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Q&A: Lib Dem leader Tim Farron answers questions on gay sex, LGBT equality

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has answered questions from PinkNews readers on LGBT rights ahead of the General Election.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats is the latest party leader to take part in our series of readers’ Q&As, addressing his plans for equality… and what he really thinks about gay sex.

Q – CJ, Wales (and many others): Do you understand why LGBT people were so upset by the time it took for you to say that you do not believe gay sex to be a sin? How do you reconcile your personal religious beliefs with civil laws which protect the rights of gay citizens?

A – I am a proud advocate of LGBT equality and have a track record that demonstrates that. Initially I chose not to speak out on my views on gay sex as I really didn’t think anyone would want the General Election campaign to turn into a theological debate.

As a leader of a political party, I don’t (and never will) see my role as making theological pronouncements. Nor did I think my role was to judge what is or isn’t a sin. However, it transpired that people formed an impression of me that was false and so I chose to speak out.

I have made my view clear and now I hope the debate can move forward to addressing the massive injustices many LGBT+ people face in our society and abroad.

First and foremost, we should be addressing the fact the ban on giving blood that LGBT people face is outdated, stigmatising and urgently needs to change. I have been working in parliament to overturn this ban since 2006. It’s time it changed.

PinkNews readers’ Q&As:

Conservative leader Theresa May

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood

Green co-leader Jonathan Bartlett

Q – David, Worthing: In view of increasingly horrifying reports which indicate that the Chechnyan authorities are trying to eliminate all gay men in their country, is there anything that can be done (maybe on a cross-party basis) to make it abundantly clear that unless this immediately ceases, all participants will be actively sought out and charged with crimes against humanity?

A – The reports from Chechnya are outrageous. The level of intolerance and homophobia we are seeing in Putin’s Russia is an absolute disgrace.

Since I first heard the reports, I have been speaking out and calling the UK government to condemn this violence. It is really disappointing that when they had an opportunity to visit Russia and do just that our Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, bowed to Donald Trump’s orders not to go.

We need to confront the Russian government about their actions immediately. But the only way we will ever stop the mindless targeting of the LGBT community across the world is by working with our friends and neighbours internationally who share our values. We need to collaborate to bring universal transformation.

Q – Mark, Bristol: One of the many consequences of the Health & Social Care Act passed by the Lib Dems in Coalition was the responsibility for HIV prevention and other sexual health services being moved from NHS Primary Care Trusts to Local Authorities and put out to tender. In addition, the Tories slashed the public health budget, with disastrous results for service investment across England and Wales. STI rates are increasing. What would the Liberal Democrats do to rectify this situation both in local and national government?

A – Addressing the crisis in our NHS and social care services is a priority for the Lib Dems. Chronic underfunding by the Tories has left us in a place where people aren’t getting the care or services they need. We urgently need to increase funding for our NHS and social care. That’s why we’re committing to putting a penny in the pound on Income Tax to raise £6bn for our NHS and social care.

This money will be directed to priority areas including public health – preventative measures such as improved education and advice. It will also go to improving access to community health services.

Q – Sophia, Durham: Your manifesto pledges to overhaul the 2004 Gender Recognition Act “to allow individuals to change their legal gender without unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles”. Does this mean you will allow individuals to self-declare their gender?

A – We want a streamlined simplification of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to allow individuals to change their legal gender at will. As a country, we have a long way to go on transgender rights to remove the ridiculous discrimination that is inherent in our systems and institutions. I am fully committed to campaigning on this.

Q – David, Hove: A variety of countries offer Gender X passports for people who do not conform to binary gender identities. Will you push for the UK government to follow New Zealand and Australia in introducing these types of passport options? Would you consider the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Select Committee to make government forms and paperwork as gender neutral as possible?

A – I have been pushing for Gender X passports and will continue to do so. It absolutely makes sense to introduce them – other countries have and so should the UK. It is frankly ridiculous that the Tories have refused to act on something as straight forward as this.

The Liberal Democrats introduced a Transgender and Intersex Charter which calls for the phased removal of gender markers in all documentation unless it is absolutely necessary. We’re starting with our own documents and I’ll carry on campaigning in parliament to make government forms as gender neutral as possible too.

Q – Jonathan, Manchester: Should PrEP be available on the NHS in England to gay men at higher risk of contracting HIV the same way it is already in Scotland and Wales?

A – We believe PrEP should be available on the NHS to those at high risk of HIV infection. With my full support, Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem health spokesperson, has been championing this campaign in and out of Parliament. All the studies show that PrEP is extremely effective at reducing the risk of infection in people who are at high risk of getting HIV. We need to make sure this treatment is made available on the NHS as soon as possible.

Q – Andrew, Edinburgh: You have spoken often and passionately of the need to meet our moral and legal commitments to providing refuge to those in crisis around the world, and your manifesto underlines that promise. A similar tone was struck in the coalition era about the treatment of LGBT people seeking asylum in the UK but with little apparent change in the manner of their treatment  Can you speak to what we might expect to see from either LD policy or an administration to more compassionately deal with present and future asylum applications on LGBT grounds? And can we reasonably expect the FCO to be able to apply leverage in places where LGBT person’s rights are violated?

A – Liberal Democrats have made a manifesto commitment to stop the deportation of and offer asylum to people fleeing countries where their sexual orientation or gender identification means that they risk imprisonment, torture, or execution. This is an issue that Liberal Democrat MPs and Peers have raised countless times over the years and we are passionate about making sure we see our immigration system change to protect those seeking asylum on LGBT grounds.

Our government should not stand by whilst other countries violate the rights of LGBT+ individuals. It is an abuse of our liberal values and we need to be bold in confronting countries who allow or endorse these violations. We’ll have most leverage if we work with other countries who share our values. With a united voice, our influence will greater.

Q – Stephen, Belfast: Will you support efforts to make equal marriage a reality in Northern Ireland as it is now the only part of the UK without it?

A – The Lib Dems are so proud that we led the campaign to legalise equal marriage in England and Wales.

This has had a profound impact for many people in our country and it also paved the way globally for other countries to do likewise. Since we passed the Bill in Westminster, America has now followed and so has Ireland. It would be great if Northern Ireland did too but it’s one for the Northern Irish to decide.

I will continue to support and champion efforts in England and Wales to make marriage truly equal.

Q – Nicholas, Manchester: Your manifesto promises a “comprehensive strategy for promoting the decriminalisation of homosexuality around the world and advancing the cause of LGBT+ rights” – what will this strategy look like?

A – At the core of this strategy will be working with others. The Lib Dems are strong believers in working in partnership to deliver policies that embody the values of liberalism. In the EU, Lib Dem MEPs have worked with our European neighbours to urge action on anti-homosexual laws introduced in Uganda. We will always look for opportunities to collaborate across borders to promote and deliver LGBT+ rights globally.

There are far too many places where people are persecuted because of their gender or sexuality. I passionately believe we must stand tall in the world, partner with other nations and defend and deliver universal LGBT+ rights.

Q – Elizabeth, London: Would you commit to making it illegal to offer services that claim to “cure” homosexuality to young people as is the case in several jurisdictions around the world?

A – I find the notion of ‘gay cure’ completely disgraceful. It is deeply offensive and can be extremely harmful. We absolutely need a review of all the organisations or individuals that offer conversion therapy to assess whether bans or regulations should be put in place.

Q – Lily, London: Your manifesto pledges “age-appropriate sex and relationship education” that covers LGBT+ relationships, but will this be truly LGBT+-inclusive and will it cover faith schools?

A – We think it’s really important that our education system gives children the life skills and knowledge they’ll need as adults. This is why we’re proposing to introduce a ‘curriculum for life’ as part of our slimmed down core national curriculum for all state-funded schools (faith and non-faith). It will include age-appropriate Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) that will include teaching about LGBT+ relationships that is LGBT+-inclusive.

Q – Chloe, Carlisle: Will you ever make an appearance at a Pride event in Cumbria?

A – I proudly support the Cumbria Pride and am really keen to attend it in the future. I think all the Pride events that happen across the country are fantastic. The organisers do an incredible job at making them positive and fun celebrations.

Q – Anthony, London: I would very much like to start a family with my fiancé and we are exploring the possibility of having a child via a surrogate mother with my sister as the egg donor. It will only be possible for us to have a baby this way via IVF. However, as we are a gay male couple, we are not entitled to any IVF support on the NHS, unlike straight or lesbian couples. As a doctor working in the NHS, I am well aware of the strain on our services but I also know that it is important to fairly allocate resources. I’m sure that you will agree that we have the same rights to start a family as any other loving couple, so should the NHS provide IVF to us as well as straight and lesbian couples?

A – As a father of four I can tell you that fatherhood is an amazing journey. We will always celebrate where children are brought up in loving homes. In your case, the decision on your access to IVF lies with your local NHS Clinical Commissioning Group but we recognise that this has become a postcode lottery thanks to chronic underfunding of our NHS. The Liberal Democrats want to see a penny-in-the-pound rise on all income tax bands and on dividends that would raise around £6bn a year for NHS to help prevent these inequalities.

Q – Aleavyan, Coventry: What are you doing to support Helen Belcher in Chippenham so that we may see our first openly transgender MP?  The Liberal Democrats are using All Women Shortlists to try to improve the party’s diversity. Your manifesto states that it will permit “all-BAME and all-LGBT+ parliamentary shortlists”, but does this mean that the Liberal Democrats will themselves use these shortlists to improve the representation of LGBT people, especially transgender and non-binary people?

A – I am so pleased that Helen Belcher is standing in Chippenham. She has my full support.  She is a fantastic candidate and would make a brilliant MP. The party and our activists are out campaigning for Helen and I know she is also receiving a huge amount of support from the transgender community across the UK.

The Lib Dems have been working really hard to improve the diversity of our candidates – it’s something we’re taking seriously as we believe the MPs in parliament must represent the country.

Unfortunately, as it stands, the law doesn’t allow us to have all-BAME or all LGBT+ shortlists. We will be campaigning to extend the Equalities Act to these groups so that, if necessary, we can look to implement such shortlists too. At the moment, we are doing what we can: when selecting a candidate local parties must reserve spaces on their shortlist for candidates from underrepresented backgrounds such as LGBT+ or BAME candidates.

This year we have almost double the number of LGBT+ candidates than in 2015. There’s still more to do but we’re definitely making progress.

Q – Christie, Dagenham: You have pledged in your manifesto to recognise people who “do not wish to identify as either male or female”. Does this mean, If the Lib Dems were to be elected into power again, would you amend the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 and make marriage truly equal in the UK?

A – We have committed in our manifesto to abolish remaining marriage inequalities. Passing the Equal Marriage Act was an amazing achievement but there is definitely more progress we can make. Particularly on transgender rights and removing the spousal veto. I am very keen to make this progress so that equal marriage really is equal.

Q – Ben, London:Who would you say is your Gay Icon and why?

A – David Bowie, he was a musical genius and his words and songs were the soundtrack to my youth. His music and style affected millions of us, and the world is a little less interesting now he’s gone.

PinkNews readers’ Q&As:

Conservative leader Theresa May

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood

Green co-leader Jonathan Bartlett

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