Ruth Davidson: After I became Tory leader, kids in the closet sent me letters
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has revealed that a number of kids in the closet sent her letters after she was elected as Tory leader.
Ms Davidson made history as the first out leader of a UK political party in 2011 when she was elected to lead the Scottish Conservative Party.
The leader, who recently announced her engagement to partner Jen, has overseen record gains for her party, leapfrogging Scottish Labour to become the official opposition in Scotland.
Speaking in the Rhondda lecture at the Institute of Directors, Ms Davidson explained how she came to terms with being seen as a role model.
She said: “I had never really been one to subscribe to idea of role modelling… But all of that disregard changed five years ago and my entire outlook was transformed.
“The fortnight after I was elected Scottish Conservative leader, I got dozens of emails from young gay people, mostly boys, but some girls as well. Almost all of them started ‘I’m not a Tory but….’ This was Scotland 2011, after all.
“But they all had one thing in common. Whether it was people saying they weren’t out at all, or they were out at school but not to their parents or whatever, they said that they never thought politics was something they could do, but they were really pleased to see me elected.
“Now, it had never occurred to me – not for a second – that it actually mattered to anyone outside the membership who the leader of the Scottish Conservatives was. That it mattered that there was a first openly gay leader of a major political party anywhere in the UK.
“But some of these emails were acutely personal, others utterly heartbreaking. And I promised myself that I’d write back personally to each of them – which I did – talking in quite personal terms about my own journey. And it is of huge credit to those young people that none of those letters made it into the public domain.
“And the other thing I promised myself was that I would never not answer when asked about my sexuality. As worried as I was about being seen as just ‘the gay politician’ when I had so much more I wanted to say for myself, I promised that I would never duck or shun or demand that questions were avoided because it did matter.
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“It mattered to some people out there that they saw ‘someone like them’ doing something they’d always wanted to do, but never thought they’d be allowed to. And I’ve always stuck to that.
“So now I’m a fully-paid-up subscriber to the idea that role models can make a difference. That seeing someone break a barrier makes it easier and more accessible – more attainable – for those who come after.”
Ms Davidson also addressed the election of Donald Trump. The Scottish leader told PinkNews earlier this year that she feared Trump could put equality back “a very, very long way”.
In her speech, she said: “As much as I’ve made my own views clear on the man that beat [Hillary Clinton] to the White House, I actually don’t believe that 2016 will be seen as the year women’s politics in the US was knocked back.
“With more distance, we’ll see the first ever female nominee of one of the major parties. And we’ll also recognise the women who broke through barriers of race, religion, sexuality and disability from coast to coast across the body politic in the US.
“Kate Brown – the first openly LGBT woman ever elected governor of a state. Tammy Duckworth – Asian-American, is a double amputee war hero and the first ever disabled female senator. Catherine Cortez Mastro – the first ever Latina Senator. Kamala Harris – only the second ever black woman in the senate.
“November may have been a body-blow to those who wanted to see a woman in the White House.
“But I think – many years from now – we are going to look back on this moment, and see that this is the point where women across the world woke up to the fact that it’s not going to get progressively better just because we want it to.”