Despite there being many gay Conservative MPs in the House of Commons, there’s still a deeply embedded taboo against lesbians and gays voting Conservative. Jo Bartosch explains the on-going challenges that Conservative Party supporters face in the wider LGBT community.
Whilst the prospect of Wes Streeting MP in rainbow hotpants might not be to everyone’s taste, it is heartening that across the House of Commons there are enough out gays, lesbians and bisexuals to fill a pride float. The SNP are leading the way with nearly 20% LGB representation, followed by 9% of Labour and nearly 7% of Conservative MPs. It was more than two decades ago that Michael Portillo came out of his somewhat shallow closet. Today the sexual orientation of MPs is barely a footnote on campaign leaflets, and it is homophobia, not homosexuality, that risks frustrating political ambition.
But outside of Westminster there is a stigma that won’t shift; a deeply embedded taboo against lesbians, gays and bisexuals voting Tory. Thirty years ago, at the height of the AIDS crisis the Conservative government passed Section 28 of the Local Government Act, legislation which banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools. Section 28 has cast a long shadow over the reputation of the Conservative Party and as someone who had my first school-girl crushes in the nineties I know first-hand the damage it did. Despite the repeal of Section 28 in 2003 and huge social progress, (much of it made under Tory rule) today lesbians, gays and bisexual people who vote Conservative are still regarded as ‘Uncle Toms’ by many on the left. The left wing bias of LGB people is not merely anecdotal, research from across Europe shows that the so-called ‘lavender vote’ is generally cast to the left.
Darren Grimes is a leading young gay Tory voice with a sizeable YouTube channel called Reasoned. He has faced hostility from within the gay community for coming out as a Conservative. Describing a media propelled “atmosphere of fear and loathing directed towards and around conservatism” Grimes feels “being a Conservative is probably more of a faux pas than admitting to having some niche sexual proclivity.” He recalls: “bringing one bloke back to my flat who froze upon seeing a framed poster of Margaret Thatcher. It was the kind of paralysing fear that would be provoked if Maggie herself had risen from the dead before his very eyes – it’s safe to say I didn’t see him again after that.”
Conservative commentator Darren Grimes feels “being a Conservative is probably more of a faux pas than admitting to having some niche sexual proclivity.”
Mainstream LGBT advocacy groups have adopted the authoritarian stance of the left, expecting those they purport to represent to lock step on political issues. Whilst today’s pride parades see trade unions jostling alongside floats sponsored by multinational companies, homosexuals with heterodox opinions are frozen out. In 2015, a group of gay and lesbian UKIP supporters were barred from marching at Pride in London. Similarly, 2018 Get the L Out, a group of lesbians seeking to raise awareness of the proposed amendment to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) were firstly removed from the march and then denounced in a statement by the organisers. Whatever one’s stance on leaving the EU or the GRA, excluding people from an event celebrating inclusivity shows a startling lack of tolerance. Just as within the mainstream left, there is an expectation from groups like Stonewall, the LGBT Foundation and Pride in London that we ought to share the same ideological perspective by dint of who we fancy.
Just as within the mainstream left, there is an expectation from groups like Stonewall, the LGBT Foundation and Pride in London that we ought to share the same ideological perspective by dint of who we fancy.
Paradoxically, the prominence of LGBT issues in the media has risen at a time when the barriers we face have largely fallen. The granting of same sex marriage in 2013 means homo and bisexuals now have full legal parity with heterosexuals, yet today more than ever institutions compete to show how inclusive they are. One wonders where they were in the 1980s. This inconvenient lack of institutional discrimination has left some on the left scrambling for relevance and organisations fretting over funding. Enter from the lurking shadows the looming threat of the right-wing homophobe.
Seemingly with no appreciation that today’s Tories share about as much with the extreme right as they do anti-fa, the spectre of fascism in Eastern Europe is used to stoke fear in the UK.
People like Darren Grimes are often at the sharp end of this. Grimes, who unlike many of his detractors is not from a privileged background, explains “I have been told I am ‘not a real gay’, that I somehow don’t understand”. He adds:
“The Left uses its scaremongering tactics and warnings that everything from a vote for leaving a trading bloc, or for the same-sex marriage backing Tories, is somehow a vote to propel the UK into the throes of fascism, as a tool to keep a grip on minority groups… I’ve received message after message from these ultra-liberal ‘progressives’ over the years declaring they hope I’m raped in prison for my politics and Brexit campaigning. They dive headlong into homophobia – funny that, eh?”
The hype about a rising tide of right-wing homophobia is not just a political tactic, nor simply a funding strategy on the part of mainstream LGBT advocacy groups; it is a human reaction to change. A 2018 paper by Levari, Gilbert et al published in the journal Science describes the phenomenon of ‘perception and judgement creep’ to explain why progressives eat themselves. The authors explain how ‘when the “signal” a person is searching for becomes rare, the person naturally responds by broadening his or her definition of the signal—and therefore continues to find it even when it is not there.’ When applied to social patterns the results can be startling.
In 1989, when Section 28 was passed 75% of the population were in favour of it. Today, according the British Attitudes Survey two thirds of the public think gay and lesbian sexual relationships are not wrong and 10% think that they are always wrong. But to the left, who are invested in identity politics, little account of this progress is recognised; in 2021 homophobic ‘microagressions’ are regarded as on a par with the gay-bashing of decades past. This has seen the left pulled into vortex of endless offence and virtue-signalling, leaving the right to learn from their mistakes.
…in 2021 homophobic ‘microagressions’ are regarded as on a par with the gay-bashing of decades past. This has seen the left pulled into vortex of endless offence and virtue-signalling, leaving the right to learn from their mistakes.
Contrary to popular belief culture wars are nothing new. In 1992, Saatchi & Saatchi produced a poster on behalf of the Conservative Party that became iconic. The poster featured a black man in a suit staring out at the viewer, the caption read: “Labour says he’s black. Tories say he’s British.” This appeal to the individual is powerful, upending the conceited assumption that we vote according to our shared characteristics. But whilst the Conservatives have largely ‘got over’ their homophobia, the rhetoric of the left is stagnant; perpetuating a subtle form of prejudice that casts LGB people as de facto victims.
Most adults do not choose to define themselves by sexual orientation. Yes, discrimination and violence still exists, but so does economic inequality, health care and concerns around housing; all of which are likely to impact on our lives and to shape our political affiliations. In reality, the UK is one of the best places in the world to love someone of the same sex and we are each more than the sum of the boxes we tick. To really achieve equality there must be tolerance; we need to make space in the LGB community so those who carry a torch for the Tories can come out.
Jo Bartosch is a writer and campaigner for the rights of women and girls.