David Cameron: LGBT Ally of The Year?
Gay news organisation PinkNews recently awarded David Cameron an ‘Ally of The Year’ award in recognition of his work towards securing equal marriage rights for gay couples during his time as Prime Minister. Since then there has been a quick and incredibly varied response with both straight and LGBT+ people wanting to voice their opinion on the decision. My initial response was anger, but as both a queer individual and a Labour supporter who doesn’t approve of Cameron at the best of times, I wanted to wait and assess the situation rather than respond too quickly and irrationally. However, just under two weeks and lots of thinking later, my response remains largely the same.
The struggle for LGBT+ rights is not one that began in the new millennium, let alone in the past seven years, and the idea that a man who has only vocally supported queer rights since 2009 could ever be the ‘Ally of the Year’ is incredibly confusing, as well as demeaning to those who have made dedicated their life to improving the rights and lives of LGBT+ people. The basis for David Cameron’s nomination was his role in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. While the legalisation of same-sex marriage is of course a crucially important step in the pursuit of equality, nominating someone with a history of anti-LGBT+ policies and wavering views on equality purely based on one action reflects a wider issue within the global views on equality.
The fight for marriage equality is an issue of importance to many couples who do not adhere to standard heterosexual relationship structures, but it has been given too much prevalence in the mainstream media in comparison to other struggles faced by the queer community, and this is perhaps why PinkNews saw David Cameron as deserving of the title ‘Ally of the Year’ despite his previous failings. When the media and LGBT activists focus on marriage equality, other issues such as the stigmatisation of non- traditional relationships outside the homosexual spectrum, the continuing HIV struggle, lacklustre education about LGBT+ issues in schools, and the overwhelming importance placed on the nuclear family at the expense of non-traditional ones.
David Cameron’s record prior to 2009 is indicative of his attitudes towards the queer community, with his voting against the repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 in 2003, opposition to gay adoption in 2002, and the restrictions the Conservative party under Cameron wanted to impose on IVF treatments in 2008 that would require a father figure to be listed by lesbian couples who wanted the treatments. However, the politician’s policy on LGBT+ equality seems (on the surface at least) to have changed in favour of equal rights. In 2009, he issued an apology for his voting record on Section 28, which banned local authorities from promoting homosexuality and thereby undermined LGBT education and continued the narrative that homosexuality was transgressive and immoral. Two years later, the lifetime ban on MSM blood donation in the UK was lifted under the Tory government, and two years after that, same sex marriage was legalised.
Cameron’s record may have improved recently, but ultimately one has to consider whether his pro-LGBT+ efforts are a case of too little, too late, or perhaps even the result of a publicity drive attempting to make an alienating upper class politician seem more likeable to those unlikely to vote Conservative due to its traditionally exclusive policies. In a 2010 interview with The Independent, Cameron stated that “I think we can look gay people in the eye and say, ‘You can now back us…because we now support gay equality’”, and it is comments like this that create a sense of scepticism around Cameron’s nature as an ally. Furthermore, Cameron appears to have decided that now that marriage equality has been achieved his work is done in securing the rights of the LGBT+ community, as since 2013 we have witnessed massive cuts to HIV/AIDS funding, cuts to LGBT mental health services, and even the removal of the MSM blood donation ban saw it replaced with another ban that requires gay men to be celibate for a year before donating blood.
There can be no denying that Cameron has played an important role in the development of same sex marriage law, and his willingness to align himself with LGBT+ groups and policies earns him the title of ‘ally’, but I have trouble believing that there was not a single straight person more sympathetic and beneficial to the gay cause. In just under 30 years in politics, Cameron has had many impacts on the LGBT+ community, not all of them beneficial, and I personally do not feel comfortable having him lauded as the Ally of The Year. The LGBT+ struggle is not a bargaining chip used to win votes, and I refuse to be told to praise someone who sees funding for lifesaving HIV research as optional spending, and who accepts an award as an ally to the gay community one week after standing silently by as a member of his former party halts a bill that would pardon 50,000 gay and bisexual men convicted under homophobic laws. David Cameron may have helped secure my right to marry, but he is not my ally.