GAY TIMES May 2005

Did you realise how important you are to politicians, psephologically speaking? In the desperate fight for votes in what is predicted to be a closely-run general election, you have been de-individualised and become, instead a member of “the gay community”. As such, you can be targeted, appealed to and – as the spin doctors put it – “reached.”

Evidence of this comes in the interviews and articles given by party leaders to the gay press recently. I have never seen all three party leaders so enthusiastic to get themselves looking good in gay magazines.

There are other demographic groups, of course, who like “the gays” (and, perhaps “the Borg”) are perceived to have but one mind between them, which can be persuaded with rash promises.

“The Muslims” are another demographic that politicians imagine are unable to think for themselves and always slavishly do what their “leaders” tell them. And so, the Muslim Council of Britain announces that it will instruct “the Muslims” not to vote for Labour, and Cardinal Murphy O’Connor tells us that “the Catholics” will vote for whichever party offers the hardest line on abortion.

But, of course it’s all tosh. “The Gays”, like “the Muslims”, and “the Catholics” are in fact a group of individuals with minds of their own, and often they vote in ways that are unpredictable and seemingly against their own interests. Look at the number of gay men who supported Thatcher, for instance. It drove some of us mad, but it goes to show that the “gay vote” cannot be corralled.

It has never been more true than it is this time. All three parties are offering “the gays” a whole raft of goodies, so let’s stop for a moment and see just what each has told the media it can do for “the gays” of Britain.

The Labour Party says that it has done wonderful things for gay rights in this country. And, indeed, it has. But mostly it had to be pushed into it. The age of consent has been lowered, yes, but only after a long and acrimonious battle in the European Court of Human Rights (remember the Euan Sutherland and Chris Morris cases?).

Yes, gays can now openly join the military – but once again, it was not given willingly. As Christopher Anton put it in The Independent: “Despite Mr Blair’s supposed pride at the ending of the ban on gays in the military, his government spent its first two years fighting tooth and nail to retain this ban through the European Court of Human Rights. It was only when the court found against them that they had a change of heart.”

Yes, Labour gave us protection from discrimination at work, but only when a European Directive ordered them to do so. And even then, they took the heart out of it by granting ridiculous religious exemptions.

Yes, Labour repealed many of the discriminatory laws that governed gay sexual activity, but once again it was only because of pressure from Europe.

To be fair, they took a political risk to eventually rid us of Section 28 and they voluntarily gave us civil partnerships, but even that was less than equality (unlike the Governments of  Belgium and Holland that gave their gay citizens full marriage).

And Labour is promising a single equality body that will include the rights of gay people for the first time. The problem is that the legislation to go with this new body will give legal protection from discrimination in the provision of goods and services to people on the grounds of race, gender, disability and religion – but there will be no legal protection for gay people, only advice and encouragement.

The Mail on Sunday also reports that New Labour is “drawing up an offence of incitement to homophobic hatred” which would carry a penalty of up to seven years in jail. Labour may think it is doing us a favour with this, but I am deeply worried about the effects it – together with the “incitement to religious hatred” proposals – will have on open debate and free expression in this country.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems are heartened by polls among gay people showing that the majority of us are going to vote for them this time. Gay.com tells us that the Lib Dems even have a “pink manifesto”. This includes “The scrapping of provisions within the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act which restricts fertilisation treatment to male/female couples only”; a promise to make “homophobic incitement” a crime, and to increase “sexual education to include diversity and HIV issues”.

The Tories, in the meantime, are trying desperately to shake off their image as a party of blue-haired bigots and frothing homophobes. They face an uphill struggle, though, because they are lumbered with Michael Howard as their leader, a man with not only the most irritating speech impediment in the whole country, but also a history of parliamentary homophobia second to none. It was he, after all, who pushed through Section 28 when he was Home Secretary to Mrs Thatcher.

However, according to the Independent, Mr Howard is repentant about his nefarious past. When the paper’s Johann Hari interviewed him, Howard said: “I’ve changed my mind on that. I was wrong.”

Mr Hari wrote of his encounter: ““What about the core idea contained in Section 28 – that it is possible to actually promote homosexuality? Wasn’t that always bizarre? ‘Well,’ Howard said, ‘I think there are some people who could be influenced. Who could go either way. I think there is a question about the extent to which people can be influenced.’ And, if they could, would it be better to stop them becoming gay? ‘It would be better not to…’ He paused. ‘When you’re talking about very young children, I thought it was wrong to expose them to that sort of literature and those kinds of issues.’”

Mr Hari can’t help wondering after his encounter just how reconstructed Michael Howard really is.

Well, I think we must be cautious. A little story in The Times gives a small indication that the Tories haven’t really changed their spots. It concerned the lottery fund, and its apparent effrontery in making grants to “politically correct” organisations (i.e. anything not approved of by The Daily Mail). The Tory Shadow Arts Minister, Hugo Swire, said the lottery fund had “got so far away from people” by daring to give grants to organisations other than churches and sports groups.

Well, we all know what that means. Although Mr Swire did not mention gay support groups specifically, the point has been driven home often enough in the tabloids. The truth is that gay groups hardly benefit at all from the lottery, but even that is too much for many Conservatives.

Meanwhile, according to The Guardian, Stonewall has issued a voting record of MPs on gay issues and, surprise, surprise, Tory MPs come right at the bottom. Stonewall chose seven parliamentary votes on issues such as adoption rights, Section 28 and civil partnerships.

So, let’s name and shame the 13 MPs who failed to support a single one of the gay issues: Christopher Chope (Con), Patrick Cormack (Con), Michael Fallon (Con), Adrian Flook (Con), Nick Hawkins (Con), Gerald Howarth (Con), Edward Leigh (Con), Andrew Robathan (Con), Laurence Robertson (Con), Andrew Turner (Con), Angela Watkinson (Con) and David Wilshire (Con).

Least gay-friendly Labour MP is Jim Dobbin and least friendly Lib Dem is Colin Breed.

There were 119 MPs with 100% record – 16 of whom were Liberal Democrats, one Plaid Cymru (Adam Price) and all the others Labour.

If you’re pissed off by all three of the main parties and are looking for somewhere a little more radical to put your X, then maybe the Green Party would fit the bill. In London, its representative on the Greater London Authority is the openly gay Darren Johnson. He makes much of the Green’s impeccable pro-gay credentials. You can’t go wrong voting Green as far as gay rights are concerned.

At the other end of the scale, for those of a fascistic disposition, there was an extraordinary letter in The Sunday Telegraph from a leader of the National Front, which said that it wished to distance itself from the British National Party because it was not racist enough. The BNP, said the National Front with hardly concealed distaste, was even inviting open homosexuals to join and had a prominent Sikh in its hierarchy. However, I expect (or, I certainly hope) that few, if any, Gay Times readers will be looking to support the tin pot Hitlers of either the BNP or NF.

This election for gay people is one of the most extraordinary ever. None of the parties is conducting a homophobic campaign as in the past – in fact, quite the reverse, they are falling over themselves to court us.

Compare and contrast this election with the one conducted last year in the United States, when gay marriage was worked up into a make-or-break issue for candidates. Where religion dictated the agenda and consequently gay rights were set back decades.

Here religion has been put firmly in its place. The Catholics made a stab at getting abortion on to the agenda but has had few takers. Mr Blair openly said in a speech to an evangelical organisation that he did not favour mixing party politics and religion (although he does it all the time in his covert way).

So, we are safe. As Johann Hari put it in The Independent: “All three leaders agreed: there’s no going back. Gay rights are banked and secure. This is a remarkable moment. I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

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