Leadership candidates respond to LGBTIQ Questions

19 July 2016

The 2016 Green Party Leadership Election is taking place, with both the Leader and Deputy Leader(s) roles up for Election, LGBTIQ Greens asked the Candidates a set of Questions. Here are their answers.

 

Thinking particularly about the diversity of candidates in the General Election, and about the widely-held perception that the party internally is a party of bearded white men, what can the leadership do to improve the poor diversity within the Green Party?

 

Andrew Cooper (AC)

I think I would take issue with the 'widely held perception' that the party is dominated by men - it is notable that both our parliamentarians are women, two of our three MEPs are women, both our London Assembly members are women and a sizable proportion of our elected councillors are women. In the Ward I represent as a Councillor the other 2 Green Cllrs are women, one of whom I recruited and later went on to become Mayor of Kirklees and now Chairs the Council’s Scrutiny Committee. I'm also aware that considerable efforts have been made to get a roster of spokespeople (of which I am one) that is balanced in relation to gender, age, ethnicity and a range of other diversity identities, and that a number of prominent Greens in recent years have been open about identifying themselves as LGBTIQ+. I would agree that People of Colour are somewhat underrepresented in our councillor group in particular, and I would like to see more effort given to build the profile of councillors such as Magid Mah in Sheffield, whose background as a refugee makes his story a real inspiration.  He would make an excellent interviewee for Green World, for example, and/or for the public GPEW website. Alongside improving the profile of individual councillors I feel that the Association of Green Councillors has an important role to play in encouraging local parties and regional parties to adopt best practice in relation to diversifying the field of people willing to put themselves forward for selection as candidates, including strategies to improve engagement with all ethnic groups within a local community. 

Simon Ashley Cross (SAC); I believe that this must be the last leadership election representing such a narrow strand of the party. The diversity in the party is clearly not represented and whilst I stand on a platform of creating a leadership team to ensure representation going forward of all groups I am clearly not a traditional diversity candidate. I believe that in addition to a representative leadership team we must also have a genuine programme of future leaders training covering all aspects of gaining experience and the confidence to stand as leader of a major party. Succession planning is important but must also never dampen the enthusiasm of those who already have the confidence and ability to stand. It must also be made easier for people to understand that any member with 3 years membership can stand and theoretically has a level playing field. It would also be my intention to have media ready experts within the leadership team to deal with all media and press engagement so we can be seen as the inclusive party we truly are. In future elections it would be my desire to see many more candidates and to see the full diversity of the party represented.

Kat Boettge (KB); I believe that electing representatives from minority groups will help to make us more attractive to the wider public as well as to marginalised groups. I, for example, am an European migrant, originally from Germany, voting for me is a clear vote in support of the currently marginalised European migrants. 

Shahrar Ali (SA); Firstly, I want to say I have nothing against bearded white men! We often have to refer to groups of people in order to address real prejudice based on general characteristics that people might have or none; but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater by inadvertently prejudicing against people without the protected characteristic. I start with this caveat since I think it often gets missed and in my opinion Greens more than anybody want to treat people equally and fairly on all fronts; in short, as individuals. However, it is absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that we do not as a party, at all levels of membership, candidacy or elected politicians, reflect the society we purport to serve. I made it a central plank of my deputy leadership these two years to promote BME engagement in the party, through outreach work in ethnic communities and mentoring within the party. I’m firmly of the view that we need to take more steps in our selection and recruitment, starting with monitoring and best practice equality initiatives. We must improve diversity in our own produced and printed election and other materials and look at extending nominations for general election candidacies when no BME comes forward on the first deadline (a bit like we do for women candidates). In fact, I have a motion to conference to allow just this. Some local parties might say they don’t have enough BME members to justify it; but I think we might be  pleasantly surprised if we take this initiative and show this seriousness. Otherwise there’s a chicken and egg conundrum. This isn’t of course the only form of underrepresentation we need to tackle.

Amelia Womack (AW*)

During the general election I worked to support us achieve a number of key goals. For us to stand in as many seats as possible, and for 50% of those candidates to be women. As an ambition, it was a giant leap for our party and led us to be the party with the highest percentage of female candidates. Although we didn’t meet the 50% target, we were leaders in diversity for women. This aim didn’t go far enough. Without recognising all groups underrepresented in Parliament, and particularly ntersectional issues, then we are not striving to true equality. The ambition of running 50% women meant that we ran training and support for people who identify as female, ensuring that we were overcoming any barriers to their candidacy. I would like to see this rolled out for all groups, whether it’s LGBTIQA, for people of colour, working class, disability etc. In the next general election I hope we can aim for and field a range of candidates that are more representative of society.

 

Given the amount of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and other anti-LGBTIQ+ hate speech that our own members face within the party, what steps will you take to ensure this behaviour stops?

AC; I feel that the established disciplinary system has to be used to tackle unacceptable behaviour, but this urgently needs to be extended to enable it to address  issues that arise on the members' website. The development of a 'report' button is clearly overdue, and I'd like to see a moderation system which enables those who make problematic postings to be engaged with around why they are saying what they are saying, rather than simply blocking or loss of posting rights. We need to be prepared to work together to address these issues - with an awareness that it is well-nigh impossible to control Facebook pages, Twitter and other social media that is used by members without the official sanction of the party.

SAC; It alarms me that we continue to have reports of hate speech directed towards party members and I believe we must write and heavily publicise amongst members a code of standards and practice for removing this nasty behaviour. This must be a matter of some priority because, as a group, we are constantly (and rightly so) under more scrutiny than larger parties. It is not sufficient for members making anti LGBTIQ+, homophobic, transphobic or biphobic comments either one to one or publicly and then disclaim these comments by saying it was ‘in the heat of the moment’ or that they were mis-quoted or mis-understood. These comments as all others cannot be taken back when made and so it is important that all incidence or report must be investigated and appropriate measures be taken to ensure resolution where the injured party is happy that they have a satisfactory outcome. I have long supported LGBTIQ+ members and would always continue to do so. Also, if I am not clear on any aspect of any different lifestyle to my own I spend time getting to know the facts and challenges prior to making any sort of statement on the way others celebrate these differences. We are all humans.

KB; I would never stand for any discrimination of any minority groups. I would want members to feel comfortable to come forward if they witness any behaviour that is derogatory towards any liberation groups. If I get elected, I would offer my full support that such behaviour would not be tolerated regardless of how prominent the person might be.

SA; There’s no place for these behaviours in society nor in our own party. If we don’t practice what we preach internally we shan’t be fit for governance externally. I want to ensure that complainants are encouraged and supported in coming forward and that we operate zero tolerance. Matters may indeed need to be escalated to the police if they cannot be resolved locally or less formally. The victim must be thoroughly involved in an assessment as to the kind of response which is appropriate. We must also make sure our party complaints system is fit for purpose, that means swift and not at risk of betraying the details of the complainant to the accused. Of course all parties must be safeguarded from unfair process but at the moment it sounds like greater training and competency is required in this area.

AW*

It is disheartening that even within such a progressive and forward looking party, some groups experience LGBTIQAphobia and hate speech. As an ally to LGBTIQA people, I would look to work with the community, to stand with them and add my voice when needed to work against these attitudes.
We need a more robust complaints system to ensure that these issues are taken seriously, and that takes into account the protection of LGBTIQA people who often face negative responses and can end up in vulnerable situations after raising complaints, but also ensures that we overcome statements made out of ignorance rather than hate. To tackle this is one of the many reasons I applied for a panel at conference on language and oppression to try and tackle some of these internal issues.

 

Will you commit to keeping the important Safe Space Policy that protects our members?

AC; I am supportive of the principle that underlies the concept of Safe Spaces, but I am aware that the implementation of this policy needs to be kept under review to guard against censoring of legitimate comment and debate. No one has a right to never be offended by the sincerely held views of another person, and it is only through keeping channels of communication open that we are able, as a group, to move towards enhanced mutual understandings.

SAC; I am fully committed to safe space policy. I recently left a Young Greens forum as it was not appropriate for me to be involved due to this very policy of safe space. I would never wish to be in attendance within any sphere where my presence would make people uncomfortable or feel they could not contribute. I fully welcome a robust Safe Space policy.

KB; Yes absolutely.

SA; Yes. I think there may be challenges in terms of acculturation and compliancy of members when new policies are worked out and bedded in, but it will be worth the effort on all sides; and with the possibility of best practice review.

AW*

I absolutely support the Safe Space Policy and am concerned that a motion has been put forward to remove it from our constitution. To provide safe spaces, and to be aware of how language is often unintentionally used to exclude certain groups from areas, is vital for a progressive party like ourselves.

 

Liberation groups such as LGBTIQ Greens rely on their own members making donations to be able to produce resources, what would you do to support liberation groups to produce these materials?

AC; Lack of cash is a constant problem for all groups within the Green Party, and it is difficult to set up specific funding streams for the production of resources. I'd suggest that if specific groups within the party feel that they have a good case for a budget for resources they should take this case to GPEx and/or Conference for decision.  

SAC; It would be pertinent and prudent in periods of diverse membership growth to ensure that central funding should be proportionately available to all groups and I feel that a leader should partially focus on the funding of the party. I would look to increase revenues within the party and possibly look to having a bidding process to ensure that we do adequately fund materials and resource for liberation groups. I would also welcome the forging and long term joint campaigning with groups outside the Green Party to ensure that we support the positive messages of LGBTIQ+ within wider society.

KB; We must ensure that all interest and liberation groups have sufficient resources to campaign and to reach the wider public; so a fair resource allocation from the national budget is necessary. And I would fully support that. Additionally, I would want to speak on LGBTIQ events/ organisations to attract new members and have joined events.

SA; Budgets are always tight but I think these campaign groups have great claim to resources once these become available or can be motivated in the annual or bi-annual round. Campaigns generally can become a neglected area, but it’s a false economy, since they are the lifeblood of what makes the party tick, both outside and during elections.

AW*

As we know, our party is funded by our members rather than multimillionaires, big business or special interest group, which means that money isn’t always available for the campaigns we want to be able to run. That being said, I don’t see LGBTIQA issues as a fringe campaign or a bolt-on extra to the main direction of the Green Party. Rather, I see these issues of diversity and inclusion as central to the core message of the party, and as such, should be embedded into our central campaigns and budgets. We pulled together resources for the launch our LGBTIQA manifesto for the general election, I would also like to see this being done for Pride and other events.

 

There have been suggestions that the party should have a "Don't ask, don't tell" policy in regards to Sexuality and Gender Identity. What do you say to this?

AC; I feel that members of the party should be free to be as open or private as they wish about their own sexual and gender identity - not least because we should always be alive to the potential for people's identities to change over time. I think that members should have the option to join groups, take part in activities, identify themselves by their preferred title, pronouns and so forth, and be respected for their decisions. It is important that no one is 'outed'   against their will   with a particular gender identity or sexuality, as we need to be aware that not all members will be comfortable for their family, friends and/or local community to know about their gender identity or sexuality, and the choice to tell people should rest with the person concerned, not with others.

SAC; I fully support the right to a person keeping their personal life private (even within a public office) and would prefer any type of voluntary offer of personal information, quite rightly this must be a two way street. Whether people reveal their sexuality or not is a personal choice and must always remain so. Some people are very confident and others very private people and this is part of the diversity I would hope to preserve and nurture so I feel that we should never seek to be intrusive.

KB; I am not sure to be honest, I assume this is about the questions to idendity oneself in regards to sexuality, gender etc. If so I can see advantages for both sides. In an ideal world, we treat everyone equally, so gender and sexuality would not be relevant to be idenified. However, we are not there yet, so in the meantime to ensure a wider representation we need to be aware of the demographics. We also still have sadly discrimination and stigmatisation of minority groups, in order to address this we must continue to raise awareness and fight for emancipation.

To answer your question, I think we should open the dialogue on this, we need to listen to the LGBTIQ groups to find the best way forward.

SA; I look forward to hearing others answer this, and the LGBTIQ+ Greens, but my understanding of the heritage of this policy is in the US army as way of circumventing having to ask questions about sexuality as a criterion of service. That sounds like hypocrisy to me, i.e. encouraging ignorance whilst leaving the discriminatory attitudes in place. It should be possible to respect people’s privacy on matters of sexuality without having to deploy this policy. The question remains is it a criterion of relevance to the party? This all depends on our desire to address inequalities based on sexuality in society. We can better do that when people choose to be open about it, but that must come in their own time and through self-identification. I think it is great when people in the party choose to be open about it but also totally acceptable when they do not, for whatever reasons.

AW*

I think we should be encouraging and working towards an environment where people’s differences are not hidden under the carpet, or even just tolerated, but actively accepted and welcomed. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is the opposite of the direction we should moving towards. Safe Space policy is a part of this because it facilitates a place where we can feel safe to be ourselves, whether that be for women, people of colour, LGBTIQA people or those with disabilities . For those who have faced discrimination and harassment in, perhaps even for all of their lives, this is vital and can often be a contributory first step to ‘coming out’ for those who have kept aspects of themselves hidden.

 

How would you promote more underrepresented candidates (like trans candidates) to come forward & get elected?

AC; As noted in relation to ethnic diversity, I feel that the Association of Green Councillors has an  important  role to play in encouraging local parties and regional parties to adopt best practice in relation to diversifying the field of people willing to put themselves forward for selection as candidates. One particularly important aspect is that regional and local meetings, socials and events should feel welcoming to all - and it would be good to institute an opt-in online survey (perhaps one that could be completed anonymously if the respondent wishes) to explore what needs to be done in order to help trans members, members with disabilities and other underrepresented groups to feel better supported in relation to standing for election. There is also some further work to be done around holding the government to account over the closure of the Access to Elected Office Fund, which provided an important resource to help people with disabilities to stand for elected office.

SAC; My view is that the future must do more than just accept diversity, we must appreciate and develop it. I am a believer that strong leadership comes from the experts who support it and it would be my view that we must enshrine in policy a development programme for people from every background to have access to leadership tools and training. I would also be more than happy to give talks and development support to encourage people of LGBTIQ+, Trans, Non-binary and diversity groups to be future candidate in the short and long term view. This must be priority and must be policy.

KB; I welcome quotas, and if after closing of nominations these are not met, I would welcome to re-open nominations.

SA; Firstly, I’m more sold on the idea of role models in politics than I have been of past and I do think that great candidates such as Aimee Challenor, who have also campaigned as trans, is a very good way to promote underrepresented candidates. We should then extend mentoring service, and offer this to candidates who self-identify in that way.

AW*

Firstly I would actively promote the Safe Space Policy. One aspect of it is to ensure that all those who vary from what societies and groups present as ‘the normal’, have an environment where they can be themselves. We should also look to actively work with marginalised groups to put forward candidates to stand for positions. The existence of groups such as the LGBTIQA, Disability, People of Colour etc. are all ways in which minority groups can connect in similar ways to the current geographically based local party system that we currently use. I would look to promote the importance of these groups at all levels to ensure that when we act as a party, and see a wide range of people to represent the party that we are including all members and groups in the party representing the party. I would also like to ensure that these groups and potential candidates are supported with elections training and advice it
seems to me that one of the best ways to instill confidence in people’s ability to stand is to ensure that the support and training that they need is provide to them. The difference between one candidate and another standing is often opportunity, and seeing others like oneself in similar positions and situation. I have been impressed and inspired by how the young greens allocate spaces to events and training to help promote diversity, and I have been spreading this method as best practice to different parties to ensure that people from all backgrounds are given opportunities or even encouraged to events and training well ahead of calls for candidates. The more we are able to promote diversity, the easier it will be to retain diversity, so it should be looked at as a longterm approach, rather than a quickfix of a few rules or the changing of a few names.

 

How can we ensure that internal selections are non-binary inclusive? 

AC; My own feeling is that there is no reason to preclude anyone from standing in our internal elections simply because they do not identify as either male or female. Where there does currently seem to be a presumption that candidates will identify as either male or female I think that this is mainly a question of getting the terminology correct, particularly in the Constitution, where requirements on gender balance are set out. The mechanism to change the Constitution is through a motion to Conference, but GPEx (and/or GPRC) may well be interested in advising on an appropriate wording and leading on a motion so it would be worth engaging with the Equalities and Diversity Co-ordinator in the first instance. 

SAC; We must encourage larger fields and inclusive fields and I would work with every group in the party to ensure that they have the opportunity to stand and promote their best candidates in much broader future elections. We must do more than other parties to practice what we preach when it comes to total equality.

KB; We need to ensure that all local and regional parties adapt their constitution to include non-binary candidates and/ or representations.

SA; The non-binary issue is particularly about "one man, one woman" selection rules (as London has for GPRC, and GPRC has for its chair) which formally and/or informally exclude people who don't fit into these categories. These need to be reformed and revised; my preference is for rules that protect places only for underrepresented groups, possibly with sunset clauses.

AW*

I fully support the degendering of our constitution as a first step to ensuring that all genders are accepted. Secondly, we should look to reexamine all instances where moves were made to ensure a more equal representation in the party, such as ‘one candidate must be nonmale’ etc. The decision to do that was based on being more representative of the people, and from an acknowledgement that most representatives ended up being male. Now that the existence and needs of nonbinary, gender nonconforming and agender people have been raised, we should look to move our selection procedures to accommodate them better. Just as we must explore ways for our selection procedure to be more representative of the people in general, we must also ensure that opportunity and acceptance is for all.

Which LGBTIQ issues are at the forefront of your mind and which the Green Party could campaign upon and make a real difference?

AC; I would like issues to be put forward by LGBTIQ members rather than being suggested to them (or worse, forced upon them). However, other things being equal I think that the position of trans people in the workplace is well worth exploring for its potential as a campaigning issue as it is increasingly being realised that trans people face particular challenges in relation to employment.

SAC; Bullying, education and human rights are the clear leaders in my mind of the issues I most hear discussed by our LGBTIQ+ communities. I feel that we must ensure we campaign more strongly to stamp out gender bullying and bullying alternative sexuality. Human rights are under threat post Brexit unless we have a strong lobby for much stronger protection of the rights of the person and this must always be championed by both the Green Party leader and by the party. I would also campaign for a wider education within schools to ensure that people know everything about every gender and sexuality to better understand themselves.

KB; My daughter belongs to the LGBTIQ community, I know what issues she has faced, she was bullied at school and at points did not want to go to school anymore. I think we must fight against the stigmatisation and discrimination against the LGBTIQ community.

SA; Here are some good issues for us to campaign on:

-- Availability on NHS England of Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a course of HIV drugs taken before sex to reduce the risk of getting HIV.

-- Rights of intersex people to require personal consent for elective surgery to assign sex

-- Right to free choice of any gender or none on official documentation (for example, 'X' on passport)

-- Advisory committee on the safety of blood, tissues and organs are currently looking at revising the rules on blood donation: they should move to an individual risk assessment rather than a system which conservatively excludes whole demographic groups.

-- Sex worker rights and full decriminalisation as per Green Party policy RR550-559.

 

AW*

The ongoing struggle to overturn the unjustified blood donation ban is one that quickly springs to mind. The recent decision of France to remove the ban, and of other countries (and the UK) to reexamine the issue are welcome moves. It appears to be a ban based solely on social prejudice, rather than scientific knowledge, and so should be ended. The rights of intersex people is also one that is in the forefront of my thoughts. The right to bodily autonomy is an absolutely crucial one for any society that holds to the idea of Human Rights. Babies, children, and even adults, should never be in a position where it is permissible to alter their bodies merely to uphold a society’s idea of what a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ should look like. Whether that be in rules that lock the legal system to an artificial
binary of gender, the forced alteration of a child’s body through unwanted surgery, hormonal intervention or institutional deceit to fit that binary, the mutilation of a child’s genitals or the restriction of body rights of women. The recent response to Women and Equality Report is also a situation that is concerning. The government’s decision, as one trans activist put it ‘to kick the rights of trans people into the long grass’ is something we need to respond to vigorously, not just within our own constitution, but also externally, in support of their rights . This also applies to the lack of a
gender identity clinic in Wales, which acts as a barrier to many who seek help. Services need to be in place to support the communities that need them, especially for those who often experience the highest levels of discrimination against them. The rights of trans and intersex people, as some of the most disadvantaged in society, especially of those of colour, and is one that i would look to be a strong ally for, raising my voice in support when needed, but not erasing their own voices. Almost a half of all trans people attempt suicide because of the multitude of barriers, and systemic discrimination they experience. The UN also recently ruled that the UK’s state sanctioned alteration of children’s bodies was nothing less than institutionalised torture. These situations cannot be allowed to continue.
In general, I will be campaigning to widening sex education to include gender education, so that children are exposed to the complexities of human nature from a younger age, rather than being taught in ways that present and reinforce cisgender, heteronormative lives and cultures as the norm.

Some of our representatives have gone against party policy in the past, will you hold true to our party's stance on LGBTIQ rights?

AC; It is a fundamental principle of the Greens that we do not have a whip and that we permit freedom of conscience. This means that any and all of our publicly elected representatives have the right to state their personal beliefs on a subject as long as they also state what the party policy is. I'm conscious that in some areas we do not have agreed party policy and I am keen that a workable protocol should be put in place to ensure that there is a mechanism for responding to statements - whether made by individuals or groups within the party - that are either in direct contravention of party policy or appear to stand as party policy when nothing has actually been agreed by conference or through the policy statements process.

SAC; I would hold true to the Party line on LGBTIQ+ rights but I would go as far as to say that where we get this policy or stance wrong I would take advice, as on all matters, and ensure that we either support the right and strong message or that we allow people within the party to make their own decision. Whilst I would generally lean towards supporting democratically decided policy, if it is wrong I would never support a whip and would always favour accepting the individual right to make a stand or to abstain if the policy is not appropriate to them.

KB; Absolutely, I would want to welcome a close relationship between myself as the deputy leader and the LGBTIQ community. I think often such problems occur out of ignorance. I am ready to admit that I may not understand certain issues, and I would want to learn more and fight together for a party that stands against any discrimination.

As a candidate in various elections (Euro 2014, GE etc), I have always respected fully our policies. I appreciate that as a representative, I am representing this party. Hence my personal opinion is secondary. However, my personal opinion usually is very much in line with GP policy anyway.

SA; Yes, I am responsible and responsive to official party policy and positioning. I believe in accountability to party on public statements and am not the sort who will indulge in opinionating without party backing, even if I did personally wish to diverge from our policies, which I rarely do; especially when the values of equality and inclusivity are at stake, forever Green values.

AW*

As a cisgender, heterosexual woman, I consider myself an ally of, not an advocate for, the LGBTIQA communities. I am not directly impacted by the many decisions, laws and prejudices that negatively affect the lives of LGBTIQA people. Because of that, I do not believe that I should be imposing my views on their needs, nor should I be campaigning in a way that may harm the needs of the LGBTIQA communities. In cases where I might be expected to speak on such issues, my policy is to look to what the communities themselves are fighting for, and support that. Too often we find people who have no personal stake on issues arguing over the rights of others, almost always in ways to deny those people their human rights and to erase their unique natures, whether that be by erasing bisexual people as straight or gay depending on the relationship, or the assumptions that man/male/masculine and woman/female/feminine are the only ‘natural’, ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ expressions or understandings of humanity. As such, I would look to hold true to the communities’ stances on LGBTIQA rights, and work as an ally to promote those rights becoming a part of the party’s constitution.

How to vote in the 2016 Leadership Election

Voting in the 2016 Leadership Election opens on Monday the 25th of July, and is open for one month. The information will be sent out to all Green Party Members. You can join the Green Party to take part in the election, until the 24th of July, visit www.greenparty.org.uk/join for more information.

Footnote:

These answers are how they were sent to us by the candidates with no edits made. If we recieve responses from any of the other candidates, they shall be added to this post. These questions were sent to candidates on the 5th of July with a two week deadline. If you are a candidate and did not recieve the questions, then please use the questions above, and email your answers to lgbtiq@greenparty.org.uk The questions were submitted to us by members of the LGBTIQ Greens group, we would like to thank all contributors for their questions. Answers with an asterisk (*) next to them were submitted after the original publishing of this post.

 

 






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