People like to ask one another “Who would play you in the film of your life” I’m in the extraordinary position to be able to reply: “Joseph Gilgun, he already has”. Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Dominic West portraying my friends Cliff Grist, Hefina Headon and Jonathan Blake in the movie Pride, written by Stephen Beresford.
I come from a working class background, but today I know how to pronounce quinoa – and even occasionally eat the stuff. I grew up in Accrington, Lancashire, a manufacturing, mining and cotton town. In my grandma’s day, during general election time the townsfolk would go to hear the Mayor announce the results and people would weep when the Tories won. They knew that the working class – almost everyone in Accy – would suffer under the Tories.
But in 1945, following a Labour landslide victory, things changed for the better for working class people across the UK. Attlee’s government, despite being saddled with war debts, set about making huge reforms to make life better for the many, not the few. They introduced the NHS, took infrastructure into public ownership (road, rail, docks, power, water supplies) and strategic industries such as mining and steel. They launched a huge house-building programme to get people out of slums. They brought in educational reforms that gave working class people like me opportunities they’d never had before.
Without the burden of tuition fees and with a living grant for my expenses, I was afforded the chance to study at university. This transformative experience gave me the courage to stop fighting my homosexuality. I went from being a repressed, frightened, and often depressed 19-year-old to an incredibly angry yet joyous gay liberationist and socialist. This was six years after a Labour government had partially decriminalised male homosexuality in England and Wales.
In 1984, we formed Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners to show solidarity with and raise funds for miners striking against Thatcher’s pit closures and the consequent decimation of livelihoods and communities. In 1985 the National Union of Miners swung the vote at the Labour Party conference to enshrine LGBT+ rights in party policy, ending the party’s indifference to our struggle for equality. This is the story of solidarity depicted by the film, Pride, and this principle is at the core of Jeremy Corbyn’s programme for a Britain that works for everyone and leaves no one, and no group or community, behind.
New Labour brought in important legislative changes to advance LGBT+ equality. The next Labour government will go further still. The manifesto commits to bringing LGBT+ hate crimes into line with hate crimes based on race and faith, making them aggravated offences, and reforming the Gender Recognition Act and Equality Act to ensure legal protections for trans people and making gender identity a protected characteristic. Labour has also pledged to ensure that guidance for sex and relationships education is LGBT+ inclusive, and to introduce training for teachers and frontline health and social care professionals.
The Conservatives’ cuts to local government have forced LGBT+ services to scale back or close their doors. Labour will protect funding for local government, ensuring these crucial lifelines stay open. A quarter of young homeless people in Britain are LGBT+, forced to leave home because their parents don’t accept their sexuality. Labour will make 4,000 additional homes available to rough sleepers and will ensure young people who become estranged from their families have access to the support they need.
I joined Labour two years ago because I was inspired by Jeremy Corbyn and his principles. He was one of the few politicians in the 1980s who supported LGBT+ rights, which Theresa May voted down time and time again in parliament. Yet now she pays lip service to LGBT+ equality. To borrow Tony Benn’s analogy, Jeremy is a signpost, May is a weathervane.
The demonisation, vilification, and downright lies Corbyn has faced reminds me so much of the way the striking miners were treated and how LGBT+ people were treated. It’s the abuse that any person, group or movement faces when trying to change the status quo and take on vested elite interests to create a society that works for everyone. But we, the many, have the power to defy the Tories, their billionaire backers and press barons.
When I see Theresa May I am filled with the same fear and dread I felt then Thatcher-the-milk-snatcher took power. When I see Jeremy Corbyn I am reminded of my brave, principled, compassionate friends, who stood up for other communities and fought for their rights when it was not in their interests to do so. Let’s vote to put that solidarity and commitment to creating a fairer society for everyone at the heart of our government.
Words by Mike Jackson, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners