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Openly gay South Woodford councillor talks about the struggle for equality

PUBLISHED: 13:25 18 February 2016 | UPDATED: 14:35 18 February 2016

Cllr Emma Best

Cllr Emma Best

Archant

On March 29 2014, just after midnight, wedding bells rang out across the country as the first same-sex weddings took place.

The legislation, which passed in the House of Commons with a majority of 225 votes, was introduced by Conservative prime minister David Cameron’s first ministry.

Two months later in Redbridge, openly gay councillor Emma Best, of Church End ward, was delighted to be elected for the Conservatives, although she remains wary of attributing the fight for equality to one party.

Speaking to the Recorder to mark LGBT History Month, she said: “I was very pleased to be representing a party which helped lead the way.

“But I think every political party has let the LGBT community down at times, to be frank.”

Emma, who attended Chadwell Heath Foundation School, Christie Gardens, between 2002 and 2007, said it was a “bitterly homophobic” experience.

“There was no support when I was younger,” she said.

“People weren’t challenged over their attitudes and there was no education about the LGBT community.

“I don’t think it would have been safe to come out – you would have put your family and friends at risk.

“But now I do think it’s getting better, I do think we are improving.”

For LGBT people, the experience of coming out can be fraught with difficulties, but not for Emma.

She said: “You never stop coming out, but I didn’t experience any problems with my family.

“In fact, I think they asked me before I told them!

“My dad just told me that he didn’t care what I was up to, just where I was and that I was safe, which is pretty fair.

“There’s a lot of talk of ‘Emma’s friend’ around my grandparents, but they know the truth.”

In her role as ward councillor, Emma has never faced any discrimination.

She said: “I have never hidden my sexuality and I wouldn’t want to build my career on being a different person.

“The only way you can change things is from the inside.

“In my experience, people are ready to learn about these issues and have their perceptions challenged.

“When I was doorknocking for the general election, some people told me they wouldn’t vote Conservative because of gay marriage, but that was a very low number.”

In the future, Emma would like the council to do more to promote equality in Redbridge.

She said: “I want us to be a council which is leading the way, rather than trailing behind. There needs to be a clear message from the council, working alongside charities and local businesses.

“There should be more education in schools – not only about gay rights, but about trans issues.

“I would like to see more options for gender pronouns and sexuality on the diversity forms. People have complained to me that they don’t identify as male or female.

“It’s such a small thing to do but it can make a real difference to people feeling valued in the community.”


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