Lessons Tories must learn from gay rights' struggle

LGBT+ Conservatives Council Member Sue Pascoe
LGBT+ Conservatives Council Member Sue Pascoe

To make amends for past mistakes over gay rights, the Tories must support transgender rights for the future, according to Young Conservative Harry Bradshaw

I took a day trip to the Conservative Party Conference recently, and while waiting for Theresa May to arrive for her keynote speech, transgender activist Sue Pascoe took the floor of the main stage.

Hearing about her life, from homelessness and divorce due to the consequences of gender dysphoria, to employment and advisory roles within the party and for Channel 4, was inspiring. To know that she was comfortable in the party awakened me to the societal change that the Tories could make.

Being a Conservative occasionally sparks accusations of bigotry. Such claims originate from people who align modern-day Tories with the attitudes of those who ran the blue brand before us; Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech of 1968 stands out as perhaps the deepest stain of the past 50 years.

Even today, certain Tory figures with a taste for controversy will liken some minority to a particularly distasteful, discriminative metaphor, and thereby contribute to this ‘nasty party’ image. This reputation is one that few, but still too many, people in this country perceive us to have.

Yet these vexatious troublemakers seem to forget that the Conservative Party was built on the principles of pragmatism and individual freedoms. This means adapting one’s values to modern times. It means allowing people the liberty to live life in the way that makes them happiest, so long as this doesn’t infringe on others’ right to freedom.

In the case of gay rights, the Conservatives have failed to carry the torch in previous decades. More than 100 Conservatives voted against legislation to bring the homosexual age of consent down from 18 to 16 in 1998.

Theresa May rejected a 2004 bill giving gay couples the right to adopt, while Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Section 28’ banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools. David Cameron apologised for this proposition in 2009.

This deformed misunderstanding of what it means to be gay was outdated even at the time. As the 21st century came into being, the legal oppression of homosexuals was being lifted, attitudes were normalising, and the Conservatives were too late to notice this societal change.

Now, the Conservatives are using their power to right their wrongs. Mrs May has evolved from past votes against gay rights by publicly apologising and voting for same-sex marriage. Now, the Tory government has brought in the Turing Law to pardon all those convicted of homosexual acts before its decriminalisation in 1968.

Now, our focus must turn to fully backing transgender people in the fight to have their identity recognised in society. Just like being gay, gender dysphoria (GD), a condition defined as one’s psychological identity being unlike their biological identity, is not a choice. It seems obvious to say this. No one wants to experience the discrimination transgender people suffer, but there are many on the far-right who see this psychological state to be fixable through acclimatising, or simply by choosing otherwise.

This attitude makes it that much harder for transgender people to come out. To state that GD is voluntary suggests there are reasons why a person separates themselves from their biological gender. Transphobes then sense a divine duty to present these ‘reasons’ on behalf of the transgender community; genetic inferiority to those who have a biological-psychological match, a means of attention-seeking, and for immoral, sexual reasons.

These self-righteous lies are instigating a plethora of attacks against those with GD. Forty one per cent of the estimated 200,000-500,000 transgender population have experienced hate crimes in the past 12 months based on their identity according to the Government Equalities Office. This crisis’ enormity will continue to grow until there is a period of change in public opinion towards the marginalised group. The Conservatives need to prove their modernisation is genuine and protect transgender rights at the forefront of their agenda.

It is important to recognise the quantity of the problem, although horrendous, is not what should motivate the Tories. Such a campaign should be inspired by long-held principles; equality of opportunity above all others. If transgender people are to be truly equal, they must receive positive discrimination to make up for the disadvantage of past public discrimination and intolerance.

Then, the Conservative Party will achieve the just meritocracy they rightly crave. Under two female Conservative premierships, gender has become the trait of equals rather than the determiner of power. I stand by them for economic freedoms, for their pragmatic approach and for the current leader; war-torn but still fighting.

My party has done wrong in the past, but I believe that it is making amends. Mass government campaigning by my party for the social recognition of transgender people as equals would be both successful and morally worthwhile.

* Harry Bradshaw is 17 and lives in Catforth. He is a student at Runshaw College with a keen interest in politics. He blogs at: www.teentakesonpolitics.co.uk