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LGBT+ movement must build alliances with other minorities under attack

Former Stonewall director Angela Mason looks back on the fight for equality - and what needs to happen now

05 July, 2019 — By Angela Mason

In 1992 I swapped writing legal briefs for Camden Council – in which I regularly argued for the council to support Pride despite Section 28 of the Local Government Act – to become executive director of a little-known lesbian and gay organisation called Stonewall.

Founded 30 years ago, Stonewall was a response to Section 28, at a time when lesbians and gay men had no legal rights.

Young gay men were still criminalised, gay-bashing was rampant and condoned by the police, “homosexuals” were thrown out of the armed forces and many other jobs, lesbian mothers were losing their children and partners lost their homes when one died.

When the Margaret Thatcher government passed Section 28 in 1989 she, in effect, “outed” a political struggle that had been bubbling away since Gay Liberation.

Alongside the AIDS crisis, Section 28 put the repression of lesbians and gay men in the political spotlight and highlighted a level of legal repression in the United Kingdom which was simply inconsistent with modern life, and which we were no longer prepared to tolerate.

Pride in London 2015[/caption]

Famously, or infamously, local authorities were a big part of the story. Section 28 was part of a Tory attack on local government which included compulsory competitive tendering and rate-capping, and banned “the intentional promotion” of homosexuality or the “acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” in maintained schools.

It was designed to curb radical Labour authorities, like Camden Council, who were taking new steps to “municipalise” public services and empower women, BAME and LGBT communities.

The attack on local government that Section 28 started is a fight that continues to this day, as we now face massive cuts that could not have been dreamed of in the 1980s, the outsourcing of schools, and the marketisation of public services.

Monday’s debate at full council on “Supporting and Championing Camden’s LGBT+ communities” will feel in some senses like a coming home – an opportunity to publicly reclaim a political space that welcomes and supports lesbians and gay men alongside the transgender community, that right-wing governments sought to deny.

That we can have this debate is testimony to 30 years of struggle in which Camden continued to play a part.
Camden Nalgo members held the first ever lesbian and gay trade union conference in Camden, sitting on tiny chairs in Hampden nursery after been refused insurance for the conference on the grounds that homosexuality was immoral and therefore not an insurable risk.

I remember Her Imperial Highness Regina Fong (the late Reg Bundy), doyen of the Black Cap, performing the Typewriter Song at Stonewall’s annual Equality Show at the Royal Albert Hall, watched by the then leader of the Opposition Tony Blair.

“Did you do the actions?” I heard Ian McKellen ask Tony.

Throughout this time Camden’s Lesbian and Gay Forum has gone on meeting through thick and thin.

Debates now rage about whether the LGBT+ movement has lost its radical edge, its transformative dreams.

In the long run I do not believe that LGBT+ rights can stand on their own.

Freedom can only flourish in a society where collective provision and local democratic control provide the infrastructure of society.

Today we see the rise of the far right, nationally and internationally, fuelled in the UK by a right-wing Brexit project.

It is more important than ever that the LGBT+ movement builds alliances with other minorities whose rights are also under attack and remembers that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

This year Camden Council will be taking part at Pride for the first time in almost 20 years.

I will be proudly marching alongside them waving my flag high, as we follow on in our long history of fighting for equality and progress.

Angela Mason is Labour councillor for Cantelowes ward and Camden’s Cabinet Member for Best Start for Children and Families, a founder member Gay Liberation Front, and Executive Director Stonewall 1992-2002.

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