The Camp Crusader

The Conservative Party have released their Equality Manifesto, with Theresa May stating: “Make no mistake: the Conservative Party has changed”.  The document sets out the ways in which, if elected, the Conservative Party will make Britain a fairer place for all minorities.  In the introduction, May also states that: “after 13 years of Labour government, there have been some good steps forward in the struggle for equality, especially on gay rights”.  However, a paragraph separates that statement from another that states that “after 13 years of Labour’s big government, inequality is at its highest level since the Second World War”.  So which is it?  How can we have made good progress and yet have inequality at its highest level since WWII?  Aside from this fact, LGB equality is definitely not in the same state as it was back in the 1940s.  We’re legal for a start!

Whilst the manifesto does deal with a number of issues around equality, there is a page and a half dedicated to LGBT issues.  And, for the most part, the promises they make are good.  Wiping historic convictions for consensual gay sex, and changing the rules so that gay people fleeing persecution are granted asylum are good promises to make.  However, the pledge to “consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage” is weak and an empty promise.

They are also promising to tackle homophobia in schools.  Again, this is a great pledge, but is slightly at odds with their promise to let faith schools teach sex education in line with their beliefs.  If faith schools are allowed to continue teaching that homosexuality is wrong and immoral, then homophobia in all forms will continue, not just in schools.

The last promise is to fight for LGBT rights around the world.  Again, this is a good thing, although their promise to send Shadow Cabinet Minister Nick Herbert to EuroPride in Warsaw is likely to be an attempt to diffuse negativity around the relationship with the Polish Law and Justice Party, who many believe to be homophobic.  I’m am, however, intrigued to know whether this means that the Conservative Party will tackle the Pope’s homophobic attitudes head on?

As I say, some of the LGB issues raised in the Tories Equality Manifesto are good.  But the main issue is whether LGB people can actually trust that they will make good on their promises.  The Tories have been courting the pink vote for the last few months and, as in their Equality Manifesto, insist that the Tories have changed.  However, the comments made by Chris Grayling on gay people and B&Bs, Philip Lardner’s comments that Section 28 was right, and the recent revelations that Philippa Stroud founded a church that tried to ‘cure’ gay people, suggest that nothing in the Tory Party has changed.  Aside from this, David Cameron’s disastrous interview with Gay Times shows that even the Conservative leader may not be as in tune with gay policies as he should be.

Stonewall have also published their scores of all MPs, based on the voting record for gay rights.  The average score across all MPs in the UK was 63.8% and yet the highest score for all of the Conservative MPs was 64%.  Labour, however, had 95 MPs who scored 100% and the Liberal Democrats had 11.  However, looking at the number of MPs who scored over 50% was the most revealing.  96% of Labour MPs and 94% of Liberal Democrat MPs scored over 50%, against only 6% of Conservative MPs.

The Conservative Party may want the LGB community to believe that they’ve changed, but it is difficult to trust this when Tory MPs have tried to hamper the progress of LGB equality every step of the way.

David Cameron has referred to gay, lesbian and bisexual people as one of the “Great Ignored” by Labour. However, surely Labour has done more for gay equality than the Conservatives ever have?

Admittedly, some of that legislation was pushed through from Europe, but their voting record is far superior to the Tories, and even slightly better than the Liberal Democrats.

I know I’m harping on about the Conservatives, and it may seem that I’m pro-Labour (to be honest, on most issues it seems to me they’re all as bad as each other), but the thing that concerns me most considering gay issues, is this new found urge for equality that the Conservatives are touting.

It doesn’t matter who leads the Conservative Party. The party is driven by the same, old boy bigots that have attempted to thwart the process of equality for years. The recent voting records, available from Stonewall, show only 6% of Conservative MPs scored over 50%, as apposed to 96% for Labour.

Seems like it’s the Conservatives who have been ignoring the needs of gay people, not Labour.

Stonewall have released the voting records for gay rights, for MPs across the UK.  The searchable report gives lesbian, gay and bisexual voters the chance to find their own local MPs and make an informed decision come the general election.  A percentage score is given for each current MP, based on a score of 2 points for a vote in favour of Stonewall’s position, 1 point for abstention, double voting or absence, and zero points for a vote against Stonewall’s position.

The average score across all MPs in the UK equates to 63.8%, with 116 MPs (18.1% of the total) achieving top scores, and only 3 (0.5% of the total) scoring 0.

Out of the top 3 main political parties, the Conservatives (who have been keen to shed their anti-gay perception) scored worst, with an average score of only 21.2% across all 193 MPs.  The highest score for any Conservative MP was 64%, and was held by Ed Vaizey (Wantage), Francis Maude (Horham) and Shadow Chancellor George Osborne (MP for Tatton).  The lowest score of 0 was also held by 3 MPs; Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald), Peter Bone (Wellinborough) and Philip Hollobone (Kettering).  Leader of the Conservatives, David Cameron, scored only 36%.  For the Conservatives overall, only 6.2% scored 50% or higher.

Best of the top 3 main parties was Labour, with an average score of 84.6% across all 319 MPs.  Highest score for Labour MPs was 100%, and was held by a massive 95 MPs, meaning that 29.8% of all Labour MPs have a perfect score for voting on gay rights.  Obviously too many to mention here, but these names included Cabinet members; Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham), Jack Straw (Blackburn), Alan Johnson (Hull West and Hessle), Yvette Cooper (Pontefract and Castelford), Liam Byrne (Birmingham Hodge Hill), Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East), and Ben Bradshaw (Exeter).  The lowest score for Labour was 14%, held by Kate Hoey (Vauxhall), and Gordon Brown scored 71%.  For Labour overall, 96.2% scored 50% or higher.

The Liberal Democrats hold an average score of 78.9% across all 63 MPs, only slightly lower than Labour.  Of these, 11 MPs (17.5%) held top scores of 100%, including Shadow Cabinet members; David Howarth (Cambridge), Nick Harvey (North Devon), Norman Lamb (North Norfolk), Sarah Teather (Brent East), Stephen Williams (Bristol West), Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife).  Lowest score was 21, held by Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) and Colin Breed (South East Cornwall), and Nick Clegg scored 86%, the highest score for a leader of the party. 

Potentially the most revealing, however, is the overall number of MPs for a particular party that scored 50% or higher.  Here, Labour scored highest again with 96.2% scoring 50% or higher.  A close second was the Liberal Democrats with 93.7% scoring 50% or higher.  Lowest of the three main parties was Conservatives with an embarrassing 6.2% scoring 50% or higher.  In fact, whilst none of the Liberal Democrat MPs and only 1 for Labour scored less than 20%, half of the Conservative MPs (50.8%) scored 20% or less. 

David Cameron might well want everyone to believe that the Conservatives are now a party for gay rights, but his parties voting records, coupled with his embarrassing interview with Gay Times seem to suggest that a leopard really can’t change its spots.

To download Stonewall’s searchable database, go to http://www.stonewall.org.uk/what_we_do/parliamentary/general_election_2010/default.asp.

In an interview with Gay Times Magazine, David Cameron has fallen apart under scrutiny over his party’s commitment to gay rights. Cameron started the interview with Martin Popplewell by stating that the Conservative party has changed on gay rights, and that the shadow cabinet has more MPs in civil partnerships, and would have more openly gay MPs than the labour party. 

However, when questioned about the Conservative stance in Europe, and specifically about the ‘Lithuanian Section 28’, Cameron became flustered and simply stated that he would have to look at the voting records, admitting that he didn’t know how the MEP’s had voted. As the questioning progressed, Cameron became even more confused and flustered.

He then stated that it should be a free vote, to which Popplewell replied that “If you accept, as you did at the beginning of the interview, that gay equality is basically a fundamental right, then it shouldn’t be a free vote.”

Cameron was once again visibly flustered, and again reiterated that he didn’t know how they had voted. Popplewell then moved the question on to the bill around whether civil partnerships should be allowe in religious questions. Again, Cameron stumbled on the question.

When Popplewell eventually stated that “if we vote for you, we want you to vote for us,” Cameron called for the interview to be suspended.

Gay Times also interviewed Gordon Brown, who stated that there were still big improvements to make as there is still inequality and discrimination in the UK. He also credited the campaigners who have driven through this change.

When questioned on the visit by the Pope, Brown did avoid whether or not he would raise the Catholic Church’s attitude to homosexuality, and condoms stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa. Brown did say that he had raised these issues with the Pope, but focused on the Human Embryology Bill which was successful, despite the objections of the Church. He did say that he was not afraid to address these issues, but would not commit to doing so, or say whether he agreed that these were issues that needed addressing.

Popplewell also questioned Brown’s commitment to gay rights, stating that he had abstained from voting on the repeal of Section 28, and civil partnerships. Brown indicated that he may not have been able to attend the votes on these issues, but has always made it clear that he fully supports gay rights.

On the basis of these interviews, I know who I’d rather trust!

You can see the interviews on Gay Times’ YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/gaytimeschannel.

Channel 4 also covered the Cameron interview, and their report can be seen at http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/business_money/cameron8217s+flustered+gay+times+interview/3587867.

It has been widely reported today that a gay couple have been turned away from a bed and breakfast in Cookham  because the owner did not approve of their homosexuality. 

Susanne Wilkinson runs the Swiss B&B in Cookham, Berkshire, and turned away Michael Black and John Morgan on Friday night because they were gay.  Apparently she did apologise to the couple, and refunded their deposit, but the couple were left “shocked and embarrassed” at the refusal.  Mrs Wilkinson has apparently acted in an “unwelcoming, cold way” towards the couple.

They have now reported the incident to the Thames Valley Police who have confirmed that the incident is being treated as homophobic.  The Equality Act of 2006, fought for by organisations such as Stonewall, made it unlawful to deny goods or services on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Mrs Wilkinson has defended herself by saying that she should not have to change her mind and beliefs just because the government should force it on her.  However, I think she’s missing the point.  Individuals have the right to hold their own beliefs, just like everyone else.  What they should not be able to do, however, is discriminate on the grounds of those beliefs.  I do wonder whether Mrs Wilkinson asks for marriage certificates from any straight couples who stay at her B&B? 

At the end of the day, the choice is simple; if you don’t want to offer bed and breakfast to gay people, don’t open a B&B in the first place!

For more information on this story, please go to http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2010/03/22/berkshire-bb-turns-away-gay-couple

The Football Association (FA) cancelled the release of their film to tackle homophobia at the last-minute, calling into question their commitment to the cause.  Following two years of development (which the FA now allegedly denies), the internet film was scheduled for launch at Wembley, and would be distributed via YouTube, the FA website and DVD copies that clubs could play before matches. 

The film itself takes a hard lined approach to tackling the issue.  A man is seen throwing homophobic taunts at a newspaper salesman, people on the tube and in his office, before also throwing homophobic abuse at a football match.  The message is quite simple; if homophobia isn’t acceptable in the office or outside of a football match, then it shouldn’t be acceptable there either. 

John Ameachi, the gay former NBA basketball player, criticised the film for only going after the lowest common denominator, and not tackling homophobia at the top.  Tackling the issue at the top may help to make it a priority, but it isn’t going to have an effect on the terraces.  I therefore understand the approach of the FA in tackling the places where homophobia seems most prominent, but it also holds some issues as, potentially, some of the people who will use homophobia at a football match wouldn’t necessarily see any issue with homophobia outside of the football stadium either. 

I would agree with the approach suggested by Peter Tatchell, to get high-profile players involved in the project, and use their status to start attacking the homophobes head on.  Supporters seeing their own idols and team players united against homophobia could potentially have a more positive effect.  One the majority of supporters are behind the campaign, then they can start to stamp it out in their own terraces.  Football clubs themselves also need to take a more active role, making examples of people to show that homophobia will not be tolerated at their stadium/club.

Whilst I may not agree with the direction that the film took, the decision to pull the film at the last minute was a complete mistake.  Supporters may now believe that the campaign is not a priority for the FA, and will completely undermine the good work that has already been done with educating coaches and referees.

Former BP CEO, Lord Browne, has spoken about the difficulties of being gay in business, saying that to him it was obvious that “it was simply unacceptable to be gay in business.”  Lord Browne also spoke of the next generation of business people who are coming through the ranks, to whom being out is just a part of their lives.  So is it a generation thing, or are there still barriers for gay people in the corporate world?

For the last five years I have worked in global corporation, and have had the fortune of working with people who I counted as friends.  I therefore had no qualms about being out at work, because I felt safe and supported by my colleagues.  However, being out to more senior management, partners or other divisions was a different story.  The question of whether to come out in life is one that raises its head time after time.  With every new job, every new partner or customer meeting, and even new colleagues joining the company, the question of ‘will I be accepted’ is there.

With the introduction of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations in 2003, it has been unlawful to discriminate in employment or training on the grounds of sexual orientation in the UK.  So far, £120,000 is the largest sum that has been awarded by an employment tribunal, and there is no limit.  The law is there to protect, but does this mean that more people are indeed coming out?  For my own case, although I was out at work, I was not out to customers or partners.  Predominantly, this was ue to the fact that I was not dealing with them on a day to day basis, but it was also due to the fact that I simply didn’t know how they would react to me bing gay.  The industry that I worked in was business-to-business (B2B0 and very male orientated, and times that I spent on exhibition stands with partners who would be speculating on whether visitors to the stand were gay or not, suggested to me that the reaction would not be that good.  Whilst I am well aware that it should not stop me being myself, any negative reaction from a partner or customer could have  negative reaction on sales figures.  With a company that was focused on sales figures and profitability, it was difficult to see how the company would support my decision to be out with partners or customers.

For any company, it is clear that  a broad and diverse workforce can have a positive impact on the company.  A range of people involved in the business gives a range of opinions on products, customers and potential markets, and allows a rage of experience to be tapped into.  Research from Stonewall UK has shown that 74% of LGB and 42% of straight consumers are less likely to buy products from organisations that are felt to hold negative views of gay people.  Vodafone’s recent security breach, where an employee posted homophobic comments on their Twitter feed could therefore have a very negative impact on the companies reputation.  Having gay employees who can therefore vouch for the companies gay credentials would be of benefit in this time. 

In terms of productivity, the Stonewall research showed that at least 55% of LGB employees facing discrimination in the workplace has a negative impact on their work.  It is therefore important that companies support their gay employees, and make sure that they are propertly protected.  Aside from productivity, this is also now the law.

It is estimated that, by 2011, only 18 per cent of the British workforce will be white, male, non-disbabled, under 35 and heterosexual.  It is therefore vital that companies understand the needs and requirements to make sure that a diverse workforce is both protected, and fully productive.  Supporting gay colleagues at work with adequate policies, training all staff to be aware of potentially homophobic language, and ensuring that partners sign up to the companies own policies can help gay employees feel valued, which in turn makes them more loyal.

Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme helps organisations analyse their current status, and address specific areas of improvement to ensure that the legalities are met, and that gay employees can feel comfortable being themselves.  Their annually published Workplace Equality Index then lists the top companies to work for as a gay employee, which can help ensure that you do not miss out on the very best talent available.

For more information, visit www.stonewall.org.uk/workplace.

This blog is a personal reflection on gay issues in the UK and around the world. I welcome comments on my posts, good or bad, but please note that any comments I deem to be malicious or offensive to my readers will be removed. I don't have a problem with people disagreeing, but will not tolerate swearing or offensive comments. If you'd like to get in touch, please feel free to drop me a line.

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