Tuesday 17 October 2006

Why are Ministers Blocking Anti-discrimination Laws for Lesbians, Gays and Transsexuals?

Way back in the early 1980s as a GLC Councillor I set up the GLC's Grants Committee, which gave grants to a vast number of local organisations providing much needed services to communities in London. A group serving the gay community approached us for support. It was a Gay Bereavement Counselling Service, which provided counselling and support for gay men and lesbians whose partner had died.

We adopted a firm equal opportunities policy which ensured that in the distribution of grants nobody would be discriminated against on grounds of race, colour, creed or sexuality. The counselling service was a superb example of the type of voluntary organisation which, with a little bit of state support, could play an esential role in supporting members of our community often in desperate need of care and assistance at a critical time in their lives.

The reaction at the time from the media and many politicians of all parties was appalling, with a hysterical tirade of the grotesquely abusive, homophobic attacks. I had my windows smashed, maggots put through my letterbox and the glass from a milk bottle broken into my children's sand pit.

Despite all the derision and abuse in the media and being denounced by leading political figures we continued on at the GLC to adhere to our equalities policies and even developed a specific Lesbian and Gay Committee to promote policies to respond to the needs of members of the lesbian and gay community in the capital.
Andy Harris, a fellow GLC councillor, served as the Chair of this committee. Tragically he died only a few weeks ago.

Twenty years on and the equalities policies we developed at the GLC have become accepted and adopted by all the main political parties as fair and sound common sense.

I was alarmed therefore to read the reports in this week's press that some ministers were seeking to block the recent legislative proposals to prevent companies, agencies, and public bodies like schools discriminating against people on grounds of their sexuality.

This is a very basic and overdue simple piece of legislation which removes a remaining discriminatory practice. No fair minded person living in a civilised society should have any objection to this measure.