For and against: Are LGBT people safe with the Tories?

In an in-depth feature in our new issue and online today, we're crunching the numbers, looking at the Conservative party's history, and asking - are LGBT people safe with the Tories? Below, we've got two prominent LGBT commentators arguing for and against. Read on... IanDale3084YES ...says Iain Dale, writer, LBC 97.3FM broadcaster and conservative blogger: The suggestion that you’re letting the side down if you’re gay and you vote Conservative is so plainly preposterous that I’m almost embarrassed to even have to address it. How many gay people really decide their vote based purely on a political party’s record on one issue, I wonder. Yes, the Tories historically haven’t exactly been that gay-friendly but unless you’re so blinkered to the fact that parties and individuals can change, then you’ll have noticed how David Cameron has been hugely successful in leading his party to a position where there is scarcely a tissue paper between the position of his party compared to the other two on gay issues. In his first big conference speech after winning his party’s leadership he laid down the gauntlet to his party by making clear his support for gay marriage. I’m not suggesting you should vote for him based on that record of leadership and it’s not my role to urge you to vote for any particular party, but I am saying you should ignore any siren voices who try to persuade you that the Tory Party hasn’t made progress – and fast – on gay issues. In the last Parliament the Tories had more openly gay MPs than any other party. I’m told they also have more openly gay candidates standing at this election than any other party, which ought to tell you something. Cameron took the lead on forcing equal marriage legislation through the Commons. Yes, too many Tory MPs voted against it, but that was more out of religious conviction than anti-gay bigotry. Ask how many Tory MPs would now vote to reverse the law on civil partnerships and I’d like to think the answer would be a big fat zero. In fact, I’m sure it would be. Ah, but what about Section 28 and Thatcher, Tory critics spit. Well, it was 30 years ago, and what few people remember is that there were quite a few Labour MPs who supported it too, not to mention the odd Liberal. That doesn’t make it right, but let’s live for today and celebrate the fact that virtually all Tory candidates at this election would be happy to celebrate gay equality before the law. Whisper this, but many gay people will vote for UKIP. Shock! Horror! A recent poll for Pink News showed that the so-called gay vote has changed a lot since 2010 and the way gay people vote more or less mirrors the rest of the population. I call that progress. Ninety-nine percent of gay people in this country will decide their vote in exactly the same way as their straight counterparts, and isn’t that exactly how it should be? Which party will run the economy best? Which party will do most for me and my family? Which party will best protect the NHS and our schools? Which party will offer a fair policy on immigration? Those are the key issues which will decide this election, not which party did something bad to gay people in 1988. WORDS BY IAIN DALE Eleanor picNO ...says Eleanor Margolis, journalist and author of 'Lez Miserable' New Statesman column: For too many people, both gay and straight, the coalition’s legalisation of same-sex marriage in the UK represents a final victory in the battle for gay rights. It would be unfair to argue that David Cameron didn’t put his fusty Tory bum on the line to secure that legislation. It’s unsurprising that over half the Conservatives voted against the bill, social reform never really having been their thing. And for this exact reason, the Same Sex Couples Act was a complete anomaly. For LGBT people to vote Tory in May based purely on the party’s altogether lukewarm support for equal marriage would be more than a little reckless. I’m not sure if I’ll ever take the Tories up on their kind offer of getting lesbian married. I’m glad it’s there, don’t get me wrong, and I was more than ready to pop a bottle of Moët (Okay, very cheap cava. Okay, Lambrini) when the bill was officially passed in 2013. At the same time, I wasn’t ready to kick back and let the new right-wing saviours of gay people get on with whatever the hell they like. When we trace the history of LGBT rights in the UK, the overwhelming majority of their proponents have been on the Left. It was a Labour government that first decriminalised homosexuality in 1967. Subsequently, Labour governments have repealed the insidious Section 28, matched the age of consent for same-sex couples to that of straight ones and introduced civil partnerships. Meanwhile, equal marriage aside for a second, the Conservatives have done nothing but hinder progress. And it’s vital for us to recognise that this legion of straight, white Etonians isn’t, all of a sudden, gay-friendly. Let’s not forget the real harm that austerity has done. Homelessness and poor mental health, for example, are issues that affect a disproportionate number of non-heteros. Trans people in particular face an elevated risk of becoming homeless. So it wouldn’t be too farfetched to assume that Tory cuts to social housing, benefits and mental health services will have had devastating affects on the more vulnerable members of the LGBT community. It might even be said that equal marriage was, although an important milestone in the gay rights movement, a distraction from real issues. Cameron, in many ways, has quite patronisingly managed to beguile a chunk of the LGBT community by waving about a glittery piece of legislation, while backhandedly doing away with the welfare state. Now we’ve secured equal marriage, we need to focus on the next frontier. A big part of this will be tackling everyday homophobia and addressing the urgent issue of anti-gay bullying in schools. And it’s Labour, not the Conservatives, who are willing to make this happen. It’s Labour who have suggested including same-sex relationships in children’s sex education programmes. This is a policy that could do a great deal to de-stigmatise gay and trans kids to their classmates. The introduction of equal marriage has proven the existence of socially liberal Conservatives. Now that this minority momentarily detoxified the Tory brand and provided gay people with a new right, we need to wave them goodbye before they start dragging us backwards. WORDS BY ELEANOR MARGOLIS