Writing for PinkNews.co.uk, Chris Ward argues that Stonewall, Britain’s largest gay rights charity, should continue with its “Bigot of the Year” award, despite objections from some prominent figures.
I’ve never understood Stonewall. Not just because I can’t help but imagine their Chief Executive, Ben Summerskill, as a rather dull Basil Fawlty (“Whatever you do, don’t mention trans!”). But I was present at the Lib Dem Conference meeting just two years ago where Summerskill tried painfully to squirrel his way out of supporting equal marriage.
That’d be the campaign they not only now support, but like taking credit for whilst attacking other politicians who were latecomers to the LGBT party. Subsequently, for me anyway, their awards ceremony hasn’t really mattered that much. Until now.
“Bigot” has been tossed around a lot lately. People within LGBT activism use it; those who oppose equal marriage or other equality measures complain about it being attributed to them. Nick Clegg even apologised when his speech referencing religious figures who oppose equal marriage accidentally contained the word. Of course, it’s an emotionally charged label, so you can see why people try to avoid it sticking to them. A bit like the many legions of racists who open a sentence with “I’m not racist, but”. They want to oppose LGBT rights but not be subjected to the societal stigma of being labelled a bigot.
Enter Ruth Davidson, Stonewall’s Politician of the Year for seemingly no other reason except the fact she happens to be a lesbian. She hasn’t been as loud as others on equal LGBT rights and she won’t be whipping her MSPs on equal marriage, but Stonewall saw fit to award her the accolade. From the outside, it might be obvious as to why she received it. The Tories don’t have the best past on gay rights, so she must have broken through a considerable glass ceiling to be a lesbian politician heading the party that once fought for Section 28.
But looking at her award acceptance speech, it becomes rather easier to see why. She doesn’t vociferously go after those who have consistently opposed equal rights; she used her platform at an LGBT awards ceremony to defend them. Don’t call them bigots. That’s not a nice word. “Respect” the views of those who don’t like you.
It doesn’t take much to think about what she’s saying. Cardinal O’Brien, the recipient of the Bigot of the Year Award, has labelled equal marriage a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” and once called homosexuals “captives of sexual aberrations”. The leader of O’Brien’s church referred to homosexuals as “objectively disordered”.
Read between the lines: Davidson wants you to “respect” the vicious vitriol thrown in your face by the Catholic Church rather than respond in kind. One rule for the bigots, another for LGBT individuals. O’Brien has the right to offend you, but it’s apparently reprehensible for you to offend him in return.
Davidson isn’t the only one who thinks calling bigots “bigots” takes things a bit too far. Some of the sponsors, including Barclays, have stated unequivocally that unless Stonewall removes the category next time, they’ll no longer financially back the awards ceremony. Although I care little about the Stonewall Awards in themselves, the principle at threat is that corporations are willing to pay lip service to us, telling us they support us and that they back diversity, yet they refuse to ruffle feathers in doing so.
You don’t need any more evidence that those companies who follow that path are not really interested in supporting LGBT individuals; they’re merely after the shiny stamp on their recruitment brochure that marks them as a “progressive employer”.
Bigot of the Year is more than just a bitter insult to those who malign us. It’s a reminder to all those businesses and figures who turn up to the ceremony to have a glass of wine and mingle that we’ve still got quite a long way to go. As much as it pains me to walk through the doors of Summerskill’s Fawlty Towers, we must fully back Stonewall in keeping this “award”.
To do otherwise would be to acknowledge a one-way system of “I have the right to offend you, but you do not have the right to offend me in return”. If LGBT campaigners are to meet once a year to pat each other on the back, an award handed to the person that year who used their influence the most to spread vicious hate is a sobering reminder that the job isn’t quite finished yet.
Chris Ward is an LGBT campaigner and a member of the Labour Party.
The views expressed in the article are his own and not that of PinkNews.co.uk