John Peart, LSESU LGBT Officer, is bringing the campaign for equal marriage rights for gay people to the campus. In this post, he talks about LSE’s history of standing up for equality and explains why equal marriage rights for all is an important issue.
LSE has a proud history of fighting for under-represented communities. The UK arm of the Gay Liberation Front was founded on our campus; the suffragettes based themselves in the Towers. These revolutionary groups fought for liberation of their communities and stood up against the prejudice inherent in our political and legal systems, and in our everyday lives. It is right that we do our predecessors justice and take on today’s big issues; and for LGBT people living in the UK, there are few issues more important than their ability to have their relationships recognised as equal.
I’m proud to be launching the ‘LGBT Students for Equality’ campaign with the LSESU LGBT Alliance – the representative body of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students at LSE. The campaign aims to challenge the status quo and tackle homophobia within the broader community by focussing on issues such as same-sex marriage, and the systematic denial of the rights of LGBT people here and around the world.
This year, the message is simple; love is love and LGBT students deserve equality. That’s why we’re asking each and every student, and the broader LSE community to do something really simple. Sign our equal marriage pledge: “I believe in equal marriage and will pressure my representatives to support it.”
This pledge might seem simple, and that’s exactly the point, but its ramifications are significant. Whilst LGBT people have, for several years, had access to civil partnerships in the UK, the debate around extending full marriage rights to same-sex couples has been somewhat more of a contentious issue. The institution of marriage is steeped in cultural and religious heritage, and that’s what make the debate so divisive; claims that same-sex marriage will denigrate the institution, destroy heterosexual marriage, and undermine the traditional family are just the tip of the iceberg. But one inescapable truth remains throughout all this debate; love is love.
It may seem trivial to some to be even debating the issue of marriage; civil partnerships already provide most of the legal rights and protections of marriage, so why bother campaigning on this issue at all? Indeed, when several governments around the world still kill their citizens for being LGBT, and others have outlawed even talking about it, there might seem to be more pressing issues that we could be tackling. But this view would be misguided. Firstly, because it would smack of rank hypocrisy if we were to preach to the rest of the world without taking the rights of our own LGBT citizens seriously, and secondly, because we can fight for equal rights at home alongside fighting for them for others abroad.
They (whoever they are) say that “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”. And on the case of the rights of LGBT people, the UK government certainly needs to do better. We’ve come a long way on LGBT rights in the UK; not long ago, homosexuality was illegal; more recently, the last Conservative government introduced legislation not dissimilar to the gagging laws passed in Russia this year, in the form of ‘Section 28’ (which was later repealed under the Blair government).
Today, society is more accepting; LGBT people can be more open about their sexuality than they ever have done before. But still, in some areas, LGBT people are denied the equal status and respect they deserve; the ability to marry is one of the few remaining legal barriers to equality that must be smashed if the LGBT community is ever to escape homophobia, and until we can claim that this country genuinely treats its citizens as equals, we cannot legitimately call upon others to advance the rights of their citizens. And if by now, in 2012, we’re still not able to make such a simple demonstration of our commitment to equality then frankly it is a damning indictment of our society at large.
Over the course of the next few months, the LSESU LGBT Alliance, the representative body of LGBT students at LSE, will be bringing the debate over LGBT rights to the heart of campus. We’re starting with the equal marriage pledge, but the campaign will be far broader. With Pride Week coming up in Lent Term and LGBT History Month in February of next year, the LGBT Alliance will be out on the streets asking for your support in our fight for equal rights. From guest speakers, to panel debates, inter-faith forums and more, it’s going to be a huge campaign and we hope you’ll be with us. Love is love; join us in making that love equal.
John Peart is the LGBT Officer at the LSE Students’ Union. He is now in his third year at LSE, studying for a BSc in Government. John was previously a student officer at a further education College in Somerset and a member of the National Union of Students National Executive Council until July 2011.