There are just days to go before local elections are held in the UK on May 4th. Why is that important for LGBT people? Well make no mistake - Labour is the only UK wide political party that has taken gay rights forward in any meaningful way. It's vital that as a community LGBT people send a clear message to politicans about the importance of furthering equality and not rolling it back as we have seen recently in many countries throughout the world.

since Tony Blair became UK Prime Minister since he stepped down after having won twice more. Since Labour lost power in 2010 we've had five Conservatives in No.10, and it was only at the insistance of one of them, David Cameron, that LGBT rights progressed at all and equal marriage became possible in the UK.

There have been very few advances in other gay rights in the and with the UK now having left behind the LGBT protections of the EU, and the current Conservative Government still espousing traditional attitudes and values, it's unlikely they'll be any more soon.

There's no question that the current Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer will be a strong campaigner for LGBT rights - he has been all his life. If he makes it to No.10 (and we very much hope that he does) he will undoubtedly continue to support Human Rights reform and he could radically improve LGBT equality in the UK.

Official portrait of Keir Starmer
Photo: Chris McAndrew
CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
It is however worth remembering that Tony Blair's decade as Prime Minister saw a sea change in gay rights in the UK, with centuries of homophobic legislation removed from the statute book. Most commentators acknowledge the massive advancements - though inevitably the aftermath of the Iraq war still overshadows his record.

There is a whole new generation of LGBT people in the UK since those memorable days when Tony Blair became Prime Minister. Here are some enduring views from commentators of that time, looking back at the Blair era and his considerable LGBT legacy.

Peter Tatchell Human Rights Campaigner
"During Tony Blair's Prime Ministership, anti-gay laws that had existed for decades, or even centuries, were repealed. Nearly all homophobic legislation was removed from the statute books in less than a decade – a truly breath-taking pace of reform that has greatly improved the lives of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. These changes would not have happened if the Conservatives had remained in power. Congratulations and thanks to the Labour government– and to MPs from all parties who backed gay law reform.

Prime Minister Tony Blair annnounces
the date of his resignation.
"Tony Blair's legacy is not without its downside. He was sometimes reluctant to repeal homophobic legislation. Soon after he was elected Prime Minister in 1997, Labour ditched its pre-election pledge to scrap the unequal age of consent and to end the ban on gays in the armed forces. These reforms only happened because the European Court of Human Rights ruled that this discrimination was illegal; thereby forcing the UK government to introduce equality.

"The outlawing of homophobic discrimination in the workplace was not initiated by Blair's government. It was the result of a European Union Directive that the UK was compelled to make law in 2003. Previously, in 1998, Blair's government three times vetoed parliamentary amendments to protect lesbians and gay men against workplace discrimination."

Mary Ann Sieghart The Times
"....Can you remember, for instance, how uptight and strait-laced Britain felt under John Major? We seemed trapped in a 1950s, Dralon vision of the world in which homosexuality was wicked, working mothers only marginally less so, and Shirley Bassey was the epitome of cool. Now Britain is seen the world over as modern, vibrant and tolerant. Civil partnerships came in with barely a murmur and gay men would only get into trouble if they were to commit perjury about finding a boyfriend from an escort agency (and had Lord Browne of Madingley done the same with a woman, he would have been equally discredited). For a time, we even had the Leader of the Lords as a black woman and hardly anyone even noticed. Can you imagine that happening under the Major Administration? Britain really changed in the Blair decade."

Polly Toynbee The Guardian
"...pause a moment here to remember the world of Margaret Thatcher, Norman Tebbit, Peter Lilley, John Redwood and Bill Cash. Remember tax cuts for the rich, mass unemployment, soaring child poverty, and deep spending cuts that left holes in school roofs and trolleys in hospital corridors. Think of the Section 28 anti-gay law, and compare that with the Civil Partnership Act of 2004. That is how far Tony Blair's government dragged the country in a progressive direction. Make no mistake, at home he left behind a country far better than he found it - and unimaginably better than it would have been under 10 more years of Conservative rule. Whatever else he did wrong or failed to do - and the list is long - he made the political weather and shifted the culture."

Michael Portillo Broadcaster, Former Conservative MP and Minister
"Blair's conduct in office made the public feel stupid for trusting him. The euphoria of that new dawn of politics in 1997 swept along even wise heads and seasoned sceptics. He retired unlamented. But he left behind a country more easy-going than the one he inherited, less insular and more self-confident."

In the ten years from May 1997 to May 2007 Tony Blair oversaw a greater step forward in LGBT equality and human rights than in any other period in our history: civil partnerships; the right to adopt; an equal age of consent; the repeal of section 28; ending the ban on LGBT people serving in our armed forces; new laws on hate crime and the Gender Recognition Act. This list alone makes it hardly surprising that in 2014 Gay Times awarded Tony Blair the accolade of being one of the most influential Gay Icons of the last 30 years.

Don't forget that you have the opportunity to express your political view in the upcoming local elections on Thursday, 4th May. Please make sure you go to your local polling station and use your vote wisely. Don't leave it to others - Make your voice heard!


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