Stewart McDonald, an openly gay Member of Parliament (MP), tells Vanguard during a tour of the Los Angeles LGBT Center that now is not the time for U.S. President Donald Trump to pay an official visit to the United Kingdom.
“A whole series of things have called into question whether or not we should be rolling out an official state visit,” McDonald said. “Whether it’s the ban on transgender people in the military or the comfort he seems to have given to those on the extreme right.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May made the offer of a state visit, which typically includes a formal dinner with the Queen, just days after Trump’s inauguration in January when she visited Washington D.C. This led to more than 1.8 million people signing a petition saying such an official visit “would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.”
“It was several years before Barack Obama was given a state visit, it was several years before George W. Bush was given a state visit,” McDonald added. “We cannot understand the rush to give president Trump a state visit. If it’s about trade deals because we’re leaving the European Union, then it’s being done so quickly for all the wrong reasons.”
Of the transgender ban Trump signed last week McDonald said: “It makes no sense. In my view, it actually puts America’s allies at greater risk to extract these people. These things do not go unnoticed in the U.K.”
McDonald is a Scottish National Party politician who is member of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee. He was elected to serve Glasgow South in 2015.
Currently on recess, McDonald is on vacation in the U.S. with boyfriend Gordon Hawthorne and wanted to visit “the largest LGBT Center on the face of the earth.”
“America is about more than who sits in The White House. There’s a reason why we keep coming here for holiday,” he said.
The 31-year-old toured the Center’s Jeffrey Goodman Special Care Clinic, Triangle Square affordable housing complex, The Village at Ed Gould Plaza and the under-construction Anita May Rosenstein Campus.
But McDonald spent the most time at the Center’s youth center, a visit that included an intimate sit-down with four Youth Ambassadors who have graduated from the program and now serve as liaisons between youth and staff.
“This is Gordon, my boyfriend,” McDonald told the group as they sat down around a table. “When I go to schools, I casually drop words like ‘my boyfriend.’ You don’t have to dress up like Elton John and say, ‘I’m a homosexual!’ And I have not been silent on LGBT issues – just Google my name.”
One of the youths quickly assured him: “We did!”
Not Afraid to Tackle LGBT Issues
McDonald, no more than a decade older than most in the group, spoke candidly about some of the LGBT-related things he has focused on as a member of Parliament.
“I’m the first MP to mention chemsex (the consumption of drugs to facilitate sexual activity). It’s a major public health issue that nobody talks about,” he told the group. “I’ve done a lot of talking about PrEP. Scotland is the first part of the UK saying it will be on the National Health Service.”
He’s also been pushing to reduce the length of time gay men have to abstain from having sex in order to donate blood from one year to three months.
But mostly, McDonald wanted to know about the youths sitting before him. He asked about their backgrounds, what the Center has done for them and about their dreams for the future.
He heard about how some had been abandoned by their families for being LGBT and how others had been emotionally damaged by rejection and abuse.
“You’re going to make me cry,” he said at one point.
McDonald was not only moved by the youth and their stories, he was impressed by their ability to overcome and to thrive.
“You are incredible people. Incredible people,” he said. “You’ve opened up my eyes bigtime.”
Things to Take Home
After his time with the youth was over and his tour was complete, McDonald reflected on what he had seen at the Center.
“There’s nothing you haven’t thought of,” he said. “Everything from HIV testing to internet access to employability to a change of socks and a warm meal. It’s all there. You’ve thought of how to help them deal with their problems as opposed to finger-wagging. You’re a proper life-saving, life-changing center as opposed to somewhere that opens its doors in the morning and closes them again at night.”
McDonald called the need for such services here and in his own country “enormously depressing” but said “I can take away lots from this back home to talk to people about.”
The MP explained that there are lots of organizations in the UK that are doing the things the Center is doing but not in a coordinated way.
“They’re doing it in their own worlds-separately from each other a lot of the time,” he said. “The coordinated focus that you have here is incredibly important and powerful and allows a much more holistic approach to people changing things for themselves with the right support along the way.”