Comments made yesterday by Home Secretary Suella Braverman in her speech to centre-right US-based think tank The American Enterprise Institute have been variously described on social media platform X, as “remarkable”, “shocking”, and a “betrayal”.
Arguably, this is not the case. Suggesting that “being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin is [not] sufficient to qualify for protection” is just one more jab with which to stoke the right-wing culture wars that the Conservative Party, and Braverman in particular, seem intent on pursuing.
To suggest that the home secretary’s comments are a betrayal of LGBTQIA+ people infers that there was a level of trust there to begin with. Sadly, this is not the case. History does not look kindly on the Conservatives when it comes to LGBTQIA+ rights.
Section 28 and incremental regression
Let us not forget that it was under the premiership of Margaret Thatcher in 1988 that Section 28 was brought into effect. This legislation banned the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities and came off the back of an election campaign the previous year characterised by homophobic advertising from the Conservatives, a half-veiled attempt to equate homosexuality with paedophilia.
Section 28 was only repealed in England in 2003, and its effects are insidious to this day. Generations of queer children grew up without the inclusive education that they deserved, feeling ashamed of who they are. The Conservative Party are complicit in that shame. Indeed, many of the Conservative MPs who voted against the repeal of Section 28 in 2003 are still MPs today.
Let us not be deceived by Conservative half-truths either. They often claim the introduction of same-sex marriage a decade ago, during David Cameron’s tenure as prime minister, as proof of the party championing LGBTQIA+ rights. Much of the work on this matter, however, was spearheaded by Liberal Democrat parliamentary undersecretary for equalities, Lynne Featherstone. When the vote was held in the House of Commons, the majority of unwhipped Conservative MPs voted against the government. Many of these MPs remain in parliament today. The crowning achievement of the Conservatives on LGBTQIA+ rights isn’t even theirs to take.
It’s obvious, then, that the Conservatives’ issues with homophobia have by no means been confined to the 20th century. In 2019, Boris Johnson was elected leader of the Conservative Party with almost twice as many votes as his rival, current chancellor Jeremy Hunt. This was a man who in 1998 saw fit to write a column in a national newspaper in which he described gay men as “tank-topped bum boys”. This is but one of several homophobic comments made by the former prime minister which he has refused to apologise for, instead professing that they had been “wrenched out of context”.
Even more recently, during the 2022 Conservative leadership election, all three main candidates – Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, and Penny Mordaunt – were all too happy to throw trans people under the bus to further their own political ambitions. Just three months ago, videos emerged of now-PM Sunak making a joke that mocked transgender people. Further, the government, under the direction of the minister for women and equalities, Kemi Badenoch, continues to drag its feet on its commitment to banning the abhorrent practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy.’
The comments made by Braverman are by no means remarkable or shocking. They are symptomatic of the culture of homophobia that is clearly present within some elements of the Conservative Party, the result of bigoted ideology that has been allowed to fester unchallenged for decades. The expectedness of the home secretary’s comments, however, makes them no less deplorable.
Diversity defines the United Kingdom
The UK is a country that is proud of its diversity. For centuries, life in this nation has been enriched by the wealth of experience and culture that generations of migrants have brought with them. Despite Braverman’s claims, multiculturalism has been a great success for the UK, bringing untold benefits. We are stronger as a nation for the skills and contributions made by migrants.
The home secretary may question the fitness of the United Nations Refugee Convention for the modern day, but we know that women and LGBTIQA+ individuals around the world face persecution on the basis of who they are. Homosexuality is criminalised in 66 countries, and in a number of these, the death penalty is enforced. Refugees absolutely deserve the right to asylum.
Far from reneging on our international commitments to refugees and migrants, as we face global crises on multiple fronts, now is the time to be ramping up our support. We need a government that is committed to fulfilling our obligations and providing proper, adequate support for asylum seekers.
We hear a lot of empty, hateful rhetoric from this government about ‘stopping the boats,’ but if they were truly serious about this goal, they would deal with it in the most effective way – opening up more safe and legal routes. It is a moral and reputational stain on this country that so many people are denied access to such routes.
Appealing to the lowest common moral denominator
If the prime minister had even an ounce of moral integrity, he would prove it by sacking Braverman immediately. Any sensible, compassionate person can see that her position is untenable. Sadly, it seems that Sunak may be of a similar mindset.
Thirteen years of Conservative governance have failed, descending into a cesspit of hatred and bigotry in some vague attempt to appeal to a support base that barely exists and cling to power. We need a general election now.