Big Gay Flashmob

Tories may be making the right noises here and there, but their responses to the concerns of gay people have been disappointing, says Peter Tatchell.

Dear Dave,

We know this is tough for you. Tony had it so easy. All he had to do was repeal Section 28, allow gay adoption and appoint the first openly gay cabinet ministers and everyone thought New Labour was god’s gift to gay rights.

You’ve not only had to overcome your party’s dodgy record, you’ve also struggled personally with the prejudices that made you vote in a pretty anti-gay way before you became leader. So big up for everything you’ve done so far to overcome homophobia in yourself and in your party.

But Chris Grayling and Berkshire B&B-gate really does make us doubt your homophile credentials. His comments were more stupid than offensive – surely he can tell the difference between inviting someone into your home and providing a commercial service?

It’s a cultural thing, it’s how they grew up. It’s sort of not their fault. And they deserve to be represented in our political system. But they really can’t pretend they’re in the majority anymore. They are literally a dying breed.

We know you need their support because they’re politically dependable, but they’re anything but shiny and new, so of course it’s going to be hard to keep them happy while rebranding the Conservative party as shiny and new.

You can’t be all things to all men, because that kind of makes you nothing. Either you’re the party of Section 28, or you’re the party of 20 gay candidates. Either Chris Grayling’s comments were acceptable, or they weren’t.

On Sunday we’re going to throw you a party where you can properly come out as a homophile or a homophobe. If you want to be in our gang, you need to dump Chris Grayling – he’s cramping your style.

If you’re actually a bit grossed out by men kissing and think that lesbians just need a good rogering from the right man, that’s ok too. We can tolerate that. We’ll be polite in public, we might even bring ourselves to shake your hand one day. It’s good that you’re being honest. But don’t expect us to vote for you.  

Yours sincerely wishing you’re sincere,  

Some gay people
 

“David Cameron and I are very happy to consider the case for gay marriage,” Shadow Chancellor George Osborne told me at a meeting in London on 11 April.

When pressed what this meant, he declined to give any assurances that a Conservative government would conduct a review of the law. A commitment to merely consider the case for legalising gay marriage is meaningless. We asked for a concrete promise that the Tories would end the prohibition on same-sex civil marriage but we didn’t get it.

Disappointment

David Cameron has, at least, offered two specific gay-rights policies, as we shall see later in this article, but his response to questions posed by Pink News readers a day before our meeting with Osborne was quite disappointing. Like Gordon Brown, Cameron supports the ban on same-sex civil marriage and the lifetime ban on gay blood donors.

Our 50-minute meeting with the Tory frontbenchers – Osborne, Theresa May and Nick Herbert, at which I was accompanied by the lesbian environmental activist Tamsin Omond – took place just three hours before the “Big Gay Flashmob” demo for LGBT rights outside Conservative election campaign headquarters in London, which attracted close to 400 people.

But the meeting was a big disappointment. George Osborne offered us fine words but few concrete policies for gay equality. His pro-gay pledges were fairly minor ones. On major equality issues, such as the bans on gay marriage and gay blood donors, the Tories support the discriminatory status quo.

Civil partnerships are not good enough. The Conservatives are out of step with popular opinion. A clear majority of British people believe the law on civil marriage should not discriminate.

A Populus poll for The Times (London) last June found that 61 per cent of the public believe that lesbian and gay couples should be able to get married in a register office on exactly the same basis as heterosexual couples. Most of the public support marriage equality – but the Tories don’t.

George Osborne

“Mr Osborne refused to support an end to the lifetime ban on gay blood donors,” said Tamsin Omond, “stating that lifting the ban was up to the blood service and its advisory body. He declined to state where the Conservatives stand on this issue.”

Free-vote issue

On several other LGBT issues, Osborne defended the Conservatives’ opposition to gay rights. He insisted that parliamentary votes on gay equality should remain a free vote.

“Gay rights is a free-vote issue. It is a matter of conscience. We don’t think MPs should be forced to follow a party-line whip,” Osborne told us. “We took the same view as the government on not including protection against homophobic harassment in the Equality Bill [. . .] While we don’t go as far saying that convictions for past consenting gay offences should be quashed, they should be regarded as spent for the purposes of criminal record checks [. . .]

“In our view, parents should have a right to withdraw their children from sex-education lessons. Tackling homophobic prejudice can be dealt with in other parts of the curriculum [. . .] There are no plans to reverse the right of lesbian couples to receive fertility treatment. I would fight any such attempt [. . .] I was not aware that it [transgender identity] is classified as a psychiatric disorder. We’ll look into it [. . .] Bullying in schools based on prejudice should be treated as aggravated bullying and attract more severe penalties,” said Osborne, although he declined to specify what these penalties should be.

Huge scepticism

The Tories are obviously worried that the shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling’s comments in support of homophobic discrimination by B&B owners (see Andy Armitage’s article in this issue) have undermined their party’s image as being gay-friendly. The only reason we got this meeting with Osborne was because of the planned protest and because of the anti-Tory backlash generated by Grayling’s comments.

Tamsin Omond added: “David Cameron talks about gay rights, but where are his gay-rights policies? We want to know what he would do for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people if he became Prime Minister. In the light of Chris Grayling’s comments, there is huge scepticism that the Conservative party has really changed. We fear that in private many top Tories still don’t believe in full gay equality.”

David Cameron
David Cameron

The Conservative Party’s annual conference has never voted for gay equality, and there are no concrete gay-rights policies in any Tory policy document. This suggests that David Cameron’s commitment to gay rights is not embraced by the whole Tory Party and is not deemed worthy of a mention in official party publicity.

However, just 24 hours before the scheduled gay-rights protest outside Conservative campaign headquarters, Cameron announced his party’s first-ever proposals for gay equality. It’s good news that he has, at last, offered two specific gay-rights policies, but disappointing that he hasn’t promised to end the bans on same-sex marriage and on gay blood donors.

Criminal-record checks

He was taking part in an online Q&A with readers of Pink News, and says a Conservative government will adopt a zero-tolerance approach to homophobic bullying in schools and will treat as spent any convictions for consenting gay behaviour that has since become lawful.

However, under Cameron’s proposals, the unjust convictions will not be quashed as such but, as a concession to protests from the gay community, he said that a Conservative government would ensure that the convictions would no longer need to be disclosed on criminal-record checks when gay men apply for certain jobs and volunteer work.

Although the convictions will not be quashed, this is a move in the right direction. The failure of the current Home Secretary Alan Johnson to match this commitment makes the Tories more progressive on this issue than Labour.

It is a big let-down, though, that Cameron is proposing only two gay-rights policies. His zero tolerance of homophobic bullying is too vague. It is contradicted by the Tory leadership’s decision early this month to block government plans to ensure that pupils aged 15 and over receive sex and relationship education to counter homophobia.

David Cameron’s gay-rights credentials are still weak. He doesn’t support ending the bans on same-sex civil marriage and heterosexual civil partnerships. His failure to mention scrapping the lifetime ban on gay blood donors is a lamentable omission.

Cameron evaded questions on the Conservatives’ alliance with homophobic parties in the European Parliament and on securing EU-wide recognition for British civil partnerships. He gave no explicit assurances on ending the postcode lottery in NHS gender reassignment surgery for transgender people.

Despite his commitment to allow same-sex couples to adopt children, he did not reply directly to the question on whether he would amend the law to allow some adoption agencies to refuse to place children with lesbian and gay couples.

Related links
Peter Tatchell (official website)
Big Gay Flashmob (Facebook page