Weekly Column

Fighting With Pride

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I was horrified to learn in a military breakfast I hosted in Parliament during the week, of the appalling treatment meted out to LGBT service people until as recently as 2001. The speakers from the lobby group, Fighting with Pride, described how anyone found to be gay prior to 2001 was Court Martialled, dishonourably discharged, detained in Colchester Military Prison for up to six months, stripped of their medals and status (including a rule of no beret on Remembrance Sunday); their names were added to the Sex Offenders’ Register and the Court Martial results in them having a criminal record. Many of them were also deprived of their pension rights.But the most appalling thing is that these injustices have not been corrected to this day, despite warm words from a variety of Ministers about it. Is it not shocking that retired service people, many of whom fought with distinction in Northern Ireland or Gulf 1 or the Falklands (40 years ago) are to this day disgraced and disadvantaged in a number of ways merely because of their homosexuality? The PM has promised a Committee of Inquiry, but 12 months later has still failed to appoint a chair for it. The No 10 machine must get a wiggle on.So I am making a bit of a fuss about it all. When one hears of a demonstrable injustice of this kind, it is only right to do what one can to correct it, and then seek to make amends. My own historic record in these matters is not blameless. I voted against gay marriage in 2014, which seemed like the right thing to do at the time, and correctly represented the overwhelming views of my constituents. But I very much regret having done so; and am proud to have been on a bit of a journey since then. I am glad that one my strongest supporters in North Wiltshire, Paula, is a trans woman, and grieve with my friend Andrew whose husband, Rob’s memorial event was on Tuesday. It is true that I personally am straight and fit neatly into what one of the speakers at the breakfast described as ‘being in the tweed suit brigade’. But perhaps it is for that very reason that my outrage and determination to campaign to right this wrong is even more powerful.150/200 people attended a meeting in Lea near Malmesbury on Friday to protest against a planning application for a field of hideous Battery Storage Units in full view of the village. Its main purpose appears to be to allow the energy companies to store electricity at cheap times of the day so they can release it to consumers at the full price at peak times. That they should be doing so at a time like this with a serious threat to food security is a double outrage. So I was very happy to speak in strong support of villagers’ objections despite heavy pressure from the Green lobby, who seem to think that because they support renewable energy (as do I) that should imply complete freedom to stick these carbuncles up on good agricultural land where ever they want to.Well I don’t agree with them, and will be happy to say so until we get this one- and the dozens of others threatened across North Wiltshire - stopped. And if we do not, I for one will feel even more inclined towards some kind of Windfall Tax on the gigantic profits being made by energy companies thanks to the current high price of oil and gasAs a Government backbencher, you tend to find yourself constantly defending the (occasionally) indefensible. So it is good to find some issues on which to campaign for very real change despite strong pressure to conform. I hope that we can stem the tide of these monstrous solar farms on good agricultural land; and I hope that we can right the wrongs done to LGBT service people until so recently. Whether that quite qualifies me for the label given to me at the breakfast by a good friend of mine who is a gay Labour MP may well be another matter. “Gay Icon”? Perhaps not.

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James Gray
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May 19, 2022