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Ben Summerskill OBE – Chief Executive of Stonewall

Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill discusses the persecution of gay men and lesbians under the Nazi regime and discusses why Holocaust Memorial Day is an important day in the equalities calendar in the UK.

Ben Summerskill OBE – Chief Executive of Stonewall

Ben Summerskill OBE is the Chief Executive Officer of Stonewall, the largest body for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual equality in Europe. Stonewall was founded in 1989 and is renowned for its campaigning and lobbying. In this podcast, Ben discusses the persecution of Gay men and Lesbians under the Nazi regime and discusses why Holocaust Memorial Day is an important day in the equalities calendar in the UK.

Below is a transcript of his podcast:

‘Certainly in the [19]20s there had been a relatively high degree of tolerance of Gay people in Berlin, at the very least, and we have to be clear that of course people were imprisoned across most of the world at that point, if they had homosexual relations, so to be somewhere where, in some sense, the authorities just turned a blind eye to being Gay was actually considered to be quite positive and welcoming. Not just for people from Germany, but for people from abroad as well. I mean clearly that changed quite quickly once the Nazis came to power. The situation in Germany became considerably less tolerant as indeed it did of all sorts of difference. I mean as so often with these things, intolerance isn’t limited to one minority community or another. What also happened is the sentence for homosexual activity, the criminal sentence for homosexual activity, was very significantly increased and that meant that an awful lot of Gay people were just being routinely imprisoned.

Stonewall was set up in 1989, by a group of Lesbian and Gay activists, in response to the introduction of Section 28 of the Local Government Act and that was the very controversial piece of legislation that forbade the so called promotion of homosexuality in schools. Except of course you cannot promote homosexuality any more than you can promote heterosexuality. So it was really introduced just to stigmatise a minority group in this country and Stonewall was our community’s response to that, and the people who set it up were determined to set up a highly effective professional lobbying organisation, which would seek legal equality.

We support Holocaust Memorial Day for two reasons actually. One is because, I think, Lesbian and Gay people recognise that the vast majority of the victims of the Holocaust were in fact people who were Jewish and we respect the challenges and suffering that other people have faced; but I think Gay people are also of course mindful that Gay people were themselves victims of the Holocaust as well. And quite often the inclusion of Gay people in that group of victims has actually been overlooked. It has been terribly sad that some of the very prejudice that existed in the 1930s and 1940s actually still exists, sixty or seventy years later. So there are some groups who will decline to remark that the Holocaust didn’t just affect Jewish people but affected all sorts of people who are different.

I personally think one of the great things about Holocaust Memorial Day is it has served, certainly since it was observed more formally in this country, as an opportunity to remind generations, who might forget, of what actually happened during the Holocaust. And it was interesting when Harry Patch the soldier died, not very long ago; he was the last connection for the armed services in Britain to the First World War. And of course in the next 20 or 30 years we are going to see the very last connections of people to the Holocaust and I think it is critically important that we don’t ever forget what happened in those terrible years.’

The views expressed in this podcast are of the individual contributor and not necessarily those of HMDT.

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