John Leech MP

On the run up to the General Election asks John Leech the Liberal Democrat MP for Manchester Withington "What's next for LGBT rights?"

Do you think it is important that the UK government challenges homophobia and supports LGBT rights in other countries?

Yes. It is vital that we are outspoken and steadfast in defence of LGBT rights at home and abroad. We must stop the deportation of gay asylum seekers to countries where homosexuality is punishable by death.

It is time that same sex partnerships were mutually recognised by all the European Union countries that have them. Before, during and since last year's European Elections I have been strongly supporting the 'Partners without Borders' campaign which calls for the European Union to legislate to ensure that the injustice of British same sex partnerships not being recognised in other EU countries - even in the many EU countries which recognise their own same sex partnerships.

It is equally important that the Government strongly argues for recognition of LGBT rights and same sex partnerships globally. For instance the British Government could do a lot more to put pressure on Commonwealth countries with poor records on LGBT rights. It is frustrating that many former British colonies, since gaining independence, have continued with legal attitudes that we have put behind us.

John Leech MP, Liberal Democrats

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Do you think a question about sexual orientation should be on the population Census?

I do and my colleague Stephen Williams (Lib Dem MP for Bristol) has led on this issue in Parliament. While I am sure that the Census figures will under-estimate the numbers of lesbian, gay and bisexual people the first time around, I don't see why sexual orientation is something we shouldn't ask about when we ask other questions which reflect the diversity of the population such as religion.

One way that we can address that under-representation in the Census is if we can ask these questions in the ONS Household Survey, which is conducted individually rather than addressed to the "head of household".

I would however be keen to make sure that all Census questions which are to be answered at the discretion of the individual, such as one on sexual orientation, should clearly be put together in one part of the Census questionnaire to ensure that nobody feels pressurised into answering the question if they feel uncomfortable with it. (After this interview it was announced that a sexual orientation question would not be on the 2011 census).

What's next for LGB equality?

Merging of marriage and civil partnerships into one. Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg said last year "Although civil partnerships have been a step forward, until same sex marriage is permitted it is impossible to claim gay and straight couples are treated equally" - I am very happy to support that view and enjoyed campaigning on this issue with Liberal Democrats and campaigner colleagues at Manchester Pride last year.

And on transgender equality - I am sorry to say that the Labour Government's Equality Minister blocked changes to the Single Equality Act that my Lib Dem colleague Lynne Featherstone MP put forward that would have been good for trans and genderqueer people - which is annoying. I'm not sure when we will have a chance to re-address those issues in Parliament.

As we will soon be facing a general election what message would you like to send out to the LGB & T community?

The Liberal Democrats have led the field on lesbian, gay, bi and trans issues for decades, not just in recent times. We passed conference motions on equality in the 60s, had gay rights sections in our manifestos in the 70s, and were the only party to oppose section 28 from the start in the 80s.

The centrepiece of the Liberal Democrat General Election campaign is fighting for a fairer society. In recent years, I believe that the Liberal Democrats have been right to oppose our involvement in the Iraq War, right to back Vince Cable's campaign to tackle our unbalanced economy before the banking crisis and the recession and right to be at the forefront of resisting the erosion of our civil liberties. We must now rebuild a society which spreads the tax burden more fairly, boosts educational opportunities, creates a greener economy and overhauls the political system to make it open and transparent.

That is what Liberal Democrats are committed to achieving.

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