“Homophobia”, cried Conservative Future on Friday, the day after the Lib Dems won the Grove Ward by-election in Kingston. “A return to 1983!”, cried the Lib Dem bashers around the internet (including famous opponent of equal marriage Ben Summerskill, but that’s for the next post). Why? Because the election was described as a “straight fight”, when the Tory opponent just so happened to be gay.
As LibDemVoice pointed out, both the Tories and Labour have used the phrase “straight fight” in very recent campaigns, so it’s not as if they have aversion to the phrase themselves. I would guess that the campaigners had no idea that the candidate was gay, a sentiment also shared by people who went doorknocking, otherwise this leaflet would never have made it to press. The last thing the Lib Dems want is a return to 1983, which was a campaign with a horrible tinge of homophobia against Peter Tatchell (on behalf of a candidate who, it turned out, was bisexual). But nor does this mean a return to form, especially one where remorse has been shown and all parties involved treat it as water under the bridge and a cautionary tale for the future.
It’s especially hollow when the claim comes from a party that, not less than ten years ago, was complaining about “political correctness gone mad” over government institutions trying not to offend people (which, I assume, there was an undercurrent of complaining about “baa baa rainbow sheep” or “Winterval”). And especially hollow when the Conservatives are the party of Section 28, who whipped to apply it then whipped to keep it in opposition, or when their backbench MPs will bring out the discredited polygamy or incest arguments to oppose equal marriage, or when a councillor tells a bisexual colleague that he hopes he gets AIDS.
Look, the Lib Dems aren’t perfect on LGBT issues, but they do show the most progressive view of the parties in Parliament and they do at least try to consult their LGBT membership (to the point their LGBT+ group, which I’ll finally be joining tomorrow is treated on the same level as a constituency party). And when civil partnerships came to a free vote, not one Lib Dem voted against it, and it’s likely that not one Lib Dem will vote against equal marriage either.
I do get the feeling the Conservatives are maturing on LGBT rights but it’s more being dragged into it than doing it off their own accord. Someone on Facebook listed the “removing historic convictions, moving on the blood ban, consulting with the trans community, bringing in marriage equality” as proof the Tories are maturing, but they’re all Lib Dem policies (especially consulting the trans community; there are very few trans Tory supporters, and none of them are part of the LGBTory exec). But they’ll need to do more than that to earn their stripes. The reason why Labour and the Lib Dems are seen as LGBT-friendly is because the homophobes, if they exist, are rare and marginalised. The Tories will have to do the same if they want to join those ranks.