17 Apr 2021

Well, MyPinkNews readers, I finally resigned my membership from the Labour Party.

First of all, quitting the party isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. You can cancel your direct debit, of course, but this doesn’t immediately cancel your membership and can take up to six months for the party to realise you’re no longer paying and strike your name from the members’ log. It’s less cancelling your membership and more letting it lapse, which defeats the point if you’re resigning in protest.

I really wanted to let the party of which I’ve been a member for more than a decade know that I’m resigning my membership because I do not believe that the leadership has the best interests of the LGBT+ community at heart.

Secondly, let me assure you that my membership of the Labour Party never conflicted with my journalism. As a journalist for nigh on 13 years and as editor of PinkNews, I’m dedicated to serving and successfully forming the LGBT+ community and its allies. It’s why I’ve never been shy on calling out Labour MPs for their disgusting views on trans lives, as Rosie Duffield knows all too well. 

It was last autumn when PinkNews provided a safe space for two cisgender women to talk about their own resignations, although these resignations were from the office of Labour’s first-ever Canterbury MP, Rosie Duffield. The first was Duffield’s only LGBT+ member of staff, who quit her team during an uncertain pandemic citing “troubling” and “offensive views to the trans community”. The staffer said that Duffield’s stance on transgender issues had made her position “untenable”.

The second resignation came a couple of weeks later, with the staffer slamming Duffield’s views on trans people as “worthy of condemnation” and “detrimental to the welfare of the trans community in the UK”. Remember, these are two people who were in the closest quarters with Rosie Duffield and probably know her better than anyone.

Rosie Duffield got into this mess by declaring “only women have a cervix” – despite widespread criticism from the LGBT+ community and allies for excluding trans men and some non-binary people – and called the backlash against her a “tedious Communist pile-on”. The Rosie Duffield trans row is still raging on, of course, but silence from Keir Starmer and the overwhelming majority of the front bench over Duffield’s views – I believe only Angela Rayner has publicly addressed it – suggests that nothing will ever, ever be done about it. I’d like to think things would be different if Labour had a larger majority than only a few hundred in Canterbury, but maybe not.

I should’ve resigned then, to be honest. And I’m disappointed that I didn’t, because the writing was clearly on the wall. It’s sad to say that Keir Starmer’s disastrous Easter visit to one of the most anti-LGBT+ churches in the UK seemed almost inevitable.

It started on Saturday, 3 April, when Keir Starmer shared a video of his visit to Jesus House, in London, praising the notorious institution as a “wonderful example of a church serving their community”. In reality, Jesus House is a breading ground for homophobia. Its pastor Agu Irukwu believes laws protecting LGBT+ people from discrimination are “Christianophobic”, forcing “Christian churches, businesses, charities and informal associations to accept and even promote the idea that homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality”. He believes “marriage is and always will be distinctly a union between man and a woman”. This doesn’t sound very Christianny to me, Agu.

And while Jesus Church denies offering conversion therapy, our boy Agu said in an interview this month that he will offer “prayer, to all our members, whatever life situations or circumstances they find themselves in”. I do wonder if I popped up to Jesus House today and said I wanted help praying away the gay, whether they’d offer me pastoral support or not. Using prayer to attempt to “cure” someone of their sexuality or gender identity is, as we know, a form of conversion therapy. And conversion therapy is, as we know, a form of torture.

The backlash to Keir Starmer’s video and fawning over Jesus Church was swift, brutal and instantaneous. But it was the three days of silence that followed that led me to resigning my membership, rather than the visit itself. Of course, we’d been told that there’d been an unreserved apology to LGBT+ Labour behind closed doors, but that simply wasn’t good enough. It was only after a pitiful explanation of the visit from Rachel Reeves on Sky News, on Monday 5 April, did a tepid apology eventually come from Starmer’s Twitter account, at the ever-convenient time for journalists of 9.09pm.

“I completely disagree with Jesus House’s beliefs on LGBT+ rights, which I was not aware of before my visit,” he tweeted. It appears that neither Starmer nor a single member of his team thought to undertake a rudimentary Google search before a visit to such an infamous church. So much for forensic, eh?

There were two fundamental failings undertaken by the Labour leadership that fateful Easter weekend. The first was a misguided visit to a bigoted institution which so many politicians have fallen victim to before. But the fact it took three days to apologise for such a f**k-up shows what my vote as a proud gay person means to the Labour Party in 2021. As has been pointed out, Jesus Christ himself was resurrected quicker than Keir Starmer apologised.

Still, at least he was quicker than our prime minister. When I interviewed Boris Johnson I gave him three chances to apologise for his infamous use of ‘tank-topped bum boys’ in a Telegraph column in 1998. Sadly, he declined all three. Twenty-three years later and we’re still waiting for that apology, prime minister.

I’ll still continue to vote Labour, of course. Probably. But while I’ve always prided myself on my political leanings never coming into conflict with my membership of the Labour Party, it’s sad that after all these years my membership of the LGBT+ community is coming into conflict with my political leanings.

Until next time, comrades.

Ryan Butcher