The party of Margaret Thatcher wooed LGBT support yesterday by throwing a massive gay club night in Manchester, where the Tories are holding their annual party conference. “Party with your fellow conservatives” read the poster.
Skin-tight T-shirts, posters of semi-naked men and buckets of condoms on the tables. This was not a typical fringe event at the Conservative party conference. Last night, though, the Tories glammed up for “Conference Pride”, the party’s first official gay club night. Protesters gathered outside with placards reading “Queers against Tories”, outraged that the party had crashed Manchester’s gay scene. Inside, hundreds packed two dancefloors and a roof terrace. They drank cocktails created for the occasion: the “Cameron PM” (double vodka, blue Curacao and lime juice) and the “Tory Martini” (vodka, gin, Midori melon liqueur and lime juice). Both were selling well. In defiance of a ban on party triumphalism there were also four different types of champagne on offer, including Laurent-Perrier at £57 a bottle.
But it wasn’t an entirely happy gay time on Canal Street, as noted above. Not only were there queer anti-Tory protesters outside their own event, the newly-minted LGBTory group is pissed that the nearby club Poptastic simultaneously hosted a night called “Tory Shame,” which featured a Thatcher lookalike drag queen.
Matthew Sephton, chairman of LGBTory commented: “It is a shame that Poptastic has chosen to hold this event which appears to aim only to stir up negativity and political division in the LGBT movement, at a time when we need to be as united as possible.” He went on: “Conference Pride is an official part of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester and has attracted lots of interest from those both within and outside the party. It is the first time an official event has been organised on this scale and it is a clear signal to the LGBT community that we are valued and have a valid part to play in the future of our country and the Conservative Party.
Meanwhile, Ben Summerskill, the executive director of the LGBT charity Stonewall, has pulled out of his scheduled speech at the conference over the Tories’ alignment with homophobic parties in the European Parliament.
The party has invited Polish Law and Justice Party MP Michal Kaminski, to speak at its conference this week. Mr Kaminski was filmed calling gay people “fags” in an interview in 2000. He is now the president of the Tories’ new bloc in Europe, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group. Pulling out of the event, Mr Summerskill told Channel 4 News: “There is no doubt the progress that has been made in the last couple of years has genuinely been historic. “It would churlish of anyone not to welcome the apology a couple of months ago over Section 28.” “But the event tonight has been overshadowed by the presence, not just at conference but on the same platform as some senior members of the party, of people of such extreme and offensive views.”
JMG readers from the UK and elsewhere have commented that comparing the Conservative Party to the GOP is unfair in light of their recent improvements in LGBT policies. The mere existence of Tory-run gay club night might be considered evidence as such. But from this distance, inviting speakers to your national conference such as the above-noted extremist Polish representative makes it hard to see that big of a difference, gay disco nights and their Section 28 apology notwithstanding. Window dressing, as local gay cynics have said.
It can’t be overlooked that the overall state of LGBT rights in the UK is far, far ahead of what we have here in America. Gays serve openly in the military, England and Wales have a version of ENDA, gay adoption is allowed, and civil partnerships have been legal since 2005. (Hate crimes legislation is proving thornier.) What needs to happen now is for the Tories to help duplicate those successes by using their influence across the European Union, not prop up violently anti-gay movements. Disco parties may buy a few local votes, but the biggest fight for LGBT rights, now, is elsewhere.