Who ‘owns’ progress on LGBTQ+ equality?

The Conservative Party Conference has divided people down political lines. For many gay Tories, Cameron’s ‘equal marriage’ project proves his credibility as an ally. Lee Williscroft-Ferris takes issue.


This has been a somewhat turbulent week in the world of politics. Nothing polarises opinion more than a Conservative Party Conference, particularly when they choose a northern heartland of trade union history as their venue. Among the egg throwing, jeering, smug grins and abundance of Union flags, the Tories have spent their time in Manchester confirming some key tenets of their core philosophy, drawing rapturous applause from loyal adherents and unprecedented bile from opponents.

Of course, Twitter always provides a fascinating (albeit superficial and often hysterical) insight into popular opinion on the pertinent issues of the day. Reflecting the miscellany of real-world opinion, online reaction to the musings of Osborne, May, Johnson and co has oscillated between nauseating hero-worship and the kind of character assassination not seen since, well, #PigGate.

Nothing polarises opinion more than a Conservative Party Conference, particularly when they choose a northern heartland of trade union history as their venue.

Gay Tories are among the most enthusiastic. My experience is such that I have yet to meet a lesbian or trans* Tory in person. Every single ‘LGBTory’ I have encountered has presented as male. That’s not to say that each letter of the LGBTQ+ umbrella isn’t represented within the Conservative Party. It is far more likely that, as in most areas of life, cisgender men shout the loudest and are heard the most clearly.

So it was, on Wednesday, while David Cameron was delivering his keynote speech at #CPC15 that his gay ‘fanboys’ were taking to the Twittersphere to laud, among other things, the Prime Minister’s dedication to ‘LGBT equality’. Much was made of Cameron mentioning ‘gay equality’ four times during his 56-minute marathon, compared to Corbyn having ‘not mentioned it once’. Corbyn’s unblemished voting record on LGBTQ+ rights aside, praising Cameron for effectively blowing his own (in my opinion, slightly blocked) trumpet is misguided, to say the least.

That’s not to say that each letter of the LGBTQ+ umbrella isn’t represented within the Conservative Party. It is far more likely that, as in most areas of life, cisgender men shout the loudest and are heard the most clearly.

You see, I have this fundamental, profound belief that we, as a community, should not express gratitude to our heterosexual brethren for their ‘acceptance’, or perhaps more appropriate in this context, ‘tolerance’. The fact that Cameron was at the helm of a coalition that introduced equal marriage for cisgender lesbian and gay couples does not, contrary to the belief of some, merit his installation in the ‘equality hall of fame’. Indeed, this particular Etonian was a relative latecomer to the party in these matters, having been given a Stonewall rating of 36% in favour of LGBTQ+ equality as recently at 2010.

People can, and do, change. It is no mean feat to stand firm in pushing for ‘equal marriage’ when less than 50% of your MPs agree with you. It is even harder to make the case for your status as a standard-bearer if, like Cameron, you have previously voted to retain Section 28 and ban adoption by gay couples. Dramatic change of heart aside, Cameron has merely been forced to face the inevitable, unable to turn back the tide of social progress that has seen LGBTQ+ rights come to the fore as a global priority. He doesn’t get a cookie for merely being less homophobic than before.

This particular Etonian was a relative latecomer to the party in these matters, having been given a rating of 36% in favour of LGBTQ+ equality as recently at 2010.

Analysing his achievements more closely, it could be argued that Cameron has successfully neutralised ‘queerness’ as an identity by extending an inherently conservative institution to a section of our community. After all, the man himself has openly stated that his support for SSM is ‘because of, not despite’ his conservatism. In shoehorning same-sex couples into a traditional definition of social respectability, Cameron has rather cleverly made it ‘OK’ to be gay and Conservative, benefiting from the extra support at the ballot box as well as the undeniable power of the pink pound.

We should not pat our politicians on the back for acquiescing to what is just and decent. Instead, we should celebrate the fact that we, as a movement, have achieved another step on an ongoing journey. Rather than worshipping at Cameron’s altar for bestowing rights upon us, we must regather, identify the next battle and arm ourselves for it. After all, we are not equal until we are equal: this is particularly true for the LGBTQ+ community. If that acronym is to mean anything at all, it should be this: that none of us rest until we are all free from the economic, social and political discrimination that has blighted so many lives over the centuries.

We should not pat our politicians on the back for acquiescing to what is just and decent. Instead, we should celebrate the fact that we, as a movement, have achieved another step on an ongoing journey.

Let’s be clear about this: while there have undisputedly been positive developments for cisgender gay people, the direction of travel for our non-cisgender brethren is far less assured. The travesty that is the trans spousal veto, as well as the ongoing total neglect of non-binary people in the discourse on marriage, civil unions etc, means that none of us can afford to rest on our laurels. Relationships are invariably defined as an interaction between ‘men’ and ‘women’, with only three possible configurations – MF, FF or MM. The pernicious omnipresence of binary gender constructs and associated presumptions are a very real bane for untold numbers of people for whom mere recognition of their existence is rarely forthcoming, let alone equality before the law.

Gay men rightly bemoan the continued restrictions on MSM blood donation, the social implications of which should not be downplayed. The government’s stubbornness on the issue of equal pension survivor benefits represents a significant stumbling block on the path to absolute equality. However, the inescapable truth is that our trans/non-binary comrades remain disproportionately affected by earth-shattering obstacles like unemployment, homelessness and phobic violence. Linked to that is the uncomfortable reality that while congratulating himself on conquering the very many social dinosaurs on his own benches, Cameron has been responsible for the most damaging cuts to support services (including those of which many LGBTQ+ people avail themselves) in living memory.

Relationships are invariably defined as an interaction between ‘men’ and ‘women’, with only three possible configurations – MF, FF or MM.

Despite this, David Cameron was remarkably silent on the issue of trans/non-binary rights in his conference speech. In fact, in simply reminding cisgender LGB people of his own perceived ‘benevolence’ in finally succumbing to the next logical stage in the fight for LGB equality, while resolutely failing to even acknowledge the hurdles that remain, let alone state his intention to help overcome them, Cameron has shown his commitment to LGBTQ+ equality to be shallow. The gay Tories rushing to praise him for his commitment to ‘LGBT equality’ have proven themselves not only woefully illiterate of the facts but also disgracefully ignorant of the urgent need for a much more intersectional analysis of the current trajectory.

Be under no illusion: full LGBTQ+ equality will be achieved through the fully inclusive struggle of the people under the umbrella and not gifted to us by heterosexual members of the political elite. We fight and win, we don’t wait and receive.

Follow Lee on Twitter (@calamospondylus)

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