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Where do Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems stand on LGBTQ rights?

Can you be a defender of LGBTQ rights and still appear on Iranian state TV? 

By Eleanor Margolis

“It Gets Better,” the LGBTQ community is quite regularly told. But while Europe and the US both descend into one giant racist tweet, and even the leader of the Lib Dems takes actual time to confirm whether he believes gay sex is a sin, how much better is it likely to get?

With the June election looming, now may be a good time to take a look at our party leaders and where they really stand on LGBTQ rights.

The Conservatives
Leader: Theresa May

Initially, Theresa May was to the social right of both George Osborne and Boris Johnson – voting against same-sex couples’ right to adopt in 2002 and parity in the age of consent in 2000. But the PM has since “evolved” on a couple of issues. Most notably, she was one of the 127 out of 268 “I’m down with the gays, me” Tory MPs who voted in favour of same-sex marriage in 2013. Oh, and she apologised for the adoption and age of consent votes. “I have changed my view,” she said on Question Time in 2010, explaining that were those votes to happen now, she would be in favour of queers having some fairly basic rights. Which is cute.

Then again, May was absent from the 2003 vote on whether the notorious Section 28 (prohibiting the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools) should be repealed. Oh, and for the vote for the Gender Recognition Bill which – pre-civil partnerships – sought to allow a marriage to remain valid after one half undergoes gender reassignment. Her turning point seems to have come in 2004, when she voted in favour of civil partnerships for same-sex couples. Maybe she was too engrossed in her Will & Grace box set to turn up to the vote on the Equality Act (preventing sexuality-based discrimination in services, schools, etc.) in 2006.

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May oversaw the “pardoning” by the government of gay men convicted, before homosexuality was decriminalised, of gross indecency. However, the “Alan Turing Law”, which came into effect early this year, has been widely criticised for its assumption that gay people need to be pardoned (something usually reserved for people who have done something wrong) rather than apologised to profusely, again and again. Like the introduction of same-sex marriage under the Coalition government in 2013, the Turing Law is seen by many queer people as Tory pinkwashing. Which is to say, it’s essentially a symbolic gesture of gay-friendliness which does nothing to address the more serious issues of, say, homelessness or cuts to mental health services, which both disproportionately affect LGBTQ people.

Leader: Jeremy Corbyn

Vote-wise, Corbyn’s pro-LGBTQ credentials are hard to fault. Reduction in the age of consent for gay sex? Tick. Adoption for same sex couples? Tick. Gender Recognition? Tick. Civil partnerships? Tick. Like May, Corbyn was absent from the vote to repeal Section 28 but, seeing as the latter campaigned against the homophobic piece of legislation in the 80s, it seems unlikely that he would have voted against the repeal.

However, Corbyn has been accused of hypocrisy when it comes to LGBTQ issues because of his involvement with Iranian state news network, Press TV. It’s difficult, perhaps, to imagine that someone who accepted a £20,000 payment to appear on a TV channel which promotes the death penalty for gay people is a truly committed ally o’queers. Corbyn told Pink News that he reckoned he could use access to Press TV to create a dialogue about human rights issues. The complete archive of Corbyn’s appearances on Press TV aren’t publicly available, so whether he managed to slip in some references to how, maybe, executing gays isn’t cool while extremely busy denouncing the state of Israel, well… I guess we’ll never know.

Iran aside, Corbyn got into trouble in February this year for suggesting, in an otherwise pretty solid speech at the launch of LGBT History Month, that people “choose” to be gay or lesbian. However, to put this, uh, choice of wording down to anything other than an unfortunate slip-up would be to suggest that the Labour leader is an actual homophobe. Which, to be fair, he probably isn’t.

Lib Dems
Leader: Tim Farron

Back to the man of the hour. After five days of refusing to clarify his position to the BBC and Channel 4 News, Farron kindly came to the conclusion (publicly at least) that gay sex isn’t an affront to his Christian values. Some have argued that, seeing as Farron voted in favour of same-sex marriage and his religious views clearly don’t inform his political ones, that – if he is a (uh) closeted homophobe – who cares?

Farron voted against the Equality Act in 2007 but, yes, did vote yes to same-sex marriage, enabling courts to deal with the divorce of same-sex couples, and making gay marriage available to members of the armed forces outside of the UK. So, as far as homophobic religious zealotry goes, Farron’s is about as bold as his whole Rich Tea biscuit vibe would suggest. He’s no Mike Pence, that’s for sure.