This weekend has been one of stark contrasts. On Saturday, I walked through Manchester while it was bracing itself for the worst because the English Defence League were out in force; making trouble while the sun shines. At one point, three fire engines and a squadron of police rushed past me toward Albert Square. The BBC reports do not mention any fires, so I am left wondering what that was all about. Maybe they were worried so many pasty white men out in the sun was going to make for some nasty sunburn.
I was in town to meet Matthew Sephton, chairman of LGBTory, with a view to discussing what could be done to further trans* rights. It was a very productive meeting and we discussed a range of problems that face trans people right now; from the way the Equality Act 2010 stripped a lot of legal protection (and basic recognition of legal gender) from the Gender Recognition Act 2004, to the problem of where to house trans people in prisons.
There’s a lot still to be done for trans people before we have equality and Matthew was very interested in pushing this side of the group’s remit. I think we have a chance to get some good work done here, which I’m sure you’ll agree is great news. We also discussed my joining the newly-formed LGBTory general council, which I accepted. All in all, a very productive meeting.
Skipping forward to today, I went to a fundraising event for the local Conservative Party in Bolton North East. You may recall from previous posts here that the MP for Bolton North East is Labour’s David Crausby, a man who toes the party line on just about everything and apparently only dissents when it comes to equal marriage rights for gay people (he voted against the equal marriage Bill, becoming one of only 22 Labour MPs who want to deny fellow human beings equality).
Mr Crausby is not the only person in the constituency who does not like the idea of gay marriage. I spoke to several grassroots Tories about the Bill and I wasn’t surprised at what I heard in response – not because I’m mistaken enough to think the Conservatives aren’t for equal rights, but because at least two of the party members I spoke to happily made disparaging comments about gay marriage right in front of me even though they knew I was gay.
Here’s where it gets interesting, however. Even those who weren’t in favour of gay marriage were in favour of equal rights for gay people.
How does this contradiction work, you may ask? Apparently the “separate but equal” lie that was fed to us all through the media and political rhetoric when the Labour Party introduced the Civil Partnership Act 2004 took hold better than I had previously believed. The reason most of these Conservatives were agains the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill started out with the usual “it’s not the place of the Government to redefine marriage”. I asked them whose place it was if it wasn’t the Government’s. There was no clear answer to this. Maybe it’s nobody’s place? Maybe marriage is just something that appears in the minds of adults, fully formed and unchanging? Who knows.
Anyway, I discussed the problems with civil partnerships with these people – the big problem of course being the clear lack of equality regarding pensions. When I explained that, the mood changed rather quickly. Now they were for equal rights. Nobody should have their pensions messed with, and nobody should lose out on their partner’s pensions just because their partner was the same sex as they are. Equality for all!
Just don’t call it marriage, okay? They really wouldn’t budge on that one. Still, it’s progress.
I’m not sure how to get over this last hurdle – and it really does seem to be the last hurdle to getting real grassroots support for the Bill, at least in Bolton. Everyone was for equality, once you got the argument past this weird problem of names. I just wish there was a simple solution to this stumbling block; one that could be trotted out to calm the misgivings of everyone who, when you explain the situation as it stands rather than as they’ve been told it stands, is actually all for equality.
It’s like being back at the start of transition all over again, with people repeatedly asking “but why do you want to be called Zoë now?” What is it with people and getting caught up over names?