David Bridle: Gay and lesbian supporters of the Tory party feel they can once again follow their political instinct
The Conservative Party’s hand of friendship to potential supporters who are gay and lesbian seems like a fault line in Tory politics at the moment.
I’ve given up registering the number of comments on ConservativeHome condemning David Cameron’s “pink cabinet” or describing you as “the Candyfloss party, a stick of fluffy, pink, sickly sweet, candyfloss.”
Tim Montgomerie valiantly tried to explain the sensible party policy that “will recognise marriage in the tax system and give fairness to same-sex couples” but for certain ConservativeHome contributors “Pink = gay = New Labour” and all that was bad about Tony Blair's homosexual rights agenda.
I want to try to help such ConservativeHome readers see it from a different place.Homosexuals have always been easy prey for the Tory Party. One of the reasons why it is so hard to even suggest gay people vote Tory is because a whole generation of gay men and women, like myself, lived through Mrs Thatcher’s highly politicised crusade against the gay community, fanned by newspaper’s like the Sun.Section 28 stopped any proper sex education for gay students and there was shocking victimisation of people with AIDS – both these appeals to “lowest common denominator” politics are not easy to forget.
Many in the gay community will never forgive the Conservative Party for its prejudice and bigotry of the 1980s; no matter how hard you try.
Gordon Brown recently played this card in an interview with gay magazine Attitude. Brown’s final line in a 6-page interview reads: “… I see no evidence that the Conservatives want to move the agenda forward. In fact there's quite a lot of evidence that, if given half a chance, they would move things backwards." That’s the gay rights agenda, the Prime Minister is talking about.The truth is there is a whole bunch of gay and lesbian supporters of the Tory party who for the first time in 30 years – and maybe bachelor Ted Heath’s government – feel they can once again follow their political instinct.
This is not about chasing some new gay rights. Many gay people I know don’t want to be treated like a special case or argue for some unique status. They just want to get on with their lives without prejudice. They want safer streets, lower taxes, opportunities to run businesses and a society which treats them and their gay and lesbian compatriots with respect.Civil partnerships are a force for stability in the gay community and a sign to homophobes in the wider society that gay and lesbian couples are no different from any other family unit. I take my hat off to David Cameron for celebrating their importance.
One of the most interesting debates in recent months in the gay community has been around HIV prevention campaigns. Many in the gay community are critical of the Labour Party’s emphasis on not victimising people with the AIDS virus, so recent campaigns have failed to adequately promote condom use as a norm. This is despite the fact that 1 in 5 of newly diagnosed gay men have been infected with HIV within the last six months.This is an area for the gay community where the Tories could lead from the front. It costs £320,000 for a lifetime to fund drugs for an HIV positive gay man and yet the message Labour’s government-funded HIV charities have been espousing have suggested that becoming HIV positive is not a “death sentence” and appears to many gay men to be nothing more serious than a standard sexually transmitted infection.
The gay community is also a business community. The number of gay businesses being affected by the recession is increasing all the time. The Party’s Save Our Pubs campaign is very relevant to the gay scene where in London the number of gay venues has dropped in 5 years from 250 to 150 licensed premises.Gay people are concerned about violence on the streets. The Tory Party’s message about law and order is particularly relevant to those who suffer homophobic violence like the young Liverpool rookie gay policeman James Parkes beaten up on a night out with friends or the death of Ian Baynham, the gay 62-year old civil servant set upon in Trafalgar Square in October.
All of these issues are Conservative issues. They are concerns of gays and lesbians throughout the UK and the Tory Party if it was wise would continue to speak to them with words of respect, recognition and with policies that relate to their lives. They may be pink policies but it doesn’t mean they’re not right (of centre).***
David Bridle reviewed the Manchester Party Conference from the perspective of a gay voter.