Where does the Future of the LGBT Community in the Conservative Party lie?
It’s safe to say that the 2023 Conservative Party conference has certainly been eventful. Among many developments, perhaps the most striking was Rishi Sunak’s remarks weighing in on the trans rights debate which has increasingly dominated political discussion. In the most unequivocal disavowal of LGBT rights of a Conservative Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher, Sunak asserted it is “common sense” that a “man is a man and a woman is a woman”, and that Britons are being “bullied” into believing that “people can be any sex they want to be”. Clearly, the conference has marked a significant shift to the social right for the party— a development watched with trepidation by Conservatives who belong to the LGBT+ community, who have found themselves with a choice between party loyalty and commitment to their identity.
It should of course be mentioned that many LGBT+ individuals, both within the party and outside, have gladly accepted this policy, throwing support towards organisations such as the LGB Alliance, which deliberately excludes the trans community in its advocacy. Conversely however, many LGBT+ Conservatives object to the change in rhetoric, and are facing significant self-reflection. Among them is openly gay Tory member Andrew Boff, who was escorted out of the conference by security guards during Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s speech for heckling, in a calm tone of voice: “There’s no such thing as gender ideology”. Later on X, he commented that he believed the Home Secretary’s comments were “bullying trans people and the LGBT community”. Boff won support from other queer Tories, including openly gay Conservative MP Elliot Colburn, who urged the Prime Minister to stop “demonising” trans people if they hoped to win the forthcoming general election. He also asserted that the average voter is more concerned about affording heating their home during a cost of living crisis, rather than whether trans children should be able to play sports.
Evidently, the conference heralds a tricky future within the party for many LGBT+ Conservatives. On one hand, it’s difficult to sympathise with those who have chosen to align themselves with a party that has not always been entirely sensitive to LGBT+ rights— indeed, it is not a choice to be born gay, but joining the Conservative Party very much is one. Undoubtedly, many LGBT+ Conservatives have opted for political ambition and the pursuit of influence, which is more accessible to them in the Tory Party than in any other more gay-friendly parties— Labour, for instance, haven’t won an election in 18 years.
However, this dichotomy of being queer in a largely unsupportive political organisation has been easier to ignore in the past than in the current ‘gender-critical’ political climate. Indeed, one can argue the Party has always been somewhat liberal on social issues. In August of this year, the LGBT+ Conservatives Group hosted a drinks reception celebrating ten years since Prime Minister David Cameron’s Tory government legalised same-sex marriage— a reminder of the party’s more tolerant past.
But the problem for this minority seems increasingly worrisome, as many queer conservatives find themselves ostracised by other members of the LGBT+ community. For instance, during the conference, a group of LGBT+ Conservatives were thrown out of The New Union bar in Manchester’s Canal Street gay village— a potential wake-up call that their conflict of interest is becoming increasingly untenable. Similarly, when the official LGBT+ Conservatives X account tweeted a photo of drag queen Kate Butch comparing their appearance to Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, they replied calling the group “ladder-pulling, community-disgracing bunch of ghouls”.
Therefore, figures like Boff and Colburn find themselves stuck in a party veering further to the right, and meeting the demands of a progressively antagonistic public discourse led by ‘gender-critical’ figures such as Laurence Fox and JK Rowling. Polls show that the Conservatives will likely be trounced in the next general election, which could be perceived as a repudiation of the Party’s adoption of gender ideology. However, it is difficult to predict how much further the rhetoric from Conservative politicians will go, which begs the question for this afflicted minority— when’s the right time to get off?