Why being a gay Tory is a paradox

Felix Wilks 21 January 2015

Charlie Bell, in a recent article for Get Real, has forcefully pleaded that it’s not only unacceptable to criticise gay Tories, it’s tantamount to systematic oppression. Tories are, Charlie Bell explains, a threatened breed in Cambridge, perpetually under fire from “ultra-left-wing thugs”. This hallucinatory mob of far-left insurgents who apparently have a monopoly on power in the University often tends to crop up in conversation with your garden variety Tory. But until colleges begin to replace Latin grace at formal dinners with readings from The Communist Manifesto, we can rest safe in the knowledge that Cambridge is an overridingly right-wing environment to be a student, to an extent that never fails to astound me. Being left wing in any serious measure automatically places you in a minority in Cambridge.

What strikes me as even more astounding than the ubiquity of Conservatism in Cambridge, however, is the peculiar cross over that occurs when pink and blue meet in the metaphorical Venn diagram: people who are as proud to be part of the LGBT+ community as they are to be a Tory. Whilst it is difficult to imagine why anyone would be proud to call themselves Conservative, it is the stark incongruity of these two identities that is most perplexing.

Of course, expressing allegiance to any given political party does not mean wholehearted subscription to every aspect of it. But with the Tories there is a key difference. Forget Section 28. Let’s take a look at the fact that the percentage of Tory MPs who recently voted against gay marriage was more than double that of the LibDems and Labour combined. This is a party whose Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to a gay Labour MP as “the pantomime dame” in the House of Commons. Almost as hilarious as Dave’s “calm down dear” quip.

Gay supporters of the Tories cannot overlook the party’s ingrained homophobia as a mere ethical lapse. Conservative values are not some kind of ideological pic-and-mix. Contrary to a popular Cambridge misapprehension, Tory social policy and Tory economic policy cannot be separated out into two distinct categories. Likewise, the persistently negative attitude of the Conservatives towards the LGBT+ community is not some sort of anomaly. Such fictions permit people to believe, for example, that a vote against gay marriage is not equivalent to a vote against the rights of the LGBT+ community. These things are, in fact, one and the same, and any opponent of same-sex marriage is categorically a homophobe.

Even if they do let you past the bouncers at the Pitt Club, Tories only really have room for one type of gay: white, middle to upper class and male. It is to this section of the LGBT+ community that the Tories pitch their restrictive brand of Conservatism. It comes as little surprise that the banner image in Charlie Bell’s article, showing the LGBTories out in force at a Pride parade, featured not a single woman or black person. The ‘Transgender +’ section of the acronym has been removed for the convenience of a trite, snappy slogan, “LGBTory”, demonstrating how superficial the commitment of the Tories is to important LGBT+ rights.

The classic Tory tactic of using the past as a point of comparison rather than looking forward to what progress is yet to be made thinly veils the fact that much of the way in which the Tories treat LGBT+ people is fundamentally backward-looking. Take the fabled Adonians society here in Cambridge, a literal hotbed of gay Toryism. It glamorises a bygone, clandestine way of living for LGBT+ people that the vast majority of our community wants to look beyond. And, surprise surprise, it’s men only. Equally distressing is the fact that the sponsorship for CUSU LGBT+ comes from Deloitte, which last September held an Oxbridge Freshers’ event for LGBT+ students that felt as though it was trying to generate the equivalent of an old boys network.

The Conservatives feed the LGBT+ community the Thatcherite lie that we exist in a straightforward meritocracy which is unqualified by peoples’ gender, creeds, colours, sexual orientations. The Deloitte event is a prime example of how this isn’t the case. It attempted to assimilate LGBT+ people to elitist right-wing ideals, betraying the fact that being gay and black or gay and working class limits how desirable you are to the Conservative party. The Tories’ brand of LGBT+ ‘rights’ erases the important idea that solidarity and cooperation with other oppressed groups is crucially important.

As a member of the LGBT+ community, I am not unempathetic enough to settle for, let alone actively work towards creating a society where ‘LGBT+ equality’ means privileges for a select few and continued marginalisation for everyone else.