Linda Riley interviews Labour deputy leadership candidate, Richard Burgon


Last night, at the first ever LGBT+ Labour hustings event in Manchester, both leader and deputy leader candidates alike were put to the test on LGBTQI issues in front of hundreds of people.

It was a chance for each candidate to really set the agenda on how they plan to bring Labour back to power and support the queer community. Discussing issues such as trans rights, conversion therapy and homelessness at the hustings, Leeds East MP Richard Burgon expressed how important it is to build unity within the Labour party, ensuring that the views of the LGBTQI community are voiced in parliament and elsewhere.

Richard Burgon has been the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Lord Chancellor in the Shadow Cabinet of Jeremy Corbyn since 2016, and the MP for Leeds East since 2015. 

As the only deputy leadership candidate to not sign the Labour pledge regarding independent complaints procedures, DIVA publisher Linda Riley had burning questions for the Labour hopeful regarding various LGBTQI issues.

DIVA: What would you say are the biggest issues for LGBTQI voters and what would you do as deputy leader to address them?

RICHARD BURGON: All LGBTQI voters share the same concerns as everyone when it comes to public cuts, austerity and the rest of it. But specific to the LGBTQI community is the rise in hate crime and the rise in discrimination. I think that the main concern is the mainstreaming of hate and prejudice. Many of the battles we thought we won in the past need to be defended so that the progress doesn’t start going backwards.

How would you reassure the LGBTQI community in a post-Brexit UK that their hard-fought freedom is safe?

We have to work with the community and amplify its voice whenever we can. One way to do that in the Labour Party is to make sure we have better LGBTQI representation in parliament. I really welcome the fact that the Women’s Labour Conference now has policy making powers. Women know better than anyone else that policies need to be implemented in the interest of women. I think that if the LGBTQI community want that as well, they should have it in the Labour Party. I will work to ensure that we have policies informed from people’s experiences of how to tackle discrimination and to take it further.

How will you make sure that all identities and voices under the LGBTQI umbrella are listened to?

One way is the positive action on shortlists. The other way is to empower people from the LGBTQI community to stand for council, to stand for parliament. We need that representation in our party. The answers to all of these questions come from the community itself. We need to learn, listen and act.

You are the only of the eight deputy leader candidates that doesn’t want to sign the LGBT Labour pledge – could you explain why?

The only pledge I don’t agree with is that the party should have an independent complaints procedure. I don’t know of another organisation that does this successfully. I’ve signed up to every other pledge of the LGBT Labour Party. I’m a passionate supporter of those. I’m happy to discuss how there can be further independent features of the complaints’ procedure. It can’t just be enough for people who don’t have direct experience with discrimination to manage that. I think expert advice is needed.

Your campaign manager, Laura Pidcock, has been accused of being transphobic in the past – do you plan to expel trans exclusionary radical feminists from the party?

I certainly wouldn’t have anyone who is transphobic involved in or running my campaign.

She has expressed views that have upset the trans community.

She’s not transphobic. She can answer herself on her views and her opinions. To be clear, trans rights are human rights. I hope that the day is coming where people realise how ridiculous it is that we have to keep asserting that. The discrimination suffered by trans people is heart-breaking.

After I became an MP, I met with an organisation called Mermaids who explained this discrimination to me. I think of course we don’t want people who are bigoted transphobes in the Labour Party. It’s contrary to our party’s values.

When you consider the feelings of trans exclusionary radical feminists – do you consider that to be hate speech?

I’ve seen things on the internet which definitely do count as hate speech.

And you would expel them?

Anybody who is racist, anybody who is transphobic, anybody who is expressing sexist views or taking sexist actions, that’s not what the Labour Party is about. The discipline process has to deal with that.

What are your thoughts on LGBT education in schools, for example the No Outsiders programme, how would you stop this from happening as deputy leader?

I think that education is very important. Not only will school children learn about LGBT education as a result but actually their families will learn from it as well. I was horrified to see those protests outside of schools and something I do think should be done is to have an exclusion zone when it comes to protesting on these matters. It’s not right to subject children and parents to protests outside of the school gates.

With a government pushing us further right and a minister who abstained on same sex marriage, we need a strong opposition committed to protecting marginalised communities. What makes you the right person to deliver this?

In order to get equality, we need to fight the establishment, we need to fight views that have been prevalent amongst very powerful people for too long in our country. It horrifies me that we have a Prime Minister who uses homophobic phrases. This language needs to be called out and combated. As a deputy leader, I’ll be somebody who fights for all those suffering from oppression, but also somebody who understands that the answers to the issues don’t come from me. They come from the fact that I am committed to LGBT+ Labour members and let them put into practice their own solutions. If those members want it, they should definitely have a policy making conference of their own in relation to issues that face their community. I see it as a case of empowering them to lead the way in this struggle of oppression and I will support them.

We’re campaigning for greater lesbian visibility and we’re launching a Lesbian Visibility Week, will you pledge your support to #LoveTheL?

I think it’s fantastic and I certainly will pledge my support.

Who are your lesbian heroes?

Angela Davis, who came out in the 1990s, is a great hero of mine. She fights against so many injustices. As Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.” She has fought for socialism which I admire. I think as an intellectual, activist and socialist, she is my hero.

Why do you think LGBTQI women should back labour?

I think they should back Labour because it is a party of equality. We’ve got a fantastic LGBT group within our party who lead the way in making sure that their issues become our issues as a society. There’s a double discrimination faced by the LGBT community. I think that a Labour government rather than a Conservative government can deal with that. I would urge people from the community to give real consideration to backing Labour.

Last year, DIVA magazine celebrated 25 years on the newsstands. Get behind LGBTQI media and help us celebrate another 25. Your support is truly invaluable. // //

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