Today the Gay Pride march and party takes place in London. Tens of thousands of gay people and their families and supporters will join in the festivities. However, the run up to the event has been over-shadowed by some rather unfortunate remarks by Labour Ministers Chris Bryant and Ben Bradshaw, both of whom have sought to portray the Conservative Party as “homophobic”.
This is especially incredible now that David Cameron’s Shadow Cabinet contains two “out” gay Shadow Ministers and Cameron himself has recently apologised for the totemic Section 28, introduced in the 1980’s. The gay community has been turning in increasing numbers to the Conservatives under Cameron and Bryant and Bradshaw’s comments seem like a desperate attempt to shore up Labour’s dwindling support in another of what it considered to be its client groups.
The fact is that gay people do not see themselves as part of a homogenous community. They pay taxes, use public services and form their opinions in the same way as everyone else, based on their experiences. No one party “owns” the “gay vote” and that is right and proper. As being gay is increasingly accepted with a shrug of the shoulders the resistance to equality of treatment is confined to a small minority in political parties of all colours. Labour has its homophobes just as the other parties do but it would be silly to blow their importance out of proportion.
Various Governments of both major parties have moved the agenda towards equality of treatment – the Conservatives reduced the age of consent from 21 to 18, lifted the ban on gays in the Civil Service and decriminalised gay sexual activity in Northern Ireland and Scotland; Labour took that further with a reduction to 16, lifting the ban on gays in the armed forces and introducing civil partnerships.
The Conservative Party has changed hugely since the 1980’s and I am looking forward to a huge “Gay pride” event at this year’s party conference in Manchester. Gay people can vote Conservative with confidence just as many of their colleagues in the rest of the population clearly intend to do. The fact is that at the next General Election “gay rights” is no longer really a live issue. To suggest that somehow gay people should fear a Conservative government is no more than a smear and an attempt to stoke up unjustified fears of prejudice.
Shame on Bryant and Bradshaw!
UPDATE: Someone calling themselves “Willo” has stated that I am incorrect to refer to John Major lifting the ban on gay people serving in the Civil Service. He has stated in the comments below that no such ban ever existed. He is wrong! In July 1991 John Major announced that neither homosexual orientation nor private homosexual activity should any longer preclude appointment even to sensitive posts in the home civil service and diplomatic service. The automatic ban in the senior civil service was also lifted at the same time. This is referred to by Lord Lester on 6 Mar 1996 in Lords Hansard column 397.