British MP Stuart Andrew: There are more MPs in the UK Parliament who identify as gay than any other Parliament in the world

Once responsible for India’s archaic Section 377 law, the UK is now one of the most gay-friendly nations in the world

brunch Updated: Jul 08, 2017 23:19 IST
Apurva Asrani
Apurva Asrani
Hindustan Times
Apurva Asrani,Stuart Andrew,Aligarh
British MP Stuart Andrew (right) was impressed with filmmaker Apurva Asrani (left) for writing the thought-provoking film Aligarh

In October last year, a few months after Aligarh released, I was surprised by a letter from British MP Stuart Andrew congratulating me for writing a “thought-provoking film” that makes a “positive contribution to community cohesion and diversity in India and throughout the wider world”. The Welsh Conservative politician also extended an invitation to host me in the UK Parliament.

Excited by the prospect of walking UK’s power corridors once responsible for the archaic Section 377 that criminalises homosexuality in India, it still took me another nine months to fly to London and meet Stuart. The handsome 46-year-old MP and political whip graciously walked me through both houses of Parliament, sharing with me the inspiring story of the gay rights movement in Britain.

Later, on the terrace overlooking the river Thames, we engaged in a tête-à-tête. Here’s an excerpt...

Apurva: Stuart, you are an inspiration. You are a member of Parliament and now a minister, and you happen to be gay. Does your sexuality not get in the way of how people perceive you?

Stuart: Well, in our country we have been on an interesting journey over the last 30-40 years, where it has now become totally acceptable, and is almost the norm, that somebody who identifies as LGBTI, can actually hold public office. And that’s happened because people stood up and said they want equality. Equality is a big issue that the country deals with on a daily basis.

And it is right that a big important section of our society is represented, not just in Parliament, but in business and in other aspects of our daily lives. We are very proud of what we have managed to achieve here.

Apurva: What challenges did you face to push the gay marriage legislation through?

Stuart: There were challenges when we were dealing with gay marriage legislation and some people were concerned that churches would be forced to perform gay marriage. Others didn’t want the term marriage to be between two of the same sex. Lots were worried about religion too

Apurva: You have the ‘pink pound’ here, which means gay people contribute to the economy. That counts for something, doesn’t it?

Stuart: Of course it does. Not just economically, but gay people have done an awful lot towards changing legislation, for campaigning on issues that matter and have been serious business people who have helped our economy. And there is recognition now that equal rights in society are absolutely fundamental to the British way of life.

Apurva: Are there other MPs in the UK Parliament who are gay?

Stuart: If my memory serves me correctly, this is the ‘gayest’ parliament in the world. There are more MPs here who identify as gay than any other parliament in the world. So that’s something that we are very proud of.

(A google search revealed that in the 2017 elections, the UK elected 45 LGBTI MPs into parliament – a world record.)

Apurva: You are aware of this law in India – Section 377, which still deems those who have homosexual leanings to be criminals. Do you have a message for my people back home who feel this law might be necessary?

Stuart: I have been a campaigner for equality for a long time. I have been campaigning for equal rights for people who identify themselves as gays (Stuart was among the campaigners responsible for the same-sex marriage legalisation in 2014), and I want to extend that to the rest of the world where people are being told that their basic human instinct – who they are as a person – is deemed a criminal offence. I think that’s really quite sad.

We have been on a massive journey in this country that happened from ordinary people saying ‘I matter. It doesn’t matter that I’m gay, it’s just the fact that I’m a human being and that I matter’. And they have helped create a movement that has changed laws. We started off by changing the (anti-buggery) law back in the 1960s, making sure that the people who identified as being homosexual no longer were criminals. We’ve recently made sure that the people who were prosecuted under those laws have had their criminal records cleansed.

My message, to whichever country it is, is that we will stand with you shoulder to shoulder as you progress on your journey – hopefully to greater equality.

The author is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, film editor and screenwriter. He is best known for editing films like Satya, Shahid and City Lights

From HT Brunch, July 9, 2017

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First Published: Jul 08, 2017 23:11 IST