More gays need to put themselves forward says Tory
Margot James, the Conservative candidate for the constituency of Stourbridge, has responded to a survey from Stonewall about perceived prejudice in the party against gay, lesbian and bisexuals who want to run for Parliament.
Ms James said that in her experience as a lesbian, she has experienced no prejudice from party members, but quite a lot from the press.
“Gay people have to move on a bit,” she told PinkNews.co.uk.
“Things have moved on. People need to put themselves forward and they will find there are not the barriers they think.”
The Stonewall report is based on responses to a YouGov poll of more than 1,600 gay, lesbian and bisexual people across Britain.
It found that respondents thought they would get worse treatment on the grounds of their sexuality in employment, political representation, housing, health, education, the police and the criminal justice system.
89% of those polled think they would face barriers from the Conservative party if they wanted to be selected to run for Parliament.
61% said the same about Labour and 47% about the Liberal Democrats.
Of those respondents who are party supporters, 71% of Conservatives, 46% of Labour and 28% of Lib Dems thought they would face barriers if they wanted to stand for Parliament.
“There are quite a few reasons why the perception may lag behind the reality of running,” said Ms James, who is Conservative Vice Chairman with responsibility for women.
“There is the reluctance of gay candidate to speak out very much about their experiences.
“I can easily call up at least six openly gay parliamentary candidates for the party and it is remarkably common.
“Without being complacent, I think there is very little prejudice.
“I am not denying there are pockets here and there, but you cannot point, for example, to types of seats that select gay or lesbian candidates. They are rural and urban, safe and marginal.
“I think we need to change the perception.”
However, she acknowledged that the “history of the past 20 years” might have an effect on perceptions of how the Tories view gay people.
Speaking about her own selection for the marginal seat of Stourbridge, Ms James, who was number 17 in the PinkNews.co.uk list of the 50 most influential LGBT people in British politics, said she did not think her sexuality was an issue.
“It was something that was discussed but it didn’t stop me getting an interview, getting short listed and selected for a conservative with a small ‘c’ constituency in the Black Country,” she said, though she admitted she was surprised they selected her.
“Most (of the selection panel) were over the age of 60 from a very traditional part of the country, so I would say that a gay person can be selected anywhere.
“The treatment I got from the media is another issue. It is very discriminatory. If you are a gay man the media report it less.
“I have gay male colleagues who are reported in the press and their sexuality is not mentioned. Mine almost invariably is.
“I put that down to the fact I am a woman and not a man, and that is discriminatory.
“I don’t mind my sexuality being reported on as long as it’s not sensationalist, but it’s not relevant to most of the things I do.”
Stonewall’s report recommended that similar initiatives should be put in place for lesbian and gay people who want to become a candidate to those already in place for women and ethnic minorities.
Ms James disagrees.
“I do not think we need to put in place any special measures to overcome prejudices,” she told PinkNews.co.uk.
“I don’t think its necessary to have quotas.
“There are a number of openly gay candidates for local government and Parliament.
“That demonstrates there is no need for special measures.
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“Local government in London would seize up without gay men, they are in senior positions.”
Conservative Party Chairman, Caroline Spelman told PinkNews.co.uk:
“Under David Cameron the Conservative Party is changing so that it is far more representative of modern society and it draws on the talents of people from all backgrounds and sexualities.
“We have two gay members of the Shadow Cabinet as well as gay and lesbian people at senior levels in other parts of the Party, but clearly this research shows that all three main parties have more work to do in making lesbian and gay people feel more confident about getting involved in politics.
“As a Party we have been working with Stonewall and throughout the country gay and lesbian people are joining us and standing for us in elections at local and national level to help make the changes our country needs.”
To read the Stonewall report, entitled Serves You Right, click here.