Opinion: Conservatives must change approach to LGBT people or risk losing out
Writer Finn Oldfield looks ahead to what the future may hold for LGBT people following a year of political hardship.
Let’s get it straight. 2017 was a rough year for LGBT people.
From President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people joining the military to Chechnya’s president attempting to eliminate all gay people, the LGBT community has certainly seen better times worldwide.
In Britain, a Stonewall survey found that more than half of gay men in Britain do not feel comfortable holding hands with their partner in the street, and its chief executive Ruth Hunt said the country was unsafe for transgender people.
So far, 2018 seems to be continuing this troubling trend.
Right-wing journalist and free schools advocate Toby Young resigning from his post as a board member for the Office of Students is a bittersweet victory for the LGBT community.
The fact that a man who called lesbians “hard-core dykes” and put on a wig in order to “pull a lesbian” was deemed suitable for any position of responsibility in the first place is an alarming example of nepotism over morality, as the Guardian has pointed out.
Dawn Butler, Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, had no time for the former Sun journalist.
“The Toby Young saga has further exposed Theresa May’s total lack of judgement in appointing him and her weakness in refusing to sack him,” she said.
“She should have removed him from his post, not personally backed him at the weekend and sent a minister out to defend him in Parliament,” she added.
“The message Theresa May is sending to students is that under the Tories, misogyny and homophobia will not just be tolerated but rewarded,” Dawn concluded.
Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary, spoke to BBC Radio 5 Live on Wednesday morning about the abuse she received from Toby Young.
She had blocked him years earlier after receiving online abuse, she said, adding that “his attitude to women is disgusting.
"He's a horrible man and his attitude to women is disgusting"
— BBC Radio 5 live (@bbc5live) January 10, 2018
“The idea of this guy having any responsibility for some form of equality work, trying to get a broad scope of people into universities, is laughable,” she continued.
As a person who doesn’t label their sexuality and has many friends who identify as LGBT, I don’t want this man to be in charge of regulating any part of my student existence.
I’m glad more than 220,000 people signed a petition to Theresa May to sack him and I’m even happier that he is gone, which also demonstrates that public opposition can work.
Another recent political revelation that should anger those passionate about LGBT issues is the exit of Justine Greening from the Government.
Ms Greening, who is in a same-sex relationship, was dramatically sacked as Secretary of State for Women and Equalities during the recent Cabinet reshuffle.
She was offered a move to another role by the PM – but quit the government rather than allow herself to be shifted out of the important brief.
The move means that ongoing key initiatives on LGBT rights face an uncertain future, as Ms Greening had been the driving force behind plans for LGBT-inclusive sex education and gender recognition reform.
Just last month the Education Secretary launched a consultation on the future of sex and relationship education in schools.
The consultation was aimed at “inviting views on age-appropriate content” on LGBT issues, as well as on mental wellbeing and staying safe online.
The unfortunate image of the only openly LGBT figure leaving the Government while an anti-LGBT preacher is defended – before eventually being removed – cannot make the Conservative Party look attractive to LGBT voters.
Another unfortunate figure rising through the Tory ranks is Esther McVey, the notoriously anti-LGBT MP who has been promoted to Work and Pensions Secretary.
McVey has consistently voted against equal gay rights.
With Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party gaining 30 seats in last june’s General Election with a broadly pro-LGBT manifesto, it seems odd for Theresa May to be handing power to Tories who hold homophobic opinions.
Just look at Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who has compared gay weddings to marrying a dog.
It is almost as if Mrs May lacks the authority to fire those around her.
Even if the Prime Minister isn’t interested in helping LGBT people because it’s the right thing to do, adopting pro-LGBT stances is a tactically sound way of winning votes.
Labour engaged young people to a near-unprecedented level in last year’s general election, with youth turnout increasing to around 64%, up from 16% in 2015.
Mrs May failed to engage young voters who largely support LGBT rights, and then compounded this mistake by giving a billion pounds to the anti-LGBT Democratic Unionist Party, a move which sparked fervent protests.
It’s not just the DUP who the Tory Party have become entangled with though.
Anti-LGBT President Trump comes to mind.
Now I know we all have those friends who have completely different opinions to us, but a narcissistic, nuclear war-threatening hate-spewer deserves to be deleted from your contacts.
With mainstream attitudes towards LGBT people changing, – as shown this week by non-binary drag queen Courtney Act becoming the odds-on favourite to win Celebrity Big Brother – it’s important for all the major parties to embrace LGBT-inclusive policies if they want to adapt to the changing face of the electorate.
No matter whether you identify as LGBT, know someone who does, or simply care about LGBT issues, you should pressure, petition and elect our representatives to be on the right side of history.
To use a Martin Luther King quote that former President Barack Obama loved so much he got it literally woven into a rug, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Finn can be found at @Finnoldfield