Shortly before polling day an editor at a leading gay publication sent a text message asking whether I would write on why the Tories were still homophobic and “not safe for gay voters”.
Firstly, I thought, who are these “gay voters”? Some monolithic entity that flock to Soho's polling stations in their thousands, armed with interpretative dance moves and pens, ready to cast their votes for Labour? I didn't think so. But more crucially, I didn’t subscribe to the view that anyone high-ranking in the Tories were so set against gay equality. The greying old male dinosaurs of the party, maybe, but not those in the most dominant Cabinet positions, who had previously at least paid lip-service to LGBT rights.
But now, at the helm of the UK’s Culture department is John Whittingdale, the MP for Maldon, after being promoted to Secretary of State in David Cameron’s gleeful reshuffle yesterday.
Firstly, lets start by wishing John a collective Congratulations. Congratulations, hun. You know, we’re just lucky that there aren't many gay people in the arts. So it was a straight choice. Not only does he love “television, films and music” (what a shoo-in!) – he also has an abysmal voting record on gay equalities.
According to They Work For You, Whittingdale’s voting record is alarming. In 1998, he voted against reducing the age of consent for homosexual acts to 16. In 2013 he voted “very strongly against” allowing the marriage between two people of the same sex. Oh, and he’s also moderately against laws to promote equality and human rights. Ideal.
Appointments in David Cameron's Tory government
Appointments in David Cameron's Tory government
1/7 Amber Rudd: Energy and Climate Change Secretary
Wins a big promotion after increasing her majority in Hastings and Rye despite once describing her constituency as a “bit depressing”. The former banker and financial journalist is considered a moderate Eurosceptic
2/7 Priti Patel: Employment Minister (attending Cabinet)
Former party press officer and now the Witham MP is rewarded for her forceful performances during the election campaign. She is on the right of the party and a Eurosceptic. Ms Patel has called for the return of hanging
3/7 John Whittingdale: Culture Secretary
Having never been a minister in his 23 years as an MP John Whittingdale’s elevation to the Cabinet is meteoric. But his appointment sends a message to Tory backbenchers that preferment is possible even for those who may have given up hope (and be tempted to rebel)
4/7 Anna Soubry: Minister for Small Business
Not long ago the former defence minister feared she would not even be an MP but now she has a key role in the Department for Business and the right to attend Cabinet
5/7 Sajid Javid: Business Secretary
Rising star tipped as Britain’s first prime minister from an ethnic minority. Son of a bus driver, he grew up in two-bedroom flat in Bristol. After university he joined Deutsche Bank. Parliamentary aide to George Osborne before becoming Treasury minister and Culture Secretary
6/7 Greg Clark: Communities Secretary
Thoughtful moderniser who grew up in Middlesbrough where his father and grandfather were milkmen. Was a special adviser before entering Parliament in 2005. In previous ministerial posts he drew up plans to devolve powers to cities
7/7 Matthew Hancock: Cabinet Office minister and Paymaster General
A former aide to George Osborne before becoming an MP in 2010 election. Hancock has had a meteoric ministerial rise
While this was likely to be smart appointment for Cameron in his crusade over the next five years to appease his party's right-wing backbenchers, and maintain control over his thin majority, by doing this he's also stuck his middle finger up at the LGBT community. Although that said – with the appointment of Caroline Dinenage as his new Equalities Minister – it's really two fingers (you can view her questionable record here).
I can handle a man in a van winding down his window and screaming “Batty boy!” at me as I walk past Highbury and Islington Station. I mean, who says that? A good old-fashioned “faggot” is surely a more appropriate way to express your outdated homophobia, rather than a novelty bit of Jamaican patois?
But what's much harder to deal with is when brutal homophobia isn't just at the bottom of society, but also at the top. Having a straight male in control of the UK’s Culture Department, who once expressed that same-sex marriage would bring “distress for many”, is hardly filling me with confidence that the Tories are willing to undertake the hefty task of tackling homophobia in all other areas. Adding insult to injury, Whittingdale has also said that he does “not believe that there is a strong demand for [same-sex marriage] from the gay community.” Thanks for consulting us on that one.
As Cameron endeavours to heal the scars that gay marriage inflicted on his party, what this appointment has done is sent out a message to LGBT people: “Come on now, stop complaining, you’ve had your time in the spotlight. Time to put this gay business to bed now.” 2020 really couldn't come sooner.