It is, right now, quite a fraught time to be LGBT in the UK. The visceral, incredibly polarising and toxic trans rights debate is being used as a battleground in the culture war in a way that is making the broader LGBT community feel vulnerable. Stonewall is being vilified, older gay activists are seeing rhetoric from the 1980s reused in new contexts. The mood is febrile enough that the UK government has decided to cancel an international LGBT rights conference it was organising, after losing all support from British LGBT groups and failing to attract commercial sponsors. The cancellation of the event, in turn, sparks fresh fears that LGBT rights are going to be thrown under the bus, despite widespread support for these rights among the British public.
This is, in other words, an absolutely terrible time for casual conflation of LGBT rights with unrelated issues — and yet this is exactly what the Conservative MP Crispin Blunt did yesterday. Blunt decided to issue a statement defending his friend Imran Ahmad Khan, the Tory MP for Wakefield, who had just been convicted of the sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy in 2008. The boy and his family had reported the attack at the time, though had not wished to press charges. In 2019, when Khan’s candidacy as an MP was announced, the victim tried to warn the Conservative Party about his unsuitability, and went to police for the second time after receiving a hopeless response from the party. The trial heard corroborating evidence from two other men who said they had been assaulted by Khan, and Khan was ultimately found guilty by the jury.
Yet Blunt’s response was to call the conviction “an international scandal, with dreadful wider implications for millions of LGBT+ Muslims around the world”, saying the case “relied on lazy tropes about LGBT+ people that we might have thought we had put behind us decades ago”. Blunt, shamefully, tried to elide the sexual crimes of his friend with homophobia — despite being a supposed LGBT advocate and chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on LGBT rights.
Today, inevitably, Blunt has published an apology and retraction of his statement, and has stepped down from the APPG. But this is not enough. Blunt seemed to throw LGBT people under the bus at a time of particular vulnerability and shamed victims of sexual violence.
What makes Blunt’s actions worse is that he undermined one of the rare cases where a sexual predator is actually prosecuted and convicted. Many sexual crimes go unreported. Of those that are, many never lead to a charge, many charges are not prosecuted and far too many prosecutions fail to secure a conviction. We do not have a crisis of over-prosecuting sexual crime — we have the opposite. Blunt claimed he had sat through part of the trial, to justify his smears. Appallingly, for a former justice minister, he neglected to reveal that he only sat through his friend’s defence, skipping the prosecution entirely and rendering his testimony worse than useless.
Online outrage is often confected, manufactured for numbers, for clout or for attention. Yet the events of yesterday are one of the rare exceptions: LGBT people across the country are genuinely disgusted by Blunt’s statement. If he is still capable of feeling it, he should be ashamed, and should reflect on the consequences of his appalling failure of judgement and of character. He owes the world a real apology.