Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
17 May 2016

David Cameron needs to understand that real LGBT equality costs money

Saying “homophobia is bad” and pretending to care about LGBT progress is exceptionally easy, and Tories are getting better and better at it.

By Eleanor Margolis

It’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and – apparently – David Cameron got upset about something. In human rights group ILGA-Europe’s “Rainbow” ranking of European nations’ LGBT friendly credentials, Britain has fallen from first place to third, now trailing behind Malta and Belgium. It’s fitting, perhaps, to colour a study of LGBT wellbeing in Europe with all the agony and ecstasy of the Eurovision voting system. Britain is winning (hard to imagine, but allow me this) when, all of a sudden, there’s a crucial “Le Malte, douze points”. Game over.

In light of Britain coming in third in the Rainbow rankings, and it being IDAHOT and all, Cameron has pledged to push for worldwide LGBT equality. Which is predictable – since saying “homophobia is bad” costs exactly nothing. Not a single Panama-entombed pound. And when it comes to standing up for LGBT people, the Tories have always been cheapskates. Cameron has specialised in grand, symbolic gestures like same-sex marriage, which have stimulated just enough rainbow flag waving to draw attention away from devastating cuts to LGBT services.

Likewise, Cameron pushed for Alan Turing, and others historically persecuted for being gay, to be posthumously pardoned. An important gesture, but one that would have seemed a little more sincere if touted by someone with the remotest interest in protecting actual living gays. The truth is, real LGBT equality costs money. And while inexpensive, symbolic victories invite queers of all denominations to participate in an establishment from which they’ve been excluded since ever, they do as little as humanly possible to tackle issues that disproportionately affect LGBT people, like homelessness and poor mental health. Pretending to care about LGBT progress is exceptionally easy, and Tories are getting better and better at it.

Behind all the fanfare of royal pardonings and gay weddings, austerity is gnawing away at LGBT institutions, and queer venues are being “redeveloped” into glass boxes for the chronically besuited. Meanwhile, funding crises for housing services like Stonewall Housing mean that more and more LGBT people are going homeless; the NHS is continuing to drag its feet over whether to make HIV preventative drugs available to the public, and the UK’s only LGBT domestic violence charity is facing closure. But I’m sure the PM can think of seventeen shiny new ways of saying, “homophobia is bad”, to distract from all this horridness. In the real world, these rhetorical public denouncements of all things anti-gay are about as effective as scrawling “diabetes is bad” in writing icing, on a cake.

Lest we forget, Cameron’s biggest victory for gay rights – same-sex marriage – was achieved, only to the massive disgruntlement of most Conservative MPs. If it weren’t for the nearly full support of Labour and the Lib Dems (remember those guys?) the bill wouldn’t have passed in the first place. In which case, David “friend o’gays” Cameron wouldn’t even have a symbolic rainbow credential to wave about at every opportunity.  It’s basically become a big, sparkly “get out of jail free” card for when the PM wants to avoid an actual dialogue on big, scary LGBT issues, while still appearing down with the very gays his government is shafting.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Anyone can condemn homophobia, but creating a better world for LGBT people is going to take money that the Tories simply are not prepared to spend. 

Content from our partners
“I learn something new on every trip"
How data can help revive our high streets in the age of online shopping
Why digital inclusion is a vital piece of levelling up