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Election: ‘The Liberal Democrats’ record on LGBT rights speaks for itself – and so does Tim Farron’s’ (Opinion)

By Will Stroude

As last night’s BBC Question Time Debate with Tim Farron made one thing clear: there is no conflict between his faith and his support for LGBT+ rights. Making clear he is “not running for Pope”, he does “not go round talking about his faith”. There is no conflict: he does not believe homosexuality is a sin. He has never said that it is. His personal record ranges from his first campaign at 16 fighting section 28, to voting in the last parliament for same-sex marriage.

This is why I am voting for the Liberal Democrats on Thursday. A party that has supported gay rights since 1975 (when known as the Liberal Party), and trans rights since 1998. A party that provides the space for conviction politicians who are driven by their passion to promote equality issues, years before the mainstream.

We should not forget the great leaps in gay equality over the last two decades were mainly instigated by successful litigation (armed forces, age of consent, trans pension rights), and were also periods in which both the Labour and Conservative party have caused us harm. As a first-generation immigrant and a jobbing legal aid lawyer representing migrants and asylum-seekers, it is how a party protects migrants that lies at the core of my voting intentions.

In 2008, the Liberal Democrat party conference passed a motion to support gay and lesbian asylum-seekers and oppose investigation on whether they can be ‘discreet’ back home. In government, Labour from 2004 to 2010 refused gay asylum claims on the basis they could return to their home countries – such as Iran, where gay men faced the death penalty, or Jamaica where lesbians face curative rape – as they could ‘choose’ to be discreet and this would be ‘reasonably tolerable’. We talk about records on gay rights, but Jeremy Corbyn did not stop his party from applying this Labour government policy to gay refugees for six years.

While serving as Home Secretary, Theresa May ignored a 2011 Court of Appeal order dis-applying use of a case used to refuse asylum claims of those who were LGBT+, trafficked women, and victims of domestic violence, back to Albania. It took the Home Office until last December to accept this error, recorded by the Court of Appeal in a judgement last month, but not after hundreds would have been refused asylum with a real risk to those returned.

The EU referendum was about leaving the European Union, and not the Single Market. We are now being told that we, the electorate, should accept the final deal negotiated by politicians without a say – creating a democratic deficit. The Liberal Democrats are the only party to call for a second referendum to ensure that the final say is with “the British people, and not politicians”. Reversibility of Article 50 will be left in the hands of our Parliament following this week’s announcement the proposed reference to the European Court of Justice via litigation in Dublin has now been abandoned, making this manifesto commitment to let us have the final say even more significant. Brexit will be devastating to our public services. A one percent tax rise to pay for health and social care promised by the Liberal Democrats will provide the needed funding for our NHS, a national institution currently flat-lining.

When it comes to our EU public services staff, Labour promises “sensible immigration rules” to replace free movement, but fails to provide the details. Working in the immigration and asylum field for the past 16 years, the irony of Labour’s Keir Starmer relishing Brexit as an “opportunity for sensible immigration rules” is not lost. I envisage a placing of barriers, rather than opening doors to those who will, or have contributed to our society, from entering or remaining in the UK. Our votes provide the best chance to elect Liberal Democrat MPs who will truly represent, by implementing the views of their constituents who oppose hard Brexit (a point ignored by my constituency MP Emily Thornberry when voting for Brexit in a Remain Islington South).

Thursday will mark a day in our nation’s history unparalleled in election terms. Never in recent history has there been not one, but two terror attacks within an election period, striking fear in all of us who at the same time have a commitment to a democratic diverse society. In this new dawn, following the horrific attacks in Manchester and London, the threat to our civil liberties will be the greatest with a push to make new surveillance laws. The Liberal Democrats are committed to rolling back surveillance laws.

The facts now reveal Khuram Butt, one of last Saturday’s London attackers, was known to the security services. This highlights an issue of resources, not a need for new surveillance laws. Theresa May accused the Police Federation in 2015 of a ‘cry wolf’ scaremongering mentality when reacting to their fear of cuts. The Liberal Democrats have committed to a £300 million increase in funding for the police and security services, ensuring their well-founded fears are addressed.

So, on Thursday when casting my vote for the Liberal Democrats, I will be voting for a secure Britain – one that looks forward, and not backward, in protecting our rights and our future.

S. Chelvan is a Barrister at No5 Chambers. He specialises in immigration and asylum law, specifically with respect to LGBT+ asylum claims. He is ranked in the 2015 Independent on Sunday Rainbowlist, listed in the Black Law Directory Powerlist, awarded the 2014 Legal Aid Barrister of the Year award and nominated in the 2017 Barrister of the Year category for the Lawyer magazine awards.

Follow him on Twitter @S_Chelvan.

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