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Boris Johnson on why he’s not a homophobe and plans for the Gender Recognition Act… but no apology for saying ‘bum boys’

Ryan Butcher December 11, 2019

The UK's new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson (Getty)

In a Q&A with PinkNews, British prime minister Boris Johnson stressed that he’s not a homophobe, but fell short of apologising for his use of homophobic slurs in the past.

The Conservative party leader sought to remind PinkNews readers that, yes, he will “get Brexit done” and that he is “proud” of his LGBT+ voting record.

However, and despite being repeatedly asked throughout his campaign trail, Boris Johnson did not apologise when asked about his use of “tank-topped bum boys” in a 1998 article he wrote in The Telegraph.

In elaborating on policy pledges, while absent from the party’s manifesto, Boris Johnson stated that the Tories remain “committed to the LGBT+ Action Plan, including ending the practice of gay conversion therapy”.

In fact, with the prime minister’s commitment to ending traumatising conversion therapy in this interview, the Tories now join every major party in the UK in making that vow.

Boris Johnson also affirmed that the results of the public consultations for the Gender Recognition Act will be “announced in due course”.

When PinkNews approached the Conservative party for an interview with Boris Johnson, they opted to answer questions from you, the readers, via email. And we obliged on this occasion. As a result, we were unable to follow-up on some of his answers that perhaps, when reading this, you’d wished we had.

But when given the chance to speak to the LGBT+ electorate on the issues that concern them the most, this is what Boris Johnson has chosen to say – and that’s for you, the voters, to read into as you will.

PinkNews: When did LGBT+ rights first become an integral part of your political agenda?

Boris Johnson: I have always believed that people should be free to choose who they love and to live their life the way they wish – nothing should stand in the way of that. Love is love. Simple.

I am proud that the modern Conservative Party brought in equal marriage and champions tolerance and fairness. As Mayor of London, I used my position to champion the LGBT+ community; whether it was being the main sponsor of Pride, helping to protect iconic gay venues like the Royal Vauxhall Tavern or banning anti-gay adverts on the Tube.

In 2010 I became one of the first senior Conservatives to back equal marriage. I was a member of ‘Freedom to Marry’ which called on my colleagues to get behind the legislation. In 2003, I voted to repeal section 28. One of my first acts as foreign secretary was to lift a ban on UK embassies and high commissions flying the rainbow flag during gay Pride events.

I had frank conversations with Commonwealth leaders about the moral necessity of LGBT+ equality and I also hosted campaigners for LGBT+ rights in Russia ahead of the last football World Cup. I told the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, at a press conference that “we speak up for the LGBT community.”

I told the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, at a press conference that “we speak up for the LGBT community.”

But, whilst we have made a lot of much needed progress, there is still some way to go until the experience of every LGBT+ person in the UK, and around the world, is equal. I want to see an end to discrimination and hate crime and will continue to champion LGBT+ equality as prime minister.

Who is your own personal gay icon and, equally, who is your trans hero?

I think my gay icon has to be Ruth Davidson. Ruth was a transformational leader of the Scottish Conservatives, a serious contender to be first minister of Scotland, and recently had a baby with her partner – I think she has been a wonderful role model for our party and for young LGBT+ Conservatives.

My trans hero would have to be Sophie Wilson. Sophie was awarded the Commander of the British Empire this year and has been named as one of the most important women in tech history. That is a huge milestone and I hope that she inspires many others to follow in her footsteps.

Boris Johnson delivers a speech at the launch of his party's manifesto. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson delivers a speech at the launch of his party’s manifesto. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The Conservative manifesto says you want to ‘help teachers tackle bullying, including homophobic bullying’. If a schoolchild calls their gay classmate a ‘tank-topped bum boy’, what do you think the punishment should be?

We will continue to help teachers tackle bullying, including homophobic bullying. No child should be bullied on account of who they are, who their parents are, or the home they come from. We have strengthened teachers’ powers to deal with bullying and disruption.

Have you ever apologised to Peter Mandelson for using ‘tank-topped bum boy’ to describe him at a time when his sexuality was not publicly known?

I’ve written many millions of words in my time as a journalist, and I’ve never intended to cause hurt or pain to anybody.

The LGBT+ Conservatives wrote to you when you first became prime minister asking you to issue a public apology for your historical use of anti-LGBT+ slurs. Why haven’t you done so?

The LGBT+ Conservatives have accomplished an enormous amount and I am always willing to work with them to advance LGBT+ matters in the Party. They, in turn, welcomed my election as leader and looked forward to working with me.

I’ve written many millions of words in my time as a journalist, and I’ve never intended to cause hurt or pain to anybody.

When did you first witness an example of transphobia and how did it make you feel?

Thankfully I have never witnessed this in person – but regardless, I find it completely unacceptable and will always call it out.

What do you think the Tories’ proudest moment is on the issue of LGBT+ equality and queer rights? 

As Conservatives, we can be fiercely proud that we have been at the forefront of the drive towards equality. I think that our single greatest achievement, and one I am most proud of, is the landmark passing of equal marriage legislation – it has brought immeasurable happiness to so many couples.

New Conservative Party leader and incoming prime minister Boris Johnson gives a speech at an event to announce the winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest in central London on July 23, 2019.
New Conservative Party leader and incoming prime minister Boris Johnson gives a speech at an event to announce the winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest in central London on July 23, 2019. (TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty)

The Conservatives want to enable people to move forward, not hold them back – and this has got to be the best example of doing just that.

Madonna or Cher? And, more importantly, why?

Madonna. Because she’s a survivor.

Why doesn’t your manifesto include a commitment to push forward with any of the reforms outlined in the government’s LGBT+ Action Plan issues in June 2018? For example, outlawing traumatising gay conversion therapy?

We will support marginalised communities in the developing world, hosting the UK government’s first ever international LGBT+ conference. We remain committed to the LGBT+ Action Plan, including ending the practice of gay conversion therapy.

We remain committed to the LGBT+ Action Plan, including ending the practice of gay conversion therapy.

Why didn’t you turn up to vote on the bill to extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland?

I believe this is one of the most important reasons for getting the Stormont government back up and running. We are extending same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland.

Headteachers facing protests over LGBT+-inclusive education have said they feel abandoned by the government. Will you make clear that it’s right for every child in this country to learn that some families have two mummies and some have two daddies?

I think it is very important that kids know that families come in all shapes and sizes. It is unequivocally right that children are taught about LGBT issues at school in line with the DFE guidance. Teaching them that some people have two mums and two dads is an important part of preparing them for life in modern Britain. The UK leads the world when in comes to LGBT+ rights and we must project our values around the world.

Parents, children and protesters demonstrate against the 'No Outsiders' programme, which teaches children about LGBT rights, at Parkfield Community School on March 21, 2019 in Birmingham, England.
Protestors outside Parkfield Community School on March 21, 2019 in Birmingham. (Christopher Furlong/Getty)

While you have generally voted in favour for equal gay rights, a lot of commentators still brand you as homophobic. What is your response to this?

I have always tried to use my position to champion equal rights and I would ask people to judge me on my record. I voted to repeal Section 28 in 2003, and as I said, one of my proudest achievements is that in 2010 I was one of the first senior Conservatives to back equal marriage – and during my time as mayor and foreign secretary I always progressed the LGBT+ agenda.

There is always more to do however, which is why I’ve highlighted homophobic bullying, stamp out LGBT+ harassment and violence and host the first international LGBT+ conference. This is a record I am proud of.

When was the first time somebody came out to you as LGBT+? And how did it make you feel?

No one has every come out to me directly, but I hope that anyone would feel able to do so. We want to build a country where everyone feels comfortable being themselves and they don’t feel the need to hide who they are.

Human rights specialist and lawyer Jonathan Cooper once claimed you called him a ‘shirt lifter’ at the end of the 1980s. Do you regret using this terminology and will you condemn its use today?

I have no recollection of this incident. As prime minister, I will continue to champion LGBT+ equality, and make sure our young people grow up to recognise the rights of all LGBT+ people.

Gina Miller argued that your approach to the handling of Brexit and proroguing parliament could have set a dangerous precedent and that there would be nothing stopping one of your successors using the same method to reinstate a anti-LGBT+ piece of legislation like Section 28. What is your response to Gina Miller?

This is absolute rubbish, and I would add that I voted to repeal Section 28 in 2003. The prorogation of parliament was necessary because it was a parliament in a state of gridlock – that is the very reason that we are having this election. We need to get Brexit done, so that we can move forwards, focus on the priorities of voters and unleash the potential of this country.

What is your earliest or favourite memory of a Pride parade?

I am always very proud of London’s Pride celebrations – they underline our capital’s reputation as one of the most LGBT+ friendly cities on the planet. While Mayor of London in 2013, I committed £650,000 to Pride to ensure it had the financial stability to expand. My favourite memory of a Pride event has to be 2008.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson wears a pink stetson hat at the Gay Pride parade on July 5,
Mayor of London Boris Johnson wears a pink stetson hat at the city’s Pride parade on July 5, 2008. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty)

It was a landmark event as members of all three Armed Forces were allowed to attend in uniform. I was lucky enough to lead floats to Trafalgar Square, and showed the world that London truly is a city in which you are free to be who you want to be.

In Scotland, the NHS funds IVF for gay couples starting a family through surrogacy. This is not allowed in England. Would you reform the NHS to make IVF equal and will you consider reforming surrogacy laws to give gay intended parents more rights? Right now, surrogates can decide to keep the baby, even if they have no genetic link.

The Law Commission is currently conducting a review of the law relating to surrogacy and we will consider their recommendations.

What is your own personal gay anthem?

‘I’m Coming Out’, by Diana Ross.

In October the Home Office revealed that transphobic hate crimes have surged by 37 per cent in just one year whereas homophobic hate crimes have increased by one quarter. What is your proposal to tackle these heinous crimes? And do you have a message for the transgender community and how would you reassure them?

There is no place for any such crime in our society. I want everyone to have the fundamental security that comes from safe streets and safe neighbourhoods – so we are backing our police, putting 20,000 more officers on the streets, and giving them the powers that they need to tackle crime.

My message to the transgender community is that I want them to feel no less safe in their neighbourhood than anyone else – they have as much right to live their lives freely as anyone else, and I will support them to do that.

My message to the transgender community is that I want them to feel no less safe in their neighbourhood than anyone else.

Why weren’t reforms to the Gender Recognition Act included in the Conservative manifesto?

We are carefully considering all responses to our consultation and the next steps. These will be announced in due course. It is vital that the next steps on any potential reform of the Gender Recognition Act are carefully planned and have the right backing, so they can have a positive impact on the trans community in the UK.

We had more than 100,000 responses to our consultation and have met with 140 organisations to ensure that we have taken into account views and concerns from all sides of the debate.

Ten transgender people are running for parliament but none of them for the Conservative party. Why do you think that is?

We are committed to improving the diversity of parliament, and want to ensure our members, activists and candidates also reflect wider society. I will work to ensure that everyone is supported to take up the opportunities that politics present – no matter their gender, sexuality, identity, ethnicity or religion.

It’s been reported that Brexit is going to worsen shortages of HRT – medication used by cis women going through menopause and also trans women. What are your plans to safeguard all women from running out of this medication?

There is a global shortage of HRT. But we are taking steps to ensure that patients get the drugs that they need. I know how much people rely on drugs like HRT and I know how distressing these shortages can be. We are making sure that alternative HRT products are available, and we are working with pharmacies to manage demand.

Prime minister Boris Johnson departs a train in Wolverhampton as he travels to Telford for the launch of the Conservative Party election manifesto. (Dan Kitwood - POOL/Getty Images)
Prime minister Boris Johnson departs a train in Wolverhampton as he travels to Telford for the launch of the Conservative Party election manifesto. (Dan Kitwood – POOL/Getty Images)

We have added HRT products to the list of medicines that cannot be parallel exported from the UK market. I have a clear message to patients across the country: I am determined to resolve this shortage and we will do whatever needs to be done to ensure that you get the medicines that you need.

The Trump administration is consistently rolling back protections and rights for LGBT+ people, from banning trans people from serving in the military to trying to make it legal to fire somebody on the grounds of their sexuality or gender identity. Will you condemn these moves from the UK’s closest ally and is this something you have spoken with Donald Trump about?

I have certainly had frank discussions with a number of leaders about the moral necessity of LGBT+ equality and I also hosted campaigners for LGBT+ rights in Russia ahead of the last World Cup. I am proud that our manifesto commits to hosting the UK government’s first ever international LGBT+ conference.

There was no pledge in the Conservative manifesto to roll out PrEP on the NHS, a drug that can reduce the rate of contracting HIV by 89 per cent. Why not?

Just a generation ago, the AIDS diagnosis was considered a horrific death sentence. But thanks to medical breakthroughs, public health campaigns, breaking down stigma and better education, it no longer has to be.

Under the Conservatives in government in England, we have expanded access to the drug PrEP so everyone who needs it can have access, with thousands more places available on the trial. We are committed to delivering our plan of eradicating HIV transmission in England by 2030. HIV and AIDS remain a challenge across the world that we must rise to.

I’m determined we will be one of the first countries to reach the UN zero-infections target by 2030 and support other countries around to get there too.

Why should a LGBT+ voter check the ballot box for the Tories on 12 December?

I want government, and parliament, to build on the great things the Conservatives have already done for the LGBT+ community – like when we legislated for equal marriage. But to move on and focus on the priorities that matter to LGBT+ voters, we need to get Brexit done.

We have been constrained by a gridlocked parliament for too long. A Conservative majority government will deliver Brexit and focus on the priorities that matter to you – ensuring equality of opportunity for all.

The alternative is a Jeremy Corbyn-led hung parliament, and the chaos of another two referendums next year.

More: 2019 General Election, Boris Johnson, gender recognition act, tank topped bum boys

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