This Saturday, 20 August, I have been invited to open the Swindon and Wiltshire Pride Festival, which will be held in the Old Town Gardens from 11:15am to 10:20pm. This year’s theme is “Love for All”.
I’m happy to support this Festival because it reminds us what makes Swindon, and the UK, a great place to live. For me, being a good British citizen is about being tolerant of, and respectful to, our fellow citizens. That helps to make us a cohesive society that benefits from all the diverse individuals and communities. Variety is not something of which we should be afraid. It should be an opportunity for us to learn more about each other.
It’s worth remembering how much more tolerant a society we have become. Even in my own lifetime, we have gone from a society that imprisoned gays and lesbians, to one in which consenting adults are free to have such relationships as they wish. We have progressed from a situation where people could be blackmailed because of their sexual orientation to a point where they committed suicide, to one in which people in more walks of life are safe in being honest about who they are, whether they are sportspeople, politicians, or anyone.
This does not mean that we can be complacent; but, it should give us all confidence that society can change if we have the courage to tackle prejudice.
As well as needing to overcome prejudice over people’s sexual orientation and identification, we still have the problems of racism and religious conflict.
Unfortunately, over recent months we have witnessed too many instances where fear of differences has resulted in fear, violence, and death. We have seen the murder of a Roman Catholic priest and the senseless slaughter of ordinary citizens enjoying a festival in Nice. There have been the terrorist acts in Germany and Switzerland. In the Middle East, there seems no end to the wars in which so many have been killed.
In the UK, in the wake of the referendum to leave the EU, there have been too many racist incidents, where people of non-British origin or appearance have been victimised.
Let me make it clear that such criminal acts are unacceptable. As citizens, we should respect differences of opinion, but we utterly reject bigotry, violence, and hatred. It is only by learning to live in peace with those with whom we do not agree that we can truly live up to the title of being a civilised society.