My challenge to David Cameron: What are your gay rights policies?
By Peter Tatchell – LGBT human rights campaigner
QX magazine – London - 15 April 2010
Oh dear, Conservative mask is slipping. After carefully cultivating a pro-gay image, David Cameron’s homo-friendly credentials now look much less convincing. First, he was caught out by GT interviewer Martin Popplewell, when it was revealed that Tory MEPs in the European Parliament last year refused to support a motion that condemned Lithuania’s homophobic policies. Then, Tory Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling , was secretly filmed saying that he thought B&B owners should have the right to refuse accommodation to same-sex couples. And only last week, David Cameron was due to make an election speech stating that the Conservatives embraced everyone: “young, old, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight.” But when it came to delivering his speech, the planned reference to gay people was omitted.
Critics are now saying that this triple whammy of recent blunders reveals the true face of the Tory Party. Behind the spin and PR, the Conservatives are not nearly as pro-gay as they claim.
It all seemed so different last summer, when David Cameron did an extraordinary thing for a politician. He apologised. And not just any old apology. He said sorry for the homophobia of the Conservative Party; expressing his regret for Section 28, Margaret Thatcher’s infamous ban on the supposed “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities. In January, he topped this apology by urging schools to teach about gay equality, including information on same-sex relationships and civil partnerships, in order to combat homophobic bullying. Bravo!
Sadly, Cameron’s own voting record in parliament is quite homophobic. He voted against gay couples being allowed to adopt children in 2002 and against the repeal of Section 28 in 2003. In 2008, he voted against giving lesbian couples access to IVF fertility treatment. In recent years, the vast majority of Tory MPs have voted against gay equality, including a third of the present Conservative Shadow Cabinet. This may not bode well for what a future Conservative government will do on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.
Right now, the Tories don’t have any official lesbian and gay rights policies. The Conservative Party annual conference has never voted for gay rights and gays rights policies do not feature in any Tory policy document. The Conservatives are offering our community no new measures to remedy the remaining vestiges of homophobia and transphobia.
David Cameron’s pro-gay image has also taken a battering by his decision to team up with Poland’s homophobic Law and Justice Party (PiS) in the European Parliament. The PiS has banned Gay Pride parades and derided same-sex relationships. It has strong links with the misogynistic and anti-Semitic Catholic radio station, Radio Maryja. Jewish, women and LGBT voters are rightly appalled to see the Tories cooperating with such a nasty, bigoted party.
Even worse, the Conservatives are in a European alliance with Latvia’s notorious right-wing nationalist and homophobic Fatherland and Freedom party. It borders on neo-fascist, with its annual commemoration of Latvians who served in the Nazi Waffen SS during the Second World War. These dodgy political alliances call into question the sincerity of David Cameron’s professed conversion to progressive, pro-gay Conservatism.
My first challenge to David Cameron is this: How do you square your cooperation with these homophobic parties in the EU with your proclaimed support for gay equality in the UK?
This is not the only problem with Cameron’s new-found love affair with gay voters. He now talks plenty of pro-gay rhetoric but when it comes to pro-gay policies, where’s the beef?
When he condemned Section 28 as a “mistake” and “offensive,” Cameron pledged to make the Tories the party of gay equality: “The Labour government has made some important changes. I think we have further to go,” he told the Pink Paper.
Well David, my second challenge to you is this: Exactly what “further” policy changes are you proposing, in order to remove the remaining elements of legal and social homophobia? What would you do, as Prime Minister, to end the homophobic discrimination that Gordon Brown and Labour are refusing to abolish?
Take homophobic violence and hate crime. Successive Labour and Conservative Home Secretaries have given visas and work permits to Jamaican reggae singers, like Buju Banton and Bounty Killer, who incite the murder of LGBT people. Inciting murder is a serious criminal offence. Yet these singers are allowed to come to Britain, while the leader of the US Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, has been banned from Britain for two decades. I may disagree with his views, but Farrakhan never incited violence against anyone. Why the double standards? Would David Cameron change this? He won’t say.
The government, police and Crown Prosecution Service permit record stores and radio stations to promote songs by these singers that encourage the killing of LGBTs. Neither Labour nor Tory government ministers would tolerate similar “murder music” against Jewish or black people. We LGBTs deserve the same legal protection against incitements to kill us. If he believes in gay equality, why isn’t David Cameron demanding that we get this protection?
Gordon Brown’s government is refusing asylum to LGBT refugees, many of whom have been beaten, jailed or tortured in countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Nigeria, Jamaica, Iran and Uganda. The Home Office often deports them, claiming that they won’t be at risk of homophobic persecution if they go back home, change their names, hide their sexuality and stop having gay relationships. It never makes such onerous demands on political, religious or ethnic refugees. More double standards. Would the Conservatives end this injustice? They won’t say.
Labour said its Equality Bill would harmonise the patchwork of equality legislation, to create a common framework of equal rights law. It doesn’t. Harassment based on sexual orientation is explicitly exempted. This exemption applies to schools. They will have no legal obligation to prevent the harassment of LGBT pupils, despite the pandemic of homophobic bullying.
In addition, Labour has separately agreed new educational guidelines that allow faith schools to promote their own religious ethos when teaching about sex and relationships. This ethos often includes the view that same-sex relationships are sinful, immoral, abnormal and unnatural. Neither of these homophobic Labour policies were opposed by David Cameron.
The government supports the National Blood Service policy of automatically banning all gay and bisexual blood donors for life, even if they have 100% safe sex and test HIV-negative. This is an irrational, bigoted ban. Most gay and bisexual men do not have HIV and will never have HIV. Those who have only safe sex and who test HIV negative can give blood safely. Banning them is contributing to the shortfall in blood donations. This ban is supported by the Conservatives.
Gordon Brown defends the prohibition of same-sex marriage. Instead of repealing this discrimination, Labour’s civil partnerships reinforce and extend it. They are for same-sex couples only. Straight couples are banned from having a civil partnership. Conversely, marriage remains reserved for heterosexuals, to the exclusion of LGBTs. This is a form of sexual apartheid - one law for straights and another for gays - and it is supported by both Labour and the Tories.
Gordon Brown could have ended all homophobic discrimination, but didn’t. Would David Cameron be any better? Would he overturn these vestiges of gay inequality, where Gordon has failed? I doubt it, given his ominous silence on further gay law reform.
This silence is very short-sighted. The Conservatives are missing out on lots of pink votes. By leading with new lesbian and gay rights policies, the Tories could out-manoeuvre Labour and win more LGBT voters. Our support could influence the outcome in a tight election contest, especially in key marginal constituencies, where a couple of hundred LGBT electors could decide the outcome. David Cameron, are you up for it? Please tell us. We’ve got ballots too, and at the next general election many of us will use them to support parties that support us.