Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights lobby Stonewall

07 June 2007
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights lobby Stonewall

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights lobby Stonewall, has just launched a guide to the new discrimination regulations in conjunction with Lloyds Bank. He talks to Emily Manson

What's the importance of the guide?

To draw the attention of four million gay people in Britain to the fact there are now laws protecting them from what were previously quite humiliating situations.

Is there confusion about the new regulations?

It's more a lack of awareness. We worked hard to make the regulations simple and straightforward to understand, so now our job is to get people's attention. We're delighted that Lloyds Bank has funded 300,000 leaflets to help do this.

How do you think the hospitality industry deals with gay-specific requirements?

Clearly, 90% of businesses take a sensible approach, but there's still quite a lot of complacency in the industry. People think that because hospitality has a lot of gay staff it's alright, but it doesn't mean they are being nurtured or treated equally. We do hear regularly from people who encounter problems.

What discrimination still exists towards the gay community in hospitality?

Since the regulations came in on 31 April we haven't had any complaints - which indicates the sector is aware. Before that we regularly got complaints from people who'd been humiliated in hotels and restaurants, with venues not wanting to perform civil partnerships, refusing same-sex couples a double room, or even criticising couples for holding hands in a restaurant.

How much discrimination is still out there?

The vast majority of people in hospitality do want to be hospitable but, as in wider society, there are still pockets of discrimination, whether in work, schools or businesses, and it's about time the Government said this should no longer be allowed to continue.

How can the hospitality industry improve its accessibility to the gay community?

As customers, one thing we know people respond to is brochures and publicity material which refer to wedding and civil partnerships - it makes it obvious they will be warmly welcomed, not just tolerated. Civil partnerships have already generated £200m revenue, so it's also just good marketing.

What should someone do if they encounter homophobic attitudes?

People should always try to raise the matter informally first, perhaps even with the perpetrator, as often the response will be quick and can be resolved straight away. At the end of the day, if someone is turned away by a business, they do now have the right to go to court and claim compensation.

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