Keir Starmer wants Labour to be the ‘party of the family’. That absolutely includes the LGBT+ community, says Wes Streeting

Wes Streeting
·5-min read

As leader Keir Starmer positions Labour as the ‘party of the family’, shadow minister for schools, patron of LGBT+ Labour and proud gay MP Wes Streeting explains how that vision absolutely includes the LGBT+ community.

At a time when right-wing populist movements across Europe and North America have shown that the progress we’ve made on LGBT+ equality can also be reversed, Labour will never cede ground to those who would write us out of our national story or seek to turn back the clock on our rights.

It is in that context that Labour leader Keir Starmer today sets out his vision to support families through the pandemic and rebuild our economy in its aftermath.

One of the reasons I knew I was Labour when I was growing up was listening to Conservative politicians talking about ‘family values’ and realising that they weren’t talking about families like mine. I was born to young, unmarried parents and while I have been very fortunate to have both of them in my life, they separated when I was young. They were single parents and the Tories demonised them, including our own prime minister Boris Johnson, who wrote in 1995 that single mums like mine ‘ill-raised ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate children’.

Our LGBT+ community understands better than most where that right-wing conception of family values leads and why the left must never leave this ground of what it means to be a family uncontested. Section 28 banned the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities and explicitly banned ‘the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’.

Section 28 had a chilling effect that led to generations like mine growing up in an education system that erased us and, too often, allowed us to be singled out, bullied, and marginalised.

Fast forward 30 years and the picture of family life for LGBT+ people couldn’t look more different. The last Labour government changed laws, hearts and minds. Gone was the hated Section 28 and in came adoption rights for same sex couples, an equal age of consent and civil partnerships that would pave the way for same-sex marriage.

Wes Streeting on Newsnight BBC LGBT protests no outsiders
Wes Streeting on Newsnight. (BBC)

Keir Starmer’s vision for Labour as the ‘party of the family’ is an inclusive vision – one that recognises that families come in different shapes and sizes and with different challenges.

The parents juggling work with keeping their kids learning from home this week include record numbers with two mums or two dads. The support we’re demanding for families, from a new legal and enforceable right to flexible furlough for both parents for childcare responsibilities through to provision of laptops and internet access to get every child online speak to same-sex parents as much as others. When we talk about parents, we’re talking about all parents.

That’s just one of the many reasons why our commitment as a party to inclusive relationships education, that recognises and celebrates different families, is unshakable. Children being dropped off at the school gates by same sex parents – as well as single parents, stepparents, foster carers and kinship carers for that matter – deserve to see their families recognised and understood by their classmates.

Fostering a culture of inclusion and understanding is absolute essential if we’re to tackle the prejudice-based bullying that is still too prevalent within schools. While we’ve seen significant progress over the last decade, Stonewall’s research shows that almost half of all LGBT+ pupils still face bullying at school for being LGBT+, and more than two in five trans young people have tried to take their own life.

For many of us, one of the hardest parts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been separation from our families. But for too many people in our community, separation from family is normal, painful and permanent. In spite of all the progress we’ve made, being yourself still means not being welcome in some families. The consequences can be devastating; Albert Kennedy Trust (akt) reports that one in four homeless young people are LGBT+.

I can understand why, for LGBT+ people who’ve been rejected by their families because of who they are or who they love, ‘family’ can have painful connotations. But LGBT+ people find new families and create our own networks of love and support. They’re not always our biological families, but they are family.

As Armistead Maupin wrote of his book, Logical Family: “It’s a pun on the words ‘biological family’, the idea being that sometimes your biological family won’t accept you at all, and you have to form your own circle of friends and loved ones who are logical for you.” It’s one of the reasons why we’re going to have to rally around our community spaces and venues that have taken a battering during lockdown.

We should never surrender to the notion that ‘the family’ doesn’t include us and Labour never will. As the TUC’s Antonia Bance wrote last night: “We are the party of paid maternity leave, paternity leave, Sure Start, tax credits, IVF for single and lesbian women, massive cuts to child poverty, civil partnerships, gay adoption rights and so much more. Of course we are the party of family.”

And as far as Keir Starmer and the Labour Party are concerned, that includes our community, too.