Sex, votes and forgiveness
When Harvey Milk led San Franciscan gay men and women to a historic election victory in 1977 he became the first openly homosexual politician to be elected in the world. It was a victory that was to end in tragedy – just one year later he was gunned down in his office – but which also opened doors for the gay community and marked our first overt foray into electoral politics.
Times, and attitudes, have moved on since the 70s. It’s 2010 and the British Government’s most high profile, and many say most powerful, player is gay. The main opposition party has several openly gay Parliamentary members and all three parties support the right of homosexual couples to have their relationships legally recognized by the state.
But controversy still rages over the politics of homosexuality. Nick Clegg has proposed a raft of gay-friendly policies (very welcome) but has also used an interview to question the sincerity of David Cameron’s commitment to the gay community (very unwelcome) . Of course it’s gratifying that gay men and women are now being seduced by politicians rather than denounced but Clegg’s outburst misses the point when it comes to gay issues. It is not fair to say, as Clegg does, that because a politician has voted against some gay-rights issues in the past they are being cynical if they endorse them now. Clegg would do well to learn the lesson that Milk espoused throughout his short-lived political career – that views on homosexuality can be changed and that, as people meet more gay men and women and realize how disappointingly normal they are, their previous prejudices soften. It was that knowledge that led Milk to call on gay men and women to come out, to tell people what and who they were, so that society could come to terms with homosexuality rather than fearing it as an abstract bogeyman.
So yes, David Cameron voted against the repeal of Section 28 and yes, it was an awfully stupid and insensitive thing to have done. But he has apologised, has moved on and had steered his party in a genuinely progressive direction when it comes to gay people. I understand that Nick Clegg thinks he can make political capital from that mistake but, in attempting to do so, he risks undermining the cause of gay rights. People must be allowed to move on from old prejudices and outdated attitudes and, when they do, they must be congratulated rather than lambasted. If we do not welcome those who convert to tolerance, and instead obsess over past mistakes, we risk making it more difficult to do the right thing, to step up to the mark and to reject bigotry. Trying to drum up pink votes by questioning the sincerity of Cameron does a disservice to the cause of acceptance.