I'm not one of life's hecklers. I'm a cheerer rather than a booer. As my late mother-in-law would say: "If you don't have a kind word to say about someone, then don't say anything."
And there was certainly lots to cheer at Wednesday's Pink News awards, including a brave, passionate speech from Michael (now Lord) Cashman, whose partner of more than 30 years, Paul Cottingham, died just days before. So, I rather surprised even myself when I broke the mood and heckled Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary and equalities minister.
I've got nothing against Mrs Morgan. On the contrary, she seems reasonable and nice. But she launched into a scripted speech extolling the fabulousness of the Equal Marriage Act. The problem was, she didn't acknowledge the awkward fact that she herself had voted against the Act. She had, apparently, that morning, in an interview on the Today programme. She'd also said she'd changed her mind since.
Her explanation was that before the vote her post bag was dominated by opponents of the Act (yes, all of ours were), but afterwards she received a lot of letters from supporters who persuaded her she'd been wrong. Most people in the room, me included, had missed this early-morning mea culpa, so, as the self-congratulatory speech went on, I began to murmur, under my breath at first, then as a roar: "But you voted against it!" Mrs Morgan interrupted her script to respond: "Yes, I did vote against, but I've changed my mind." To all the Tory tweeters who trolled me afterwards – I think I helped rescue the Secretary of State from her own ill-judged speech.
But having broken new ground, as a heckler, I very nearly heckled Mrs Morgan again. The main theme of her speech, apart from equal marriage, was the importance of good sex and relationship education, particularly in combating homophobic bullying. Absolutely right. But hang on. Mrs Morgan and her party are currently the main obstacle to PHSE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education) being made mandatory in schools. Labour supports it. The Lib Dems, having opposed it in government for the past four years, now say they'll put it in their manifesto. So, it's only the Tories who are holding out against what is probably the main current policy ask of LGBT organisations, as well as countless others who care about the well-being of young people. "This is shameless," I thought, but having heckled once, I simply couldn't a second time. Instead, I'm appealing here to Mrs Morgan and her Conservative colleagues to reflect and act on the implications of what she said about PHSE and join the consensus. Progress on LGBT equality has required courage, leadership, and clear language. I applaud the minister for changing her mind on equal marriage. Now let her change her mind on PHSE in schools.
Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, is a Trustee of the Terrence Higgins Trust and a judge on 'The Independent on Sunday's Rainbow List', published next weekReuse content