David Cairns MP RIP – a man who spoke up for LGBT Ugandans

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David Cairns MP

David Cairns MP

The Labour MP for Inverclyde David Cairns sadly died today at the young age of 44. He had been admitted to hospital in March with acute pancreatitis.

He had a varied life starting out as a Catholic Priest in London and Scotland having trained at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and then the Franciscan International Centre in Canterbury. However, he soon realised that politics were his life and he gave up the life of the parish priest to become a director of the Christian Socialist Movement.CSM

From 1994 he served in that role but because of his previous calling at that time could not enter Parliament as an MP. Ordained Catholic priests were forbidden from being elected to the commons under the House of Commons (Clergy Disqualification) Act 1801 and the Catholic Relief Act 1829.

However, his Labour colleague and fellow Roman Catholic Siobhain McDonagh, for whom he was working as a research assistant introduced the House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Bill which would allow all Clergy except those from the Church of England (due to their Lord’s Spiritual) from being eligible for election. Cairns had already been selected to replace the retiring Norman Godman for his hometown seat of Greenock and Inverclyde. He was duly elected in 2001.

LGBT LabourAs one of the growing number of LGB MPs David was also was also a patron of LGBT Labour and Chair of the All Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS. As the coordinator of LGBT Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland I wish to express my personal and those of the group’s condolences to his partner Dermot, father John and brother Billy, as well as the wider family circle, friends and colleagues at this sudden loss of a man so young.

With the bill to kill gay men in Uganda again top of the LGBT agenda it is perhaps worth remembering these words from David in the Commons’ Chamber last year:

“If I may borrow a phrase from Harold Macmillan and amend it, the wind of oppression is blowing through the African continent today, an oppression aimed largely at young gay men and women. It has become a much more pressing issue; and although it is not confined to Africa, it is in Africa that that dehumanising and brutal oppression is occurring on this very day.

“We are aware of the notorious private Member’s Bill tabled in Uganda by David Bahati that proposes
the death penalty for people who are HIV-positive and engaged in homosexual activity, life in prison for everyone else who engages in homosexual activity, and seven years in prison for people who counsel those who engage in homosexual activity. It is, as I said, a private Member’s Bill, and the Ugandan Government have distanced themselves from it. None the less, even without the Bill, it will be illegal to be gay in Uganda, and punishable by 14 years in prison. The President of Uganda has said that homosexuality is “alien”. In the last year for which figures are available, the United Kingdom Government gave £71 million in aid to Uganda.

“…

“It is not only on the ground of sexuality that countries oppress rights. As we heard from the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson), some countries oppress people on the ground of religion, which may be rooted in differences of creed or race. If our international aid budget is rooted in our humanity, it does not come value-free, and it does not come free from a sense that the humanity of everyone must be respected.

“I have not even mentioned the utterly disastrous effect these policies in Africa are having on the rise in HIV and AIDS. If someone who thinks they might have HIV is told that to be homosexual is to be worse than a pig or a dog and is punishable by 14 years in prison, why would they come forward? What possible reason would they have to seek medical help and the method to prevent the spread of HIV? We are funding anti-HIV and AIDS programmes in countries with policies that do nothing to stop HIV and AIDS, and instead contribute to their spread.

“This is a big job for the Government. I do not pretend it is the most important thing on the plate of incoming Ministers, but it is important to millions across Africa whose fundamental human right to be gay or lesbian is being brutally oppressed by regimes. I look to the Government to give a lead by setting out what positive action we can take when our denunciations are brushed aside and doing something about this appalling miscarriage of human rights.

What more fitting to an active campaigner for HIV and LGBT rights than for people to sign the petition to urge Ugandan President Musevini to veto the “Kill the Gays Bill”.

You can sign it here http://www.allout.org/uganda

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