PRIDE MONTH: FIGHTING FOR EQUALITY

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Martin spoke in the Backbench Business Debate on Pride Month. Here is an extract of his speech transcribed via Hansard:

Martin Docherty-Hughes MP (SNP, West Dunbartonshire): I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on bringing the debate to the House. I am a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on global lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT+) rights along with him and the hon. Members for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) and for Darlington (Peter Gibson).

I begin by associating myself with some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Wallasey about funding, which is a critical issue when we are dealing with hate targeting the LGBT community. I cannot underestimate the impact of dark money in feeding the far right wing in the United States. This House really needs to get a grip on that, especially in relation to Scottish Limited Partnerships.

The right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) was elected back in 1997. Many of us watched his election, because what we saw was an openly gay man standing for this House, even with so much thrown against him. We were glad, even on the SNP Benches, that he was elected; it was a great moment for many of us.

I also want to mention someone who never got into this House, because of the profoundly disturbing campaign against him during the election campaign in Bermondsey in the ’80s: Peter Tatchell. Peter is a Marmite person for many, but the campaign led against him back then exposes that all the political parties represented here have many different aspects to their history. Even those of us in the SNP have had issues around LGBTQ rights. Every political party has its history, and not all of it is great in standing up for equality. Peter should have had the opportunity to be here. I think he is a great loss to parliamentary democracy, but he campaigns vigorously outside this House and many people, including myself, are very grateful for that.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Labour, Brighton Kemptown): Peter has run a successful campaign to try to get an apology from the Metropolitan police and other police forces around the UK. The Metropolitan police made an apology as recently as last week, after his campaign success. Should that not lead to other police forces around the country apologising for their treatment of LGBT people historically?

Martin Docherty-Hughes MP (SNP, West Dunbartonshire): The hon. Gentleman is right; yes, is the simple answer. Peter also eventually got an apology from the Ministry of Defence for serving veterans who were so badly treated because of their sexuality.

I think I am the first openly LGBTQ Member for West Dunbartonshire, but like the right hon. Member for Exeter, that was not the first time I was elected. That was 31 years ago, to the old Clydebank District Council. It is a shipyard town, a burgh town—for the avoidance of doubt for Hansard that is spelled b, u, r, g, h. Growing up in a very working-class, Irish-Catholic background, sexuality, for many reasons, was never discussed, whether LGBTQ or anything else, because we had to deal with so many other profound issues of class and how that impacted our lives through poverty.

I was honoured to be elected back in 1992, but I did not come out to many of my friends until many years later. Actually, I came out before that. What am I saying? My mind has gone very foggy in my old age. I came out to my friends Neil and Stephen when I was 19, and their first reaction was, “Alright. Okay, tell us something we didn’t know; can we go to the Radnor Park pub for a pint? Right, okay, nae bother.” They, like me, are very open individuals—Stephen especially, because of his trade union involvement. As a heterosexual man and a trade unionist, he is keenly aware now, as he was back then, about dignity and equality for all.

But I was a lucky one. There were so many in my community, not just my hometown of Clydebank, but across Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven who did not get that support and whose lives were ended through sheer ignorance and hate—and that is not just those who died because of HIV and AIDS and the traumas that we in the community went through. That is why in 2015 I was glad that my sexuality was not an issue for anybody —absolutely no one. That said, it might be now!

Why are these issues important? It is important to reflect on where some of us, of a certain age, have come from, and why we believe it is so important that so many of the people behind us—those younger folk, who are under 50-odd—require that support. That is why I am grateful for the work of organisations such as the Equality Network in Scotland, the Time for Inclusive Education—TIE—campaign, Scottish Trans and LGBT Youth Scotland. Ignorance breeds hate, and with hate comes oppression. That is why I said earlier that all the political parties represented in the House have a sometimes dark history when it comes to LGBT rights, but it is also relevant to the issue of our relationships, in this House, with other countries.

We have already heard mention of the Commonwealth. I have to be open about this: I am not a big fan, and that is not just because I am a member of the LGBT community. I keep being given the same answer—that the Commonwealth is doing a lot to promote LGBTQ issues—but I have to say that in the last 10 years it has not been doing enough to stop the dreadful ramping up of hate that we are now seeing in Uganda and many other countries. That brings me back to the point made by the right hon. Member for Wallasey about the systemic use of dark money, coming through the Russian Federation, possibly being used in the Scottish limited partnerships, going through Ukraine into the United States and then feeding into the entire continent of Africa. We have already talked about Uganda, where LGBTQ people are subject to life imprisonment or possibly the death penalty; that is an extraordinary state of affairs.

To my mind—and this is a personal issue—the Commonwealth is failing LGBTQ citizens in the majority of countries. It is an absolute disgrace, but how has it come about? Let us be clear: it is a hangover from a imperial and colonial legal system, based on white supremacy, racism and homophobia, which was imposed on many of those nations and is now being manipulated by dark money. We need to recognise that the foundations of those principles go to the heart of the reactionary right wing.

We have heard about books being banned in the United States, and possibly being burnt next. I grew up in a community that was obliterated during the second world war. For people like me, the Nazi regime is not the ghost of some distant past but something that has had a dreadful, post-traumatic effect on our entire community. We need only look at what the regime did in the lead-up to taking full power after the Weimar Republic to understand how we now see ourselves in many parts of the world, notably the United States, where school boards are banning books that refer to dignity and equality. We know where that leads.

In 1935 the Nazis revised paragraph 175 of the existing statute of the German criminal code that banned sexual relations between men. Under the new Nazi version of the statute, a wide range of intimate and sexual behaviours could be, and were, punished as crimes. As a consequence, between 5,000 and 15,000 men were imprisoned in concentration camps for being “homosexuell”. This group of prisoners were typically required to wear a pink triangle on their camp uniforms as part of the prisoner classification system. Many, but not all, of those pink-triangle prisoners identified as gay; notably, it would be gay men who were given that definition. The pink triangle called attention to this prisoner population as a distinct group. It is dreadful to think that even within the concentration camps there was a division of terror and hate, but that is the reality.

It is important for us to remind ourselves that that constant narrative of hate needs to be exposed. It needs to be taken head-on, not only by this Government but by other Governments. I am glad that the Minister for Equalities is on the Front Bench, because I know he is a keen advocate of LGBTQ issues and that, as other Members have suggested, he will speak up in Government. However, I think he needs to give some answers to questions about conversion therapy, and he needs to give answers to my Parliament in Scotland—the one that I participate in and vote for—about why it is not being allowed to proceed with its Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill. That is an extraordinary position for a devolved Administration in the 21st century to find itself in, especially given Scotland’s history in relation to homosexuality.

We have come so far in Scotland. We did not decriminalise homosexuality until 1980; I think it was done in 1967 in England and Wales. That gives us some idea of the utterly dreadful situations that the LGBT community faced in Scotland. What a difference; what a change. We can look at other European nations as well. I come from a very strong Irish Catholic background, and I never thought in a month of Sundays that the Republic of Ireland would have a referendum on equal marriage. Let us get the wording right first of all: it is “equal marriage”, not “same-sex marriage”. My marriage to my husband is the same as that of anyone else in the Chamber. It is not different; it is equal. My sexuality is irrelevant. That is what the law is about when it comes to equal marriage.

Let us consider what has happened in countries such as Ireland and Malta. The fact that in Ireland, a public referendum for the entire citizenry of the Catholic nation endorsed equal marriage was extraordinary, and the subsequent election of an openly LGBT Taoiseach was the most profound change. Gender recognition in Ireland came about because of a public discourse. It was not just about politicians; it was about people’s assemblies coming together to discuss the deep issues that may supposedly divide people. The Irish people made up their minds and said, “Get on with it”, and in 2015 the Dáil—and, of course, the Oireachtas, because it went forward to the Seanad—said yes. That led to the Gender Recognition Act 2015. Where was the hoo-hah in Ireland? There was none, and since then a review has been more forthright in its support for the trans community in Ireland.

Let me end by emphasising this point to the Minister: Pride is a demonstration. It is not just about parties. Some of us are mindful of the people who did not make it this far: we are mindful of the black and Latino trans women in California who, in the 1950s, were the bedrock of LGBT rights, and other black and Latino trans women in New York— people like Marsha P. Johnson—were the bedrock of gay rights for white gay men like me. They turned up, and that is why I am here today. I am turning up in memory of them.

I hope the Minister will answer the answer the questions about conversion therapy and about why his Government think that the Government of Scotland do not have the right to a gender recognition Bill.

Watch the debate in full here.

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