U.K. Conservative Party Goes Gay for a Day (and A Night)

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday August 27, 2009

The U.K.'s conservative party, the Tories, are warming up to the nation's GLBTs. Example: David Cameron, the leader of the Tory party, recently spoke of inclusivity in the Tory party, even envisioning the first gay Prime Minister as being a Tory.

But there's more to come: on October 6, a gala conference is scheduled to include not only a prominent equality activist, but a senior Tory official (as yet unannounced).

The event is expected to be attended by a crowd of 700, reported British newspaper The Independent in an Aug. 27.

The event, patterned on a "gay disco" theme, is scheduled as part of this year's Conservative conference, the newspaper reported.

What's more, the Tory logo will be re-colored for the event to reflect a rainbow motif--the color palette of the GLBT equality movement.

The article quoted an unnamed Tory party spokesperson, who said, "The logo is being re-branded in rainbow colors for this event, to reflect the nature of the night.

"We have all sorts of re-branding for all sorts of different events," the spokesperson added.

The aim is to reach out to conservative youth, letting them see the Tory party as a modern and inclusive entity, rather than a relic from more biased times past.

One young Tory activist, 29-year-old Andrew Brierly, was quoted in the article as saying, "By hosting events like this it is hoped that voters will recognize that the Conservative party is at the forefront of agenda-setting politics."

Added Brierly, "The party is modernizing at it is not afraid to broach traditionally taboo subjects such as the rights of the homosexual community.

"I think it is refreshing that this event will be held in Manchester and hopefully will show homosexual party members that the time of locking themselves away in the so-called 'closet' has long since passed."

Conservative government official Theresa May said, "I am delighted the Conservative Party is hosting this event which demonstrates we are a broad church welcoming new people every day," the article reported.

"It's vital that we represent and champion a wide range of views and I really hope events like this become a regular fixture at conferences in years to come," added May.

The Tory party has been making nice with GLTBs in recent months to court younger voters, who are less likely than older citizens to espouse anti-gay views.

Earlier this summer, David Cameron issued an apology for a Thatcher-era anti-gay law that banned any use of government funds to offer supportive discussions of gays or their families in classrooms.

The law referred to gay and lesbian families as "pretend" families, and exerted a chilling effect in British schools when it came to discussions of GLBT issues.

Cameron, who leads the Tory party, issued the apology as part of a speech made at a Pride fundraiser that also benefited the Tory party.

Saying the Tories had "got it wrong" in passing the anti-gay law, Cameron looked forward to gays and lesbians becoming a greater part of the conservative party.

Said Cameron, "If five years ago we had a Conservative and Gay Pride party, I don't think many gay people would have come or many Conservatives would have come."

Cameron went on to say, "In wanting to make the party representative of the country, I think we have made some real progress.

"If we do win the next election," said Cameron, "instead of being a white middle-class, middle-aged party, rather like me really, we will be far more diverse."

Indeed, Cameron noted that, "The Conservatives had the first woman prime minister," and predicted that, "we are bound to have the first black prime minister and the first gay prime minister."

Some far-right Tories disapproved of the attempt to reach out to a broader base. 78-year-old Lord Tebbit spoke out, saying, "I certainly don't think Section 28 is something the Tory party should be apologizing for."

Added Lord Tebbit, "I would say this apology is about focus group findings."

Even Tory politicians who describe themselves as accepting of GLBT people have made controversial statement seen as demonstrating insensitivity or ignorance.

An Aug. 11 article posted at the Northamption Chronicle and Echo reported that a Tory MEP (Member of the European Parliament) had generated controversy when he wrote in ab online blog that there is no such thing as homophobia.

The MEP, Roger Helmer, wrote, "'homophobia' is not so much a word as a political agenda," and said that the term, which is used to indicate hostility toward gays rooted in bias, "describes something which simply does not exist."

Helmer, in addressing the resultant controversy, explained that he was discussing the word's meaning as it would be understood from its literal Greek language underpinnings. In that sense, a "phobia" is an intense, irrational fear.

Said Helmer, "I was not claiming that there is no discrimination, and that homosexuals do not suffer violence and prejudice from people because sadly, we all know that is not the case," the article reported.

"What I was saying was that the word homophobia has no meaning," Helmer continued.

"I have never met anyone with an irrational fear of homosexuals, it is just a propagandist word created by the militant gay rights lobby."

Helmer was writing in an online column called Straight Talking when he made the claim that homophobia does not exist.

In that same column, the article said, Helmer wrote, "I regard myself as liberal and tolerant on the question of homosexuality. I have no interest in telling consenting adults what they may or may not do behind closed doors."

However, the coining of the term "homophobia" represented, for Helmer, an intrusion on individual freedoms.

"It is frightening evidence of the way in which political correctness is threatening our freedom," Helmer asserted in the column.

"It is creating 'thought crimes,' where merely to hold a conventional opinion is seen, in itself, to be unacceptable and reprehensible.

"I'm sorry, but I don't buy it," Helmer added.

But that line of reasoning was rebuffed by University of Northampton equality adviser Paul Crofts, who also serves as the chairman of Northamptonshire West's Hate Incident Forum.

"To many gay and lesbian people in this county, homophobia is real and it has very real consequences," said Crofts.

"We have dealt with incidents of violence against people which have been motivated purely by the fact they are homosexual," which is the current meaning of the word "homophobia."

"For Mr Helmer this may be a matter of semantics, but for gay and lesbian people this is a real issue," Crofts went on.

"I would have thought someone like him, who is a member of the European Parliament and is in an influential position, would realize he has a responsibility to condemn homophobia."

Others have called into question what they see as the mixed signals being given out by the so-called "Progressive Conservatism" movement.

UK-based Web site The F Word noted in an Aug. 10 blog that "progressive" conservatives had spoken out against reproductive rights and adoption by same-sex families.

"If this is supposed to be Progressive Conservativism [sic]--what does the unprogessive type look like?" the article asked.

The blog went on to fret that, "the new young Tories coming through are even more socially conservative than their predecessors."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.