It would be fair to say that the Tories have a somewhat chequered history when it comes to LGBT+ rights. To give one example: in 1987, at the Conservative party conference, Margaret Thatcher announced it was her belief that “children who need to be taught to respect traditional morals” were instead “being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay”. This was later followed by the passing of the controversial Section 28, prohibiting local authorities from portraying homosexuality in a positive light.
Upon becoming leader of the party, eighteen years down the line, David Cameron was left with the task of distancing the Conservatives from the anti-LGBT+ label they’d garnered under Thatcher’s leadership. In 2009, he even apologised for his party’s role in Section 28, admitting they had “got it wrong”.
Since Cameron’s became Prime Minister in 2010, however, his reforms have not been as effective as some campaigners had hoped for, leading to questions over whether the Conservatives really are re-casting themselves as allies of the LBGT+ community, or whether, in reality, they are little more than fair-weather friends.
In fairness to the PM, he has seen through some positive legislation with regards to LBGT+ rights. In the 2015 Tory manifesto, the party made a number of pledges relating to tackling homophobia and transphobia, including £2m in aid of combating bullying in schools, and promises to teach LBGT+-inclusive sex and relationship education, along with promises to be tougher on LGBT+ hate crimes. Equally, let’s not forget the passing of the same-sex marriage bill, one of Cameron’s greatest achievements as PM thus far.
Nonetheless, whilst Cameron uses this as key evidence for his party moving away from its controversial past, the majority of MPs and members of his party were by no means as supportive of the bill as he was. Oly 47.3% of Tory MPs voted in its favour, in comparison to 90.8% of Labour MPs, and 91.7% of Lib Dems. Clearly, the Tories would not have passed the bill on their own; Cameron needed the assistance of multiple parties to do so. Combine this with a number of polls suggesting the majority of party members do not support gay marriage, and we’re left to conclude that whilst Cameron wishes to remake the Tories into a pro-equality party, not everyone agrees with this vision.
There are a number of other instances in which Cameron’s government have be seen to be less than supportive of LGBT+ rights. Towards the end of last year, two transgender women, Joanne Latham and Vicky Thompson, committed suicide in their cells, having been forced to serve their respective sentences in male prisons. The Ministry of Justice have responded that its policy regarding transgender inmates is under review; nevertheless, this remains a massive blow to the LGBT+ rights records of the Tory government, and puts them under considerable pressure to end this blatant transphobia in our legal system. In addition, it now seems that Broken Rainbow, one of the UK’s most important LGBT+ charities, is facing closure due to lack of government funding. Broken Rainbow, who describe themselves as “the first and only UK organisation dedicated to confronting and eliminating domestic violence and abuse within and against the LGBT+ communities”, have helped over 10,000 people in the past year alone, work they should be encouraged to continue. It seems remarkable that any government claiming to be serious about its support for the LGBT+ community would allow them to close.
Cameron may be a supporter of equal rights, but he remains guilty of allowing himself to be held back by backbench MPs and grass roots party members, preventing real progress from being made. The Tories need to show they’re serious in their support, rather than just helping out when is convenient to them. There’s no doubt the Conservatives have made improvements since the backward days of Thatcher, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.