“Diversity is our strength”
BY LINDA RILEY
Today, as deputy leadership bids for the Labour party are announced, one name, for me – and for LGBTQI equality – stands out. Dawn Butler, Labour MP for Brent Central, and someone I’m lucky enough to be able to call a friend.
One of six children, born and raised in east London to expats from Jamaica, Dawn’s desire to enter politics, “came from a deep-rooted commitment to address inequality and strong values, imparted from her parents”. It’s this desire to address inequality which I believe is going to be crucial for the LGBTQI community moving forward, as global politics moves further and further to the right, threatening our hard-won rights and freedoms.
Butler, who was awarded DIVA Ally Of The Year 2018, has consistently demonstrated why she is the right person to take on the deputy leadership of the Labour Party. Of all the candidates, she is the most experienced and, according to our readers, the one who most has LGBTQI rights embedded into her motivations, and thus, I believe, any future policies she helps to shape.
In my time as publisher of DIVA magazine, I have been to many LGBTQI events, and met politicians from both ends of the spectrum. From Pride events around the world, to Stonewall’s annual Workplace Conference, these politicians are keen to come along and give a speech because it makes them look good. This, to my eyes, is disingenuous, and you can tell they are not truly engaged with the issues at hand, often staying just long enough to pay lip service to equality and collect their kudos before dashing off.
But I have never been to an event where Butler has given an empty speech and then run off. She speaks from the heart, stays until the end, and really engages with the LGBTQI community. Butler talked passionately about the importance of allies at the UK’s first Transgender Conference recently, and said: “Without your rights, I can’t have my rights.” In doing so, she takes a stand for the most marginalised, even when doing so causes pushback from some sectors of society. In the face of the most vile homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, Butler stands her ground.
So it angers me to watch Butler struggle to get on the ballot for the Labour Party deputy leadership against Angela Raynor, despite Butler being the most experienced candidate, by far. Let’s not forget, she has served under two Labour PMs, was a member of the cabinet and also a shadow minister for Women In Equalities, and was the first person to use sign language whilst giving a speech in Parliament.
One key message of Butler’s that’s always stuck out in my mind, and one of her campaign taglines is: “Diversity is our strength”. And so, as she’s struggled to get onto the ballot paper, despite her experience, one needs to ask the question, why? John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, can see a problem with diversity at the top of the party, asking that Butler be supported, but the problem runs deep as he also eventually gave his vote to a white, male colleague.
The good news, for the moment, is that Dawn Butler has made it to the next stage of the deputy leadership race, and is one step closer to seeing her name on the ballot paper. As the decision of the leadership now goes out to the unions – and most importantly, Labour Party members (anyone who joins the party before 5pm on Monday 20 January will be able to vote in the leadership and deputy leadership elections) – I hope that each will find it in their hearts to consider one of the most LGBTQI-friendly politicians that Labour has ever known. I really hope that Dawn Butler will go on to become deputy leader of the Labour Party, and in doing so become the first BAME leader in the party in the 120 years since it was founded.
Of course, the next big step will be to see an out LGBTQI politician in a leadership role. And with politicians like Butler on our side, I’m confident we’ll get there.
Only reading DIVA online? You’re missing out. For more news, reviews and commentary, support queer content and buy the latest issue. Your support is, and always will be, invaluable.