by Cary Gee
In an unexpected moment towards the end of ITV's election debate, unexpected because, for the first time all evening, candidates were required to give an answer that had not been prepared for them by someone else in advance, convenor Julie Etchingham asked Johnson and Corbyn which gifts they would leave for each other beneath the Christmas tree. Corbyn's choice for Johnson was a copy of A Christmas Carol, 'so you can understand how nasty Scrooge was'. But surely, with his 'mouth like a fish, dull staring eyes and sandy hair standing upright' Johnson more closely resembles the aggressively self-righteous Mr Pumblechook from Great Expectations. 'A large hard-breathing middle-aged slow man' given to endless repetition, Pumblechook is also lazy, out of touch and a terrible snob, which rather succinctly sums up the Conservative Party's manifesto.
If I were to give election candidates something to read I would choose Stonewall's LGBT manifesto. A non-partisan lesson in brevity, the LGBT manifesto sets out 'five priority areas in which the next UK government must act to address the discrimination that LGBT people continue to experience'. I say non-partisan but in reality how you can expect Tory party candidates to embrace equality when they are led by a man who uses language like 'tank-topped bum boys' to describe a section of the electorate? Given the opportunity by Fiona Bruce to apologise for his language, Johnson declined. Well, given the opportunity to vote Conservative, I very much hope the LGBT community, without exception, will also decline.
The LGBT manifesto calls on the next government to:
Create communities where all LGBT people are safe and accepted.
Protect and extend LGBT rights.
Ensure every LGBT child and young person can flourish.
Improve health and social care services for LGBT people.
Ensure that the UK actively supports LGBT people across the world.
Yet in every area the Conservative party is either dragging its feet, or not moving them at all.
Bigotry is not the exclusive preserve of the Tory party, but in this area at least, the Labour party has led the way in tackling discrimination, which is why former Labour MP Roger Godsiff has been barred from contesting his Birmingham seat (as the Labour candidate) in this election after voicing his opposition to LGBT+ inclusive education in Birmingham's schools. After blaming his deselection on a 'vicious group of LGBT activists in the Labour party' Godsiff, who also opposed equal marriage intends to stand as an independent. Good luck with that. Godsiff might want to come up with a better campaign slogan than last time. 'Unwanted, Unnecessary, Opportunistic' simply left voters unsure whether Godsiff was referring to the general election or to himself.
The protests outside schools in Birmingham have served as a reminder (to anyone from my generation) of the hated and hateful Section 28. Last week a judge banned the protests in Birmingham permanently, declaring that none of the claims made by protestors were true. But with the introduction of compulsory RSE (relationship and sex education) in primary schools from September 2020 we can expect similarly ill-informed protests to spread like fungus, anywhere where adults think it's ok to stand outside school gates and frighten children. It's NOT ok, ever, but try telling that to parents emboldened by the language of our prime minister, and supporters like Philip Davies MP, whose only commitment to equality seems to be hating everybody and everything in equal measure.
RSE matters. It matters to teachers, it matters to LGBT parents and families of LGBT children, but most of all it matters to LGBT kids themselves.
Frankly, I would have welcomed the influence of an outwardly and openly successful gay teacher at my school. We certainly had gay teachers in the staff room. We (the boys) knew perfectly well who they were, the teachers knew that we knew, yet their reluctance or inability to talk about something so central to their lives translated as “shame”. We asked ourselves, “What was so shameful about being gay that made even our teachers fearful of acknowledging it?”
To return to those dark days would be to catastrophically fail our children at a time when they most need our protection.
Tragically, the legacy of Section 28 for children who were at school during its existence, is that many were treated as second-class citizens, some old attitudes remain, and a generation of LGBT+ citizens still feel like survivors, in recovery from the misery inflicted upon them during what should have been the happiest days of their lives. Bullied by their peers, their teachers who looked on in silence, and by a vindictive government hellbent of pursuing a policy better suited to Old Testament times than 21st century Britain.
My partner (a school music teacher) and I were excited recently to receive an invitation to a same-sex wedding. It came from a former pupil of his: an outstanding musician but, more importantly, a fine, well-balanced young man, now enjoying a successful teaching career himself. He was encouraged from an early age to be the best he can be by his gay teacher.
I’m proud of them both. This is the legacy of (Labour Party) repeal. And why I would urge every voter, to ensure their candidate has signed up to the LGBT manifesto at stonewall.org.uk before awarding them their vote.
Cary Gee is a former contributor to the New Statesman, Tribune, trade union officer, and LGBT