Comment: Political parties should do more to attract LGBT people
James Cottis, 28, is a Conservative Party councillor in Rochford.
As we come to the end of 2010, we look back on what has been an interesting year in politics. This was also the year I came out, not only as a gay man, but also as a gay Tory councillor. I had known I was gay since I was 15 – Easter 1997. I saw a TV programme on teenagers coming out and it dawned on me that I was gay. Over the years I hid my sexuality because I was frightened and wasn’t sure how to handle it.
I was first elected to Rochford District Council in 2006. I was 24 and the youngest person on the council at the time. I knew that there was interest in me; apparently a few colleagues were wondering if I was gay or not. In 2008 I started venturing into gay clubs and bars and friends began to comment about me being spotted in G-A-Y in London. I denied it.
2010 came around and I was up for re-election. I made a promise to myself that after the election I would come out. The Saturday after the election I went out to celebrate in London with several friends. That evening one of them, B, told me about his own coming out experience. It struck a chord with me. I was upset to hear what he had gone through. Driving home I knew I had to come out.
As an elected councillor I knew I had the ability to help people like B through local government and the many services that councils offer. I also knew that I could raise awareness by lobbying ministers on LGBT rights and on a local level ensure that young gay and lesbians are given equal rights as anyone else. But I was yet to come out.
Over the next couple of months I started to come out to people I trusted. Several had known for some time and one said that I had actually been seen in G-A-Y during the election period – local residents had spotted me from my election material and seen me dancing to Lady Gaga.
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B was due to leave London. He had guided me through the whole coming out process, but I still needed to tell my parents before he finally left. I don’t know why but I felt safe knowing he was just down the road for those final couple of days. He was a rock to me and I always acted on his advice, he was the reason why I came out. I did tell my parents and they fully supported me. I was finally out and was able to be my true self. All thanks to B.
During the summer, several friends questioned how acceptable it was to be gay in politics, especially in local government.
All political parties have changed over time. The Conservatives may not have been the most gay-friendly party in the past, we all know that. However David Cameron has made the party more gay-friendly by encouraging more diverse people standing for parliament. The old guard is dying off and being replaced by people who actually know what the real world is about.
In a 2008 Stonewall survey, Serves You Right, nearly two thirds of respondents said they expected to face barriers from the Labour Party if they decided to enter politics. Nearly nine in ten would expect to face barriers from the Conservative Party and half would expect to encounter barriers from the Liberal Democrats. Let’s hope things have changed in the last two years.
I am glad I did come out, as pretending to be someone who I wasn’t was not right, especially for someone who represents constituents.
I believe the main political parties should recruit more young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to join local politics. Local government is based on local people standing for election to represent local people from all walks of life. I would strongly encourage any young LGBT person to stand.
Local government still needs to change, as there are still too many dinosaurs from the past who are seat-blocking. The political parties should take notice of Mario from this Summer’s Big Brother. I have recently got to know him and can say he is a pretty cool guy. As an openly gay housemate he promoted LGBT issues very well indeed. He broke the stereotypical model of how young gay people are portrayed in life. This is the person that the modern political world should take note of.
I still continue to go to G-A-Y and hit the London scene. You will find me most Saturdays in G-A-Y dancing to Lady Gaga. During the week you will find me in council meetings. I know I am truly in a position to help people like B, who I owe so much to.