4 Oct 2013 at 10:04
On Tuesday night I gave the after dinner speech at the Tory Pride Dinner in Manchester. Several people who weren’t there have apparently been told about it and asked if I would put it on the blog, so here goes. I have removed all the jokes and smut, though, which formed about 90% of the speech!
Sexuality is something very personal. It is something that most people don’t have to speak publicly about and declare their sexuality to the world. Hopefully the day will soon dawn when it is exactly the same for politicians.
It would be nice to think that many a shoulder will be shrugged when a politician declares himself or herself to be gay. But even in these days of so-called sexual liberation, politicians’ sexualities are still phenomena which set the media and political worlds a-tittering and a twittering.
Ten years ago this week I was selected as a Conservative Parliamentary candidate having told the selection committee I was gay beforehand. I got 66% of the votes. Good on them, I thought. A few days later I was attending the conference in Blackpool – yes, the Quiet Man conference – when a young guy walked up to me and said, can I shake your hand, I want to thank you. What for, I asked? He looked me in the eye and said “Because you’ve made it easier for the rest of us.” Well, if that’s what I go down in history for, rather than the Brighton incident, I shall be very happy.
The truth is, being gay in the Conservative Party is something that nowadays hardly raises an eyebrow. Even the boneheads – and Mrs Boneheads – on the hard right seem to accept that we shouldn’t actually be imprisoned now, which is progress of sorts.
Ten years ago they would also have stopped us from having civil partnerships. Now they still want to stop us getting married, but I’d like to think that not a single one of them would reverse the civil partnership legislation. Well, I can think of a couple who might, but again, progress of sorts.
I truly don’t understand why anyone would be against gay marriage. If the institution is as good as everyone says, why wouldn’t its advocates want two people who love each other to benefit from it. It’s very simply, if you’re against gay marriage, don’t marry a homosexual!
On my LBC show I had a caller recently who told me she detested the ‘gay act’ and it was terrible that people should choose this lifestyle. She clearly hadn’t got a clue, poor love, who she was talking to. So in my usual loving, caring way I gently pointed out to take it from one who knows, that being gay wasn’t a choice. You were born like it. She still didn’t click. “I knew I was gay at the age of 7”, I then said. There followed an awkward two second silence, which on the radio sounds like two minutes. Whether I provoked her to examine her own prejudices I have no idea.
And then on Eurovision night it all started again. This time on Twitter. A fellow West Ham fan called Brian – someone who clearly believed it’s not possible to be gay and shout “Come on You Irons” every fortnight – told me that “nature, history and religion are against you. It is nurture and environment and perverse thinking.” Thanks for that. He continued: “Our minds are malleable and can be turned”. Speak for yourself, mate. And finally came this little gem: “We are all born heterosexual and get influenced to be gay in our twisted minds.” When I asked him if, as a straight man, he could be turned, strangely, I didn’t get an answer.
You may think it bizarre, but I don’t regard people like my LBC caller and Brian as homophobic. I just think they’re scared of something they have a fear of. Because they think that we’ve all chosen to become gay, they think we could persuade their kids to turn gay too. You might think it’s laughable, and it is, but it’s up to us to show that being gay is nothing for them to fear. As the brilliant E4 sitcom says – it’s the ‘New Normal’.
Last December I spoke to David Cameron’s patrons club. I don’t really do much speaking to Tory associations nowadays because of my LBC job, but you can’t really say no to the PM, can you. The speech went reasonably well, but then came questions. Mr Dale, what do you think of women bishops? I replied that if you have women vicars surely you have to have women bishops. That was when the heckling started. Mr Dale, what do you think of gay marriage, came the next question. I started my answer. I must protest said another, and so it went on. I’ve never been heckled at a Tory meeting before. And it went on for an hour. I felt like being on a battlefield repelling attack after attack. Were these people really representative of the modern day Conservative Party?
By the end of the evening I had completely lost my voice, but I’m glad it happened in a way, because as the evening went on, those in the room who supported my position became more voluble and felt able to speak up themselves.
We should be proud of that fact that a Conservative Prime Minister showed real leadership on this issue, just as Tony Blair did back in 2004 on civil partnerships. I don’t mind admitting I was disappointed that a majority of Tory MPs failed to back the bill, but frankly some of them had very good reason, because if we are honest, it was a dog’s breakfast of a bill in terms of how it was drafted. It was supposed to be about equal marriage but it actually gives gay couple advantages, including the fact that gay couples cannot cite adultery as a reason to divorce, although some of us might think, what’s not to like about that! Apparently parliamentary draughtsmen couldn’t define consummation in gay relationships and therefore couldn’t define adultery. Perhaps they should have consulted most of the people here tonight. We could even have shown them! But all that is to quibble.
It was a great thing to do and we should be grateful for the leadership of not only the Prime Minister, but Nick Herbert and Lynne Featherstone who played crucial roles in driving this through.
So, you’ve got your gay adoption, you’ve got your equal age of consent, you’ve got your gay marriage. Surely that’s it, surely there isn’t anything else for the gays to lobby for – that’s what you hear a lot nowadays. Well, sorry. But until gay bashing ceases, until bullying of gay school children is eradicated, until prejudice of any form against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people disappears there is a lot of work still to do.