40 years of the rainbow flag: why we still need to wear the symbol with pride

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty

Next weekend marks one of the biggest in the city’s calendar as we come together to celebrate our LGBT community for Pride. As we did for Trans Pride on 21st July, Greens will once again march with all those who stand together for equality and liberation.

This year is also the 40th anniversary of the iconic rainbow flag. Designed by artist Gilbert Baker, the flag was first flown at San Francisco’s Pride march in 1978. Now a celebrated symbol of the LGBT community, it is rooted in activism. Following the tragic assassination of the first openly gay US politician Harvey Milk, demand for the flags soared. Today we wear the symbol with pride – but despite progress, we know that our activism must continue, as one in four LGBT people have experienced violent hate crime. Four in ten British people believe gay sex is unnatural. Homophobia is legitimised in government with the partnership between the Conservative Party and the stridently homophobic Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who have blocked equal marriage in Northern Ireland. The noisy march for equality goes on beyond Pride weekend.

Gilbert Baker with original rainbow flag

Designer of the rainbow flag, Gilbert Baker. The original flag (as reproduced in the image) had 8 colours, including pink.

And this is why: Theresa May’s Government’s continued policy of creating a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants has exacerbated LGBT persecution. Data published by the UK Government last November revealed that thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans asylum seekers have been refused entry into the UK from countries where they will face prison, violence or even death. Not a single applicant from India or Sri Lanka, where homosexuality is illegal, were accepted by the Home Office.

Worse still, asylum seekers have described facing intense discrimination in the process of making their claims, including being asked for explicit pictures to ‘prove’ their sexuality. People whose claims are rejected are then subject to detention centres, places that national charity Stonewall found were “little sanctuary from homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse.” In a country where homosexuality has been ‘decriminalised’ we are still locking people up for being LGBT.

As the city becomes a show of colour and celebration we should take the time to remember that LGBT people at home and abroad still face bigotry and violence. On Saturday we must march for them. As we celebrate the progress made in the fight for LGBT equality, we are reminded by the rainbow flag in its 40th year that it is the dedication of campaigners and courage of communities, refusing to be silent, that has made progress on LGBT rights possible.

Greens will continue to campaign for an end to the brutal ‘hostile environment’ policy of this Conservative Government that punishes those already vulnerable for who they love. We will campaign until we have lasting equality both here and abroad.

BHGP Pride 2017 with flag

Marching for equality at Brighton and Hove Pride last year

I wish everyone a safe, happy and sustainable Pride.

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Does local Government work for women? Three steps forward for a healthier democracy #PressforProgress

alex

Councillor Alex Phillips

This International Women’s Day will be my first as a mother. I have been a councillor for almost a decade but this year I have a newborn in tow too. I am neither disabled nor BAME and so have never experienced the inherent discrimination that women councillors pertaining to those two groups face, but I have found the last four months since my baby was born – and even prior to that whilst pregnant – a real challenge.

The Fawcett Society report published last year ‘Does Local Government Work for Women?’ is extremely comprehensive and timely. It not only covers women’s lack of representation, especially at the top of town halls, but also covers sexism and how these issues are compounded for women of colour and those with disabilities. This has been collated in time for this year of women, the centenary – 100 years since some women – mainly white, older and rich women – got the vote.

Photo credit Simon Dack

Cllr Alex Phillips and baby with partner Cllr Tom Druitt. Photo credit Simon Dack

From my point of view however, I have experienced a real lack of understanding from mainly – but not exclusively – male councillor colleagues as well as some officers about just how difficult being a councillor is today when combined with pregnancy and caring responsibilities. There are a plethora of actions that need to be taken by both councils and political parties to ensure equal representation.  Here I focus on just three areas which I think will make a huge difference.

1. There needs to be parental leave for councillors as standard across every council. At the moment councillors still have access to their allowance, which is positive – however without a formal parental leave in place, there is still the expectation that pregnant councillors as well as new mums and dads should carry on with their councillor work as before. This not only creates additional stress but is also unrealistic and dangerous. I was responding to council emails whilst still in hospital the day that my baby was born. I attended my first council meeting with my baby just thirteen days later.

2. The full cost of childcare for council meetings should be paid in full and directly by the council. At the moment, at least in Brighton and Hove, a proportion of childcare costs during council meetings (£7.65 per hour) is reimbursed and then capped at £1500 maximum spend per year per councillor. This is problematic because it doesn’t cover the actual hourly rate charged, which for evenings and for babies is more like £11 per hour. On top of this, councillors are having to front the costs themselves and can in some cases wait for well over a month to be reimbursed. With several council meetings each week covering training, working groups and more formal committee meetings, the actual childcare cost each week could easily run into hundreds of pounds. If we are ever to break down barriers of participation in public life, the full cost of this must be covered directly by the council and with no annual cap.

 
3. Ensuring meetings are at a range of times and not just in the afternoons and evenings; and making them accessible remotely by using technology to ‘dial in’ to meetings and even to vote from home. Harnessing technology in this way would remove barriers to attendance that are particularly prevalent for women with caring responsibilities, or those with accessibility needs.

 
Women make up just 33% of all Councillors in England. As we mark International Women’s Day and 100 years of Women’s Suffrage we must celebrate the achievements of women but also reflect on barriers to inclusion across our society. There is much to be done. Although often overlooked, in local government changes that enable greater participation in political life at the town hall level are essential. They will make a huge difference not only to representation – but also to the health of our democracy.

Alex Phillips is a Green Party Councillor in Regency ward, Brighton and Hove

Read the Green Party’s ‘Gender Equality Manifesto’ here. #PressforProgress