Homophobia condemned and inclusivity welcomed during County Hall debate

Members of West Sussex County Council's LGBT Staff Group with their rainbow laces.
Members of West Sussex County Council's LGBT Staff Group with their rainbow laces.

The leader of West Sussex County Council has condemned as ‘outrageous’ comments made by Ann Widdecombe which suggested science could ‘produce an answer’ to being gay.

The Brexit Party MEP hit the headlines earlier this month for her comments, which led to several theatres cancelling dates for her Strictly Ann one-woman tour.

The summer of love fire engine

The summer of love fire engine

The issue was raised at County Hall, in Chichester, on Friday when Chris Oxlade (Lab, Bewbush & Ifield West) asked what West Sussex was doing to mark LGBT Pride Month.

When Mr Oxlade asked for condemnation of Ms Widdecombe’s ‘LGBT negative outburst’ it was swiftly given.

Leader Louise Goldsmith said: “I condemn the absolutely awful comments that were made. They were absolutely outrageous.”

Mr Oxlade mentioned a recent vile attack on a London night bus which left two women bloodied and bruised, saying he was concerned such things were ‘becoming the norm’.

Mrs Goldsmith hit out at the ‘real nastiness that is going on in this country’, adding: “I really think it’s unacceptable. We treat people as equals don’t we? It doesn’t matter what colour, what creed, whatever, we expect everybody to treat each other as we would want to be treated.

“I think we have to articulate this. It’s what we’re about, isn’t it?

“Surely we should all come together to condemn anything like this that happens in any part of our divisions.

“Because if we don’t stand up to it we’re going to go back 50 years where people were locked in the closet. That is not right.”

Looking at the inclusivity work carried out by the county, the leader recalled people’s delight when the rainbow flag was first flown at County Hall – a day Mr Oxlade said was ‘a big highlight’.

The council is also working to regain its place in the Stonewall top 100 – a list of the employers which achieve acceptance without exception for all LGBT people.

To mark International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) on Friday (May 17) the rainbow flag will be flying from fire stations, County Hall in Chichester, Parkside in Horsham, Durban House in Bognor Regis and Centenary House in Worthing,

Members of the county council’s LGBT+ Staff Group will be distributing pairs of rainbow shoelaces among their colleagues to help spread the word of the importance of diversity and inclusion for a happy and healthy workforce.

Debbie Kennard, cabinet member for safer, stronger communities, who was wearing her ID on a rainbow lanyard, added: “It’s hard when people have prejudice against young people, adults, when we should be moving forward.”

She told the meeting that the West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service’s ‘summer of love’ fire engine – which has been decorated with rainbow stripes and multicoloured hearts – was proving popular all over the country and would be taking part in London’s Black Pride.

She added: “We had the Pride in Worthing, which was absolutely fantastic. I never thought we’d see Pride in a town like Worthing.

“We’re really moving forward. We’re breaking those barriers and I think the county council is a leader and a champion for the rights of everybody and equality.”

Mrs Goldsmith asked councillors and members of the public to contact her with any ideas how West Sussex could do more.

The next Worthing Pride will be held on Saturday July 13.