As Londoners prepare to take to the polls to select Boris Johnson’s successor as London Mayor on May 5, we’re finding out what the five main candidates (Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, Green & UKIP) will be doing for the capital’s LGBT community in the face of closing venues, rising HIV rates and increasing levels of recorded hate crime. We’ll be speaking to a different candidate each day this week: We’ve already caught up with the Green Party’s Sian Berry, UKIP’s Peter Whittle, the Lib Dem’s Caroline Pidgeon and the Conservative Zac Goldsmith. Today, it’s the turn of Labour’s Sadiq Khan, the current MP for Tooting who served as Minister for Communities and Minister for Transport under Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
We saw in September 2015 that homophobic hate crime had risen by a third in the year up until then. Why do you think this is happening, and what can you do as Mayor to tackle it?
Well I’ve actually been on the receiving end of hate crime. I know what it’s like to be different, whether it’s your ethnicity, your religion or your sexual orientation. There is a worsening trend in hate crime in London. It just beggars belief that each one of these new figures is a person who has been the victim of crime. Trans hate crime has grown by 86% in the last year, homophobic crime is up by 26%. What is really important is, the Mayor tells the Met Police what their main priorities should be, and for me, one of their top priorities has to be a zero tolerance policy on hate crime. It’s really important that people feel confident to come forward and report hate crime and I’m determined to fight for the resources the police need to take it seriously, and deal with it. Every time somebody is a victim of hate crime, it has a psychological ripple effect that the entire community feels, and I don’t want any Londoner to feel like the police or the Mayor aren’t on their side, so that’s a priority for me.
Where do you draw the line between allowing freedom of speech, and freedom of religion, and actually pointing out that a hate crime has been committed?
You know this from your readers, and your mates, but it’s an intrinsic part of who you are. You wouldn’t tell someone to become less white, or become less of a woman, and I think the good thing about London is that we tolerate difference, and we respect difference. It’s quite clear that freedom of expression is not an absolute right – it comes with responsibilities, so you can’t create an environment of hate, and it’s important that people in positions of power and influence recognise that. For example, if you look at some of the language that you’d use on social media, that wouldn’t be acceptable face to face, so it shouldn’t be acceptable on social media. The good thing is now that is you speak to the Director of Public Prosecutions, they recognise that. So what I would do is make sure the police know that is a priority for us, but also speak to the DPP and the Crown Prosecution Service, so they understand it as well. Nobody in London should feel less safe because of who they are.
You mentioned that you were a victim of hate crimes yourself?
I remember growing up, it wasn’t uncommon to be called the ‘p’ word, and I would often get involved in fights and scuffles and stuff. It’s important to recognise that even language has an impact on you. I’m really proud that during this campaign I’ve had support from across London – Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, those who have an unorganised faith; rich, poor, old, young, black, white, gay, lesbian. I’m really proud that the LGBT community organised a fundraiser for me at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Where else in the world would you get the LGBT community having a fundraiser for a candidate of Islamic faith? And I’m not sure if it’s true, but apparently the RVT is where Kenny Everett and Freddie Mercury took Princess Diana for a night out! And I was on stage there, it was a fantastic night, and that’s the London that I know and love.
Do you think of yourself as a candidate of unity?
Absolutely. This election is a choice of hope over fear, of unity over division, and I’m blessed to have in my life friends who are lesbian or gay or bisexual, that’s the joy of London. You mix and work with people from different backgrounds, and I think we can show the rest of the world how we do it here in London.
In recent weeks you’ve come under fire from Zac Goldsmith for your alleged links to extremists – sharing platforms with Islamic preachers who have condemned homosexuality. Has that criticism been unfair?
What’s noteworthy is that I’ve been talking about the issues and challenges facing Londoners, and some of the solutions to those problems, but he’s spent all his time talking about me, and he’s becoming increasingly divisive and negative and desperate. I’ve never hidden the fact that I used to be a human rights lawyer, and that includes acting for some clients I’m very proud to have acted for, who I would call friends, but also acting for some unsavoury characters. And that’s something that I love about this country – the rule of law, due process, presumption of innocence – that’s really important. But anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been fighting inequality and injustice all my life. I worked with Stonewall when Angela Mason was there, and Ben Summerskill, making sure there were laws in place to protect our communities, like the Equality Act, or the provision of goods and services.
You can compare my track record of fighting inequality and injustice with any of the other candidates, you can compare my track record of standing up to extremists with the other candidates, and you can compare my track record of working with the LGBT community across London with any of those candidates, and I’m pleased and proud to have support from the LGBT community, like Michael Cashman and Chris Smith – there must be a reason why they’re all backing me.
There was show on Channel 4 earlier this month called What British Muslims Really Think, and an ICM poll for the show found that 52% of British Muslims surveyed thought homosexuality shouldn’t be legal, and only 18% believing it should be legal. In your experience, coming from the British Muslim community, do you think that poll was representative?
It’s already been said, but there are other religions who have socially conservative views. I can tell you about my experience, when I voted for same-sex marriage, there was unfortunately a fatwa put out against me. I did need to discuss with my daughters issues around police protection, and there are still people who don’t talk to me because of these issues, but you know that’s life. all communities have people with those sorts of views. I’m optimistic about the future, I think the next generation are far more progressive than previous generations. My daughters know people in their school who are confident enough to come out, I think that’s progress. I’m an optimist. You look at the attendance at Pride marches, you look at how more and more sports people are coming out, and when the first Premier League footballer comes out, that will be more progress. I think most people who have met members of the Islamic faith will know that that poll doesn’t represent people that I mix with.
Unfortunately, HIV remains a huge problem for the gay community in London, and recently the NHS decided not to roll out PrEP treatment across England, but rather left it in the hands of local authorities. Is that something you would advocate in London? Would you have that power as Mayor?
The Mayor doesn’t have the power to do that, but the context of this is really important. I’m so old, I grew up in the 1980s, and there was so much public awareness because HIV was new, and I think some of that public education has been lost. I think we need better public education. The NHS needs to be using some of its resources to better screen and treat those with HIV. If you look at the entire country, roughly speaking, one in twenty gay men have HIV, and in London that more than doubles. We’ve got to address that, and help gay men in London to make sure they are getting screened. A quarter of gay men with HIV don’t know they’re infected. So PrEP is a way of reducing your chance of getting HIV, and it seems to be decision was a controversial one, but what’s really important is that we have a situation where everyone knows the risks and practises safe sex, and we don’t have a situation where people get HIV when it could have been prevented.
HIV Testing Week we should be making use of to educate people. ‘Educate’ sounds like a really boring word, it sounds patronising, but you can educate people in an informative and entertaining way. The important thing is that people are aware and people are savvy. Because we have a young population in London – the average age is 34 – that’s one of the reason why I suspect HIV rates might be higher than in the rest of the country. But it’s no excuse. Any person who gets HIV, it’s really a shame that we’ve not educated them properly, we haven’t made them aware of the consequences. There’s also an economic benefit. If you stop someone from getting HIV, it saves the taxpayer lots of money with all of the medicines you need. So that’s another case as well.
What’s really important is that people get out and vote next week, because in Mayoral elections in the past have had low turnouts, and when I say I’ll be there for Londoners.