by Adam Lake
When we asked Boris if he’d be happy to support the Out & Proud campaign we had no idea how much interest his video message would provoke. Within hours he had brought in 60k views (it’s now well over double that) and, as is the reality of the news these days, the social media storm brought with it a decent chunk of press coverage too. ITV even decided to do a piece to about the furore. As the whole point of Out & Proud is make as much noise as we can against the narrative that our LGBT rights derive from EU membership, we thought it was a good day’s work.
Then something funny happened. Some people got really angry. Matthew Parris started it in The Times on Saturday, then Nick Cohen, and then a few others. Journalists, big important ones with regular columns and occasional guest spot on Question Time, were going hell for leather to annihilate BoJo. It’s been personal, it’s been nasty, and rather curiously, despite his Out & Proud video being the catalyst, it has had seemingly little to do with LGBT rights. The cocktail of equal rights and Euroscepticism seems to be raising eyebrows in some quarters.
We’ve only just go the point, and only just, where we can deal with the notion that LGBT rights can come from both Conservative and Labour led governments. Section 28 will never be forgotten, nor should it, but by and large it has been forgiven by an electorate that appreciates you are now more likely to find an openly gay Tory than one that espouses homophobia. The days where a Tory gets chided for being a hypocrite simply for being both pink and blue are over, or so we thought. So what’s the beef with Boris?
I sometimes wonder if Out & Proud is like an inversion of “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners”, made famous recently in the excellent film Pride. An assortment of sexual outcasts come together to show solidarity with a small mining community in Wales that hasn't quite got its head around the difference between a ‘lesbian’ and a ‘vegetarian’. (Not terribly different from our recent chance meeting with some of the folk from Farmers for Britain, but that’s another story.) The point is that Out & Proud was always going to be an interesting group because for many of those who fought so hard for LGBT rights for so many years it’s tough to see an LGBT group with a significant following sharing a platform with such unusual bedfellows. But this is why it is so important that we have Out & Proud.
Leaving the EU is a fight that can be won by looking pragmatically at the impact that membership has on the economy, security and sovereignty. Anyone that tries to make it sound more complex is up to something, it really does come down to just those three things. This isn't about the left and the right, about ‘traditional’ values or flag waving nationalism – it’s just about the economy, security and sovereignty. The reason why we have our own little separate campaign group is not to try and make this vote all about LGBT rights, thought there are important arguments to be had, but because we can do more to help remind all people that you don’t have to be a stereotypical Eurosceptic to make the sober judgement that our economy, security and sovereignty are better off out of the constraints of the EU.
But as part of the assessment of those three things we need to be honest about the role that the EU has in protecting the specific, related, issues that just affect LGBT people. The reality is that there is not one protection where you could not reasonably argue that we would have brought it in ourselves if we were outside of the EU. Conversely there are dozens of protections, freedoms and rights that we enjoy that our brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe are unlikely to see for a generation. Our membership hasn’t given us those rights, and the UK leaving will not endanger the possibility of those rights being brought into those countries. Our presence is immaterial; LGBT rights come about when an electorate demands them from their own governments. And as we have seen in Hungry when the EU tries to push things through it provokes a reaction that rather tragically mixes nationalism with homophobia with LGBT people losing out. So let’s get real about how these things work.
Having Boris in bed with the gays, as it were, scares the hell out the remain campaign because it knows that the first step in winning this thing is convincing Joe Public that the leave camp isn't just a gaggle of Bill Cash and Nigel Farage thinkalikes. The haters aren't angry that Boris, the man who rebelled against his party on Section 28 and banned ‘gay cure’ adverts on London busses, supports an LGBT Brexit campaign group, they’re angry that a significant proportion of the LGBT community might support his arguments as to why we should leave.
The recent grumpiness is a sign of real progress for the leave campaign, because it has been all too easy in past years to sweepingly disregard it as full of old school right wingers, and that becomes considerably harder to do when people who don’t fit that stereotype start nailing their rainbow colours to the mast. You don’t have to be LGBT, or Boris Johnson, to be Out & Proud.
Adam Lake is the Director of Out & Proud.
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