Mathew Hulbert is a councillor representing the Liberal Democrats on Barwell Parish Council in England. He has been a strong voice for LGBT rights in his local community, Leicestershire and the wider East Midlands regions in the UK, having also worked as a journalist and broadcaster.
EILE’s Scott De Buitléir sat down with Mathew online to introduce him as a new contributor to EILE, as well as highlight his own story and achievements in England.
EILE: Did your involvement in LGBT activism start at the same time as your involvement in politics?
MH: That’s a really good question. I’d been semi-active in politics since my late teens when I joined the Labour Party. I was swept along by Tony Blair and the new Labour project. I’d always known, since I had any concept of politics from about the age of fourteen, that I certainly wasn’t a Conservative. I was from a working class family. My dad was an engineer and my mum was a factory worker. The Tories had never done my family any favours, quite the opposite, in fact. So, Blair becoming PM was, indeed, a ‘new dawn.’ And I still consider him to be the best PM of my lifetime, although [the UK’s involvement in] Iraq will always blot his copy book.
I didn’t come out until my thirty-first birthday, just over nine years ago. Not because I had any problem with being gay, I was always fine about it, but because I wasn’t sure how my working class family and Christian evangelical sister would feel about it and react to it. I finally came out to my whole family on my 31st birthday (a day I’ll never forget) and then to the wider world in an article in the Leicester Mercury and an interview on BBC Radio Leicester.
A few months later, in May 2011, I was elected as a LibDem Councillor [having joined the LibDems in 2010 – Ed.] on Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council. I knew that I didn’t just want to be a Councillor who happened to be gay, but rather an advocate, as much as I could, for our communities locally and further afield. And, I guess, everything since has flowed from there.
EILE: Tell us about your hometown a little more for those unfamiliar with the English East Midlands; what is it like being LGBT in somewhere like Barwell, and where is the nearest city to kick up your heels or interact with the gay community?
MH: Barwell’s home. It’s a village which economically has sadly never quite recovered from the loss of its traditional boot and shoe making industry, but in terms of community spirit very few places can match it. Until this year, due to the coronavirus, our annual carnival had run every single year for more than seventy years. And people come from miles around to see it. Barwell’s people are decent. As a local Councillor, they tell you in no uncertain terms what they think. That can take some getting used to, but at least you know where people stand.
As for being a gay man in a small village, for the overwhelming number of people it’s just not an issue. But, I can’t deny it, there has been a couple of times where individuals have made clear that they don’t approve of my ‘lifestyle’. My view is that those individuals are the ones with the problem, not me. But, as a Parish Councillor, this month we put out a post on social media with the rainbow flag and a quote from me for Pride Month. A small thing, perhaps, but another opportunity to promote the need for full equality for all LGBT+ communities.
Leicester is the nearest city, about 20 minutes away by car. I love Leicester with all my heart. It’s such a diverse city, and set to be, if it isn’t already, one of the first minority majority cities. From 2014 to earlier this year I was a trustee of the Leicester LGBT Centre, the longest running centre of its kind in the country; 40+ years of serving the LGBT+ communities of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. I had the honour of being its Chair from 2017 to 2020.
I have to say, I’ve never really done the ‘scene’. It’s just not quite me. But Leicester has some lovely gay pubs which I frequent from time to time. I’m still involved in a big way in LGBT+ advocacy, especially as the Independent Chair of the Leicestershire Police/Leicestershire Fire Service LGBT+ Independent Advisory Group. Advocacy is so important.
EILE: What are the challenges facing LGBT Britain right now?
MH: The challenges remain myriad. For all the advances of the past couple of decades, the fight for full equality, recognition and justice for our communities goes on apace.
I believe the frontline of that fight is on the rights of Trans, non-binary, and gender fluid individuals. The transphobia I see on a daily basis, not just on the cesspit that social media at its worst can be, but also in supposedly ‘liberal’ media outlets like The Guardian and Channel 4, is truly shocking. I take every opportunity I can to say that Trans Rights Are Human Rights, and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder (virtually, at least, at present) with our Trans, non-binary and gender fluid friends. I’d really encourage people – if they are able to – to donate money to charities providing help and support to Trans people, including the Leicester LGBT Centre, which has a number of projects which offer support to Trans people and especially young Trans people.
Beyond that, there’s a number of other issues facing our communities. Sexually active gay and bisexual men are still not able to donate blood and plasma…though it looks as if there may be movement to change this soon, thanks to the hard work of a number of campaigners. We still see LGBT+ young people facing bullying at school, college etc. We still see cases of LGBT+ people being paid less than their non-LGBT+ counterparts. We still see bisexual people ignored, including by fellow members of LGBT+ communities. Hate crime sadly continues against members of our communities. BAME LGBT+ people can, and do, face multiple discriminations.
So, there is so much more to do. And that is why months like this, Pride month, are so important as an opportunity to advocate for our communities, and to call on the government to make the necessary changes and pass the laws needed to see further equality. And, of course, globally, there remain so many countries where to be LGBT+ is a crime, and around a handful where LGBT+ people can face the death penalty. So, all of us who are passionate about LGBT+ equality have a lot in our inbox as we continue the fight for justice.
EILE: What has been your proudest moment (to date!) as an LGBT politician?
MH: As an LGBT+ activist, chairing the Leicester LGBT Centre’s Board of Trustees for a number of years was a high honour. The staff team, the trustees, and the volunteers at the Centre all do a fantastic job in serving the LGBT+ communities of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. I’ll always look back with fondness on my years as a Trustee and Chair at the Centre.
But, I think I’m most proud of the LGBT+ partnership I’ve been involved in setting up in Hinckley and Bosworth over the past year or so. Working with an officer with the Borough Council, among others, we – for the first time – last year started organising events marking a number of significant celebrations and commemorations on the LGBT+ calendar’, including LGBT History Month in February, IDAHoBiT in May, Pride Month in June, and the Trans Day of Remembrance in November. I remember growing up there was pretty much nothing in terms of LGBT+ events or advocacy locally, so to be involved in starting something is really gratifying. As part of the partnership, which we’ve named ‘True Colours’ after the iconic Cyndi Lauper song, we’ve also launched the first LGBT+ advocacy and support pages on the Borough Council website; which I write articles for.
As a Borough Councillor, I brought the first LGBT+-related item to the Council’s Scrutiny Commission, and, as part of that, gave my coming out story. So, yes, I’ve tried to do my bit locally, and I’m humbled at the opportunities I’ve been given. And, yes, proud too.
EILE: Finally, what next for you? Any upcoming projects or plans we should keep an eye out for?
MH: I’m someone who always likes to be super busy and have a number of plates spinning, so to speak. One thing I am super excited about is writing for EILE magazine, so, thanks for having me! I look forward to writing on LGBT+ issues from the UK.
I obviously continue as a parish councillor which is a big responsibility. We are the most local form of government and I take my responsibility to the residents in my ward very seriously. I look forward, with colleagues, to continuing to build up the ‘True Colours’ LGBT+ events partnership in Hinckley and Bosworth.
I’m also heavily involved in Lib Dem politics, so I’m committed to playing my part in helping us re-build, and, hopefully, be back in UK-wide government…but this time a progressive government…within a decade. So, yes, always busy but always driven by a commitment to public service. And getting to meet inspiring people whether in person or online, is a brilliant by-product of being an activist.