There has for a long time been this perception that homophobia just isn’t as big a deal as racism or religious hatred. In fact, this position is reinforced by the inequality in legislation protecting against such behaviour with racially and religiously aggravated offences attracting higher sentences.
There is no such legal aggravation for offences motivated by homophobia or transphobia.
This perception is clearly wrong. Homophobic and transphobic abuse affects a lot of people and in ways just as damaging as racism. We just need to look at the many suicides and the thankfully fewer number of murders.
At a time when we are battling to educate school children (and many adults) that being gay isn’t a negative – the “it’s so gay” syndrome – and we are seeing an increase in homophobic abuse in sports, it is incumbent on all of us, especially politicians, to demonstrate that homophobia, or any other type of discrimination or hatred, will not be tolerated in our society.
Does Ken Livingstone’s recent comment that the Conservative Party is “riddled” with gays make him homophobic? Probably not. But this sort of language simply encourages this perception that being gay is bad. His association with people who publicly encourage homophobia leaves a large question mark over his commitment to equality and non-discrimination, as well as his judgement.
A month or so ago, Diane Abbott made a similar ridiculous comment about white people wanting to “divide and rule”. Again this doesn’t make her racist but it just helps to set back the important advancements in equality and non-discrimination.
At the time Labour leader, Ed Milliband, rolled out a very public chastisement on Abbott. But his silence on a rant by Labour’s mayoral candidate just reinforces the thought that homophobic comments are more acceptable and less damaging than racist comments.
Whether people are out is a private matter. But it us true that this decision is partly influenced by the attitude of and treatment towards LGB people by the organisation. But organisations change.
We just need to look at MI5′s entry in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index top 100. An organisation which only 20 years ago banned gay people from joining as they were a security risk.
The Conservative Party has also changed. We now enjoy the highest number of openly gay MPs of any party. With our coalition partners, we continue to advance LGBT equality and non-discrimination, including a campaign to tackle homophobia and transphobia in sport.
Could the Conservative Party progress further? Of course. As with any organisation there is room to improve.
But if we are to tackle homophobic and transphobic abuse we must do so together. Each of us setting an example as leaders in society.
And that includes Ken and Ed.