The Equality Act 2006 places on all public bodies a legal duty to promote equality and combat discrimination on the grounds of race, gender and disability – but not on the grounds of sexual orientation. As a result, local councils, the health service, police and other public bodies remain free to ignore homophobic harassment and discrimination. It is called the Equality Act, not the Heterosexual Equality Act. Why is there no legal obligation on public bodies to tackle homophobia? How come we have been excluded?

The new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) is welcome but flawed. Its effectiveness and fairness will be inhibited by the uneven patch-work of equality laws, which Labour has, so far, failed to remedy. Some communities currently have more protection than others. Race legislation is, for example, much stronger than legislation on sexual orientation. To redress this legalised inequality, we need an upward harmonisation of all equality laws, to bring them into line with race equality legislation. In other words: a level legislative playing field. This requires a single uniform and comprehensive legal framework, to guarantee everyone the same high standard of equal treatment and protection against discrimination. After many protests and much lobbying, this is broadly what is set out in the government's proposed Single Equality Act; although the timetable for its introduction is still unclear. In addition, the CEHR needs to have separate, semi-autonomous committees, covering each of the six equality strands – race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, age and religion or belief. Different forms of discrimination have different causes and solutions. It therefore makes sense to have a race committee, a sexual orientation committee and so on. This would help ensure that gay issues don't get overshadowed by black and women's issues, as has happened in the past. Sadly, Labour
has rejected these proposed reforms.

Labour backs the ban on same-sex marriage. It supports a system of sexual apartheid, where gays are banned from marriage (homophobia) andstraights are banned from civil partnerships (heterophobia). This two-tiered system of partnership law is not equality. It perpetuates and extends discrimination. Marriage is the gold standard. Civil partnerships are second best. No one would accept the government telling Jewish people that they were prohibited from getting married, and offering them instead a separate Jews-only partnership system. We'd say it was anti-Semitic – a law we would expect to find in Nazi
Germany, not democratic Britain. Well, that's what I feel about civil partnerships. They are institutional homophobia. The Green Party is, so far, the only party officially committed to giving same-sex partners the right to civil marriage.

The government is refusing asylum to many lesbians and gays who have been jailed, tortured and raped in countries like Nigeria, Iraq, Jamaica, Iran, Algeria, Zimbabwe and Uganda. The Home Office says they won't be at risk of arrest and murder if they go back home, hide their sexuality, move to a different part of the country and behave 'with discretion.' It expects them to, if necessary, stop having sex and not have relationships. This way, according to the government, no one will know they are gay and they won't be persecuted. Based on this perverse logic, the Home Office often orders the deportation of lesbian and gay refugees, despite the danger they could be imprisoned or killed on their return to their home countries.

Labour, together with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, permits record stores and radio stations to promote CDs by violently homophobic reggae singers who openly advocate the murder of queers. No one has ever been prosecuted. Government ministers would never tolerate similar 'murder music' against Jewish or black people.
Indeed, when a Muslim cleric called for the killing of Jews he was promptly arrested, tried and jailed. Why aren't gays and lesbians entitled to the same legal protection?

The government wants to outlaw incitement to religious hatred, but it has, to date, rebuffed all requests to prohibit incitement to homophobic hatred. More double standards from Labour? Race hatred has been outlawed for decades. Why not homophobic hatred? If there are going to be laws against incitement to hatred, they should prohibit all incitements to hatred, not just some incitements.

These are six instances where Labour could have overturned homophobia, but has instead chosen to maintain discrimination. The government says it is committed to gay equality, but on these six key issues it has failed to deliver.

Why should we put up with Labour walking all over us? Don't let
Gordon Brown take the lesbian and gay community for granted.
Write or email Prime Minister. Tell him loud and clear: Equality is for
everyone, not just for some.

More from Peter Tatchell / Human Rights Activist News Wire
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