A dispute over pizza in Indiana has lead to a discussion abotu the nature of freedom. Sort of. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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Watch out for “Big Gay”: why the freedom to discriminate is a funny sort of freedom

Discrimination under the banner of “freedom” is on the rise again.

How, you may well ask, did a dispute over pizza and cake lead to a question about the nature of freedom? Food and for that matter, drink haven’t exactly played a leading role in the construction of the so called free world, but they’ve always been lurking in the background. There was the Boston Tea Party. “Let them eat cake,” tower-haired posho Marie Antoinette probably didn’t say. “Ich bin ein Berliner [a doughnut]”, JFK definitely did say. This time around, freedom is being called into question at a pizzeria in Indiana and a bakery in Belfast.

Last year, a Christian-owned bakery refused, kind of predictably, to make a cake that celebrated same-sex marriage. Finally, last month, the discrimination case brought against Ashers Baking Company went to court. Meanwhile Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party have been happily beavering away at some legislation that would protect businesses exactly like Belfast’s most reactionary confectioner from having to relinquish their religious principles to the evil Gay Agenda. That’s to say, the DUP want to officially legalise discrimination against LGBT people by businesses.

Also last month, owners of a pizzeria in the American Midwest whined about being persecuted into niceness. The owner of Memories Pizza in Indiana isn’t just rubbish at coming up with restaurant names, she’s also quite rubbish at not being bigot. And the fact that she thinks a gay couple would allow somewhere called Memories Pizza to cater their big day certainly hints at her never even met an actual homosexual. What’s more, fictional Indiana stateswoman and friend o’gays Leslie Knope would most likely be ashamed of the (now amended) corresponding “religious freedom” bill which threatened to legally entrench anti-gay discrimination in that state.

Aside from being small businesses run by even smaller minded people, what the UK bakery and US pizzeria have in common is their dependence on discrimination in the guise of freedom. In several US states, religious freedom bills are threatening to override anti-discrimination ones. The idea that business owners should be free not to accommodate LGBT people, on moral grounds, is right at libertarianism’s core. The spate of religious freedom bills are an important reminder that this is a political philosophy that favours the rights of bullies over their victims. It’s about the right to shoot over the right not to be shot and the right to be an utter bastard over the right to not have to suffer utter bastards.

Right-leaning LGBT people drawn to libertarianism for its supposed social liberalness, especially those voting in next year’s US presidential election, need to take a much closer looks at whose interests Republican senators like Rand Paul represent. Paul, a reasonably hardcore libertarian and presidential hopeful, is no proponent of gay rights. In a 2013 TV interview, when asked about his position on gay rights, Paul said, “I don’t really believe in rights based on your behaviour”. Except, of course, when it comes to the behaviour of gun owners. Or the behaviour of racists and homophobes. “Republican in not giving a fuck about gay rights shocker” isn’t going to appear on any front pages soon, but it’s essential that libertarianism isn’t seen as the cuddly (as cuddly as anything inspired by Ayn Rand can be…) sort of conservatism.

Bryan Fischer, head of the fundamentalist Christian American Family Association, recently tweeted that something called Big Gay is trying to restrict religious freedoms. Big Gay. Like Big Oil, or Big Pharma. I hope I’m not alone in finding this new term for the “gay agenda” more precious than a hedgehog in a tutu. And I’d personally like to thank Fischer for giving me the opportunity to tell people, “I work for Big Gay.” It sounds so much better than, “I lie in bed writing down words, eating Mini Cheddars and trying to masturbate as little as humanly possible.”

The fact is though that Big Gay exists. And thank fuck for that. Freedom to discriminate is a funny sort of freedom. I’d like to say it’s the kind that could only exist in a country where you can buy ammunition from supermarkets, but we have a fair bit of it in the UK too, as proven by the Belfast gay cake debacle. Meanwhile, LGBT activist group All Out have nearly reached their goal of 300,000 signatures for a petition aimed at blocking the DUP’s proposed anti-gay amendment. Nice work, Big Gay.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.