Yellow, red, blue, green or pink? Andy Armitage takes a look at whether being gay influences the way people vote.
On 6 May, people in the UK were invited to put crosses on ballot papers. Being gay might have influenced their vote – or it might not. It depends on how much store is set by parties’ records on gay equality.
In the case of many people that’s a lot. Not just because it will mean that gay people will be treated with the same dignity as heterosexuals by the politicians (though that’s important, of course), but also because it says something about a party’s attitude to human dignity in general.
All of this assumes you vote at all, of course. After MPs’ behaviour over their expenses – some of them blatantly fiddled – and revelations of just what they can claim for, and how much, it’s not surprising that the public are rather annoyed by their elected representatives.
The party that has traditionally been hostile towards gay people – the Conservatives Party – is now trying to court the pink vote by showing itself to be inclusive and fair. But cracks are showing. Tory Leader David Cameron made a prat of himself in an interview filmed for Gay Times, which was shown on Channel 4 in late March.
At one point, he was asked about a law coming into effect in Lithuania, which has been condemned as similar to the infamous Section 28 (anti-gay legislation enacted by the Tories in the 1980s) – and a motion in opposition to it in the European Parliament, which was supported by Labour and Lib Dem MEPs. Cameron’s response was: “Um, I don’t know about that particular vote.”
A little later, Cameron seemed to lose the plot, backtracking and stumbling as he couldn’t give any further clarifications.
Martin Popplewell, the journalist doing the interview for Gay Times, wrote in the Guardian later, “He stumbles from one answer to the next and hesitates over issues of equality before asking for filming to be halted. Instead of wiping away the fears, it brings many flooding back. For the gay community, the key question raised is the very one it was meant to dispel: is the Conservative conversion on gay and lesbian issues genuine and deep?”
Fairly soon after this, Cameron’s shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling, told the far-right Centre for Policy Studies – and was secretly taped doing so – that it was OK for owners of bed-and-breakfast establishments to turn away gay people. (The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations of 2007 states that no one should be refused goods or services on the grounds of their sexuality.)
He made the point that hotels should not be allowed to do this, but, because B&Bs were also the homes of their owners, they should be treated differently. You can’t help but wonder whether he thinks that would go for black people, too.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that some misguided people don’t like Afro-Caribbeans – or, for that matter, Indians or Pakistanis or East Asians. If Grayling had said B&B owners should be allowed to turn these groups away, he would probably be relieved of his shadow-cabinet post, if not the whip and ultimately his party membership.
Writing on 6 April in the Telegraph, the journalist Douglas Murray invites us to conduct a thought experiment:
A man owns a B&B. He is also a Christian. In common with many Christians he believes that the Bible is the inspiration for living, but not a textbook. He holds that Leviticus is as useful a guide for human love as it is for dietary and clothing advice. He also recognises that an obsession with gays is something which a particularly intolerant, unchristian and backward sub-set of Christianity, largely comprising black Africans, holds dear. Therefore he decides it is against his religious beliefs to entertain black African Christians at his guesthouse because he does not like their beliefs, attitudes or practices.
There is no reason, in Grayling’s analysis, why this should not happen.
There have been calls for Cameron to fire Grayling, but this was only about gays, so, while what he said is seen as perhaps unfortunate, it’s OK, really, and the nation will soon forget about it. Naughty boy, Chris. You’ll have to sit on the naughty step for, ooh, five minutes.
Grayling is on record as saying he voted for civil partnerships and even for the legislation that bans B&Bs from turning away gays, and would not like to see it repealed, but, according to the Financial Times, “He said, however, he had wanted to respect the sensitivities of faith groups.”
“Faith” groups trump human rights, then? This is the man who would be Home Secretary. Much can change in the course of an election and the making of the first cabinet of a new government, as we’ll no doubt see after 6 May – whoever has the majority – but the fact that Grayling aspired to be the Home Secretary and can put “faith” groups before human dignity and equality speaks volumes. He is not fit to hold office.
It will have come as little surprise that, according to a Pink News survey, Tory support among gays dropped after the fiasco, making the Lib Dems, by a margin of 1 per cent, the most popular political party among gays.
The Tories – even though they brought the gay age of consent down from 21 to 18 in 1994, with a tenth of them voting against – will need to go a long way to shake off the legacy of Section 28, which sought to prevent local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality, leading many, including teachers to self-censor, although no one was ever prosecuted under that law. Cameron has since apologised for that piece of particularly spiteful and nasty legislation.
However, in 2003, when there was a vote to repeal it (its equivalent having been repealed three years earlier in Scotland), one Tory in six voted against, including David Cameron and about a third of the Tory shadow cabinet.
A third of Tories voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations in March 2007, which outlaws discrimination and harassment on grounds of sexual orientation. This included about a third of frontbenchers and four members of the current shadow cabinet.
Then there was the Equality Bill 2009. Nineteen members of the shadow cabinet joined attempts to block the bill, which requires publicly funded bodies to promote equality and remove barriers to fair-service provision.
Ten years ago, there was the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, which became the Sexual Offence Act 2000 and reduced the gay age of consent to 16 (17 in Northern Ireland). As with the 21-to-18 reduction in 1994, about a tenth of Tories voted against.
Are Cameron and his cohort really gay-friendly, or just cynically courting the pink vote? Are gay (and, for that matter, black) candidates being put forward in a purely box-ticking exercise, as one Tory activist, Beverley Connolly, a Tory councillor in Tandridge, Surrey, said in February when a six-strong shortlist was issued for the ultra-safe seat of Surrey East, where Peter Ainsworth, the current MP, is standing down. A black businessman, Sam Gyimah, was eventually selected.
Connolly said, “I’m sure they are all eminently able candidates, but some of these people have been parachuted in from out of the area. We have a black candidate, a gay candidate.
“I’m not remotely homophobic. It’s not a reflection on their abilities or personalities but you have to ask if people are there just to tick boxes. It’s not about what’s best for the party in East Surrey: it’s about what the party wants.”
Not, then, a united party on the question of gay equality.
And it does seem remarkable that Cameron has turned pink so quickly. In the Independent in February, Johann Hari wrote:
Until 2005, David Cameron was a conventional anti-gay Tory. He attacked Tony Blair for “moving heaven and earth to allow the promotion of homosexuality in our schools”. He mocked Labour for supporting the “fringe agenda” of equality for gay people. He supported the homophobic law Section 28 until its dying breath. But since he became Conservative leader, he has dramatically changed his position. He apologised for Section 28, got a Tory conference to applaud the principle of gay marriage, and has moved a flotilla of gay candidates into winnable seats. It seems at first glance like an amazing starburst of progress – making it possible at last for gay people to pick political parties from anywhere on the spectrum. The party of Norman Tebbit is now led by a man who poses for photographers outside a screening of Brokeback Mountain.
And the party recently issued, for the first time ever, a list of out-gay candidates for the election. They say they have 20 openly gay candidates, 11 of whom were happy to be named in what the Mail on Sunday called “the first authorised list of gay Conservative candidates”.
“Publication of the list followed a claim by Shadow Minister Nick Herbert that if the Tories win the forthcoming General Election there could be up to 15 openly gay Conservative MPs,” says the Mail on Sunday. “That compares to three at present, including Mr Herbert.”
And a slap in the face to the Tories – although they wouldn’t have acknowledged it as such – came in March, when the founder and first chair of their latest gay group, LGBTory, said she would be voting Labour in the general election. Anastasia Beaumont-Bott said she was doing so because Cameron had failed to reprimand Grayling.
What, then, of Labour’s record? Well, traditionally, it’s certainly better than the Tories’, but is New Labour all it’s cracked up to be? After all, Gordon Brown – although he has made some positive noises about gay rights, including noises in a companion interview Martin Popplewell did for Gay Times – was notably absent from several votes in the House of Commons with relevance to gays.
Over the years since New Labour came to power in 1997, he failed to support, among others, the government’s equalisation of the age of consent, the abolition of Section 28, joint adoption by gay couples, civil partnerships and the Equality Act.
Pink News remarked in July 2006, “Mr Brown could possibly argue that he was ‘too busy’ to attend the votes. However, even with his greater work load.
Mr Blair managed to attend four divisions relating to equalising the age of consent and allowing gay couples to jointly adopt.
But you can’t help but get worried when you read of Pope Ratzinger’s proposed visit to the UK, and Gordon Brown’s response that this will “be a time of joy for people of all faiths and none”. How can a man who claims to think positively about gay equality in one breath utter this drivel in another, given Ratzinger’s (and other Catholics’) views on gay people?
It’s all politicking, of course, but he didn’t have to say it, and I and many other gay people feel nothing but insult from Brown’s licking of the papal posterior.
Several weeks ago, when I began planning this article, I tried to ascertain answers from all our political parties to one simple question
| One simple question … |
If I were to pose a simple question – what can your party offer to the LGBT community that other parties cannot or will not?
– would you be able to provide me with an answer?
Responses from parties (in alphabetical order)
BNP: prompt response
Greens: prompt response
Labour: belated response
Lib Dems: no response
Plaid Cymru: promise of response but nothing forthcoming
Scot Nats: no response
Tories: no response
UKIP: no response
First off the mark was the BNP. Predictably, its spokesman on LGBT matters, Councillor Paul Golding, said the party would help gays by holding Muslims at bay.
The British National Party is the only organisation which offers the LGBT community guaranteed protection from persecution and physical harm which will result from the Islamic colonisation of Britain and the resultant imposition of sharia law.
All of the other parties support mass immigration which is resulting in the transformation of Britain from an essentially secular libertarian Western state into something resembling a theocratic Muslim Middle Eastern state.
Already, aspects of sharia Law have taken root in Britain. There are at least 85 sharia law courts which are now officially recognised and whose verdicts are legally binding.
Sharia Law financial practices are also becoming commonplace.
The reason why this legal system has been introduced is because the Muslim population of Britain is increasing hand over foot due to the Labour, Conservative and Lib-Dem supported policies of mass immigration, combined with the staggeringly high Muslim birth rate which is four to six times higher than the indigenous population.
The steady colonisation of Britain by Islam is of direct concern to the LGBT community.
In many Islamic countries, homosexuality is punishable by death.
In Iran, a top government official recently said that torture followed by death is the appropriate punishment for being gay.
The BNP believes strongly that a person’s sexual identity is a private matter and should not be the subject of any state laws or theocratic fatwas.
Only the BNP is committed to halting and reversing the Islamic colonisation of Britain – and this is what the party uniquely offers the LGBT community, namely a guarantee of freedom from persecution under a future Islamic theocracy.
But the BNP is a party that likes to keep homosexuality behind the curtains – but not heterosexuality. While Islam does pose a threat, there are more things we need to look at, and Councillor Golding addressed just this one.
On the BNP website, Andrew Brons MEP has this to say:
The British National Party is not “homophobic” and believes that what consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedrooms is a matter for them alone and is of no concern to anyone else. On the other hand the BNP is not blinded or cowed by political correctness and recognises that homosexuality, which affects less than 2% of the population, is not the norm and that homosexual relationships do not produce offspring – essential to the survival of a people and a nation.
We therefore believe in a policy of tolerance to all forms of adult sexuality, but homosexuality should not be promoted or encouraged. The BNP supports the traditional “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude to homosexuality and is opposed to the flaunting or celebrating of homosexuality which “civil partnerships” represent. We believe that the government should adopt a more neutral position towards homosexuality rather than aiding and encouraging it by passing legislation specifically and solely designed to favour it.
So now you know. And note the scare quotes around “civil partnerships”. As for favouring homosexuality, the government doesn’t: it has begun in some areas to recognise that gays are not freaks, and some attempts at equalisation have been put in place.
The other party that responded quickly was the Green Party. It recently put out a gay manifesto outlining policy on such issues, but Peter Tatchell – a former Green candidate, now a party spokesman – told me for this article, “The Green Party is the only party campaigning for full marriage and partnership equality. We are calling for civil marriages and civil partnerships to be open to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, without discrimination.
“Having two different systems is a form of sexual apartheid: one law for straights and another for queers. The ban on same-sex marriage shows that were have not yet won full equality and full acceptance. That is why the Greens see its repeal as so important.”
Labour got back to me late, but provided a quote from the gay Labour MP Chris Bryant, in which he says, “Labour has a strong record on gay rights – civil partnerships, gay adoption, equal age of consent, gays in the military, these are all great Labour achievements. And yes, I worry about the Tories’ views on gay rights.
“But LGBT voters care about the same issues that are important to everybody else, and we can’t risk having a Conservative government derail Britain’s economic recovery with a team that has consistently made the wrong calls on the economy. That’s what’s important in this election.”
Plaid Cymru promised to get back with something, but didn’t. The Scottish Nationals didn’t respond. The Tories didn’t respond. The Lib Dems didn’t respond. UKIP didn’t respond.
A Plaid Cymru gay group, PlaidPride, was formed in February and affiliated to the main party, but such an arrangement had been in force within the Tory Party for several years, with Torche, a group that preceded the current LGBTory and existed during the times when the party was altogether nastier towards gay people.
The Independent quotes her as saying: “I feel guilty because as a gay woman affected by LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] rights I am on record saying you should vote Conservative, and I want to reverse that. I want to go on record to say don’t vote Conservative. I’d go as far to say that I’ll vote Labour at this general election.”
So which party did you vote for? One of the smaller ones, not mentioned here? No party at all? The latter is always an option, of course. Do you think any party under the current electoral system will do any better for the ordinary person on wider issues of health, the economy and so forth?
It counts only as a spoiled paper, but you can always write, “None of the above.”
Gay Times, David Cameron interview
Johann Hari (official website)