When will LGBT+ Conservatives get off the fence on the DUP deal?

The group has not taken a stance on the government's arrangement


The prime minister’s grubby deal with the DUP is difficult for LGBTQ people across the United Kingdom.

This is a government that has endlessly trumpeted its commitment to LGBTQ rights, but is now willing to shower money on an openly homophobic party in order to cling to power. Indeed, while the Tories love to claim credit for introducing same-sex marriage, it is because of their friends the DUP that marriage is not accessible to LGBTQ+ people across the UK.

However, upsetting as it may be for LGBTQ people on the left that rampant homophobes have become Britain’s kingmakers, it must be most galling for LGBTQ Conservatives, who have to grit their teeth as Theresa May announces that the two parties ‘share many values’.

And yet, the LGBT+ Conservatives group has refused to make any clear statement on the deal. Indeed, their only contribution to the discussion in the last day has been to retweet former MP Ben Howlett’s welcoming of the deal.

We know that they recognise the awful views of the DUP. Earlier in the month, the group’s chair Matthew Green wrote for Huffington Post:

“The DUP and some of its MLAs hold some pretty appalling views on LGBT rights. The party’s entrenched opposition to equal marriage has prevented the LGBT population in Northern Ireland from benefitting for the same rights as LGBT people in the rest of the United Kingdom and this is unacceptable.”

For this reason, he says it is right that ‘as a modern, pro-equality party, that the Conservatives are not even considering entering into a coalition with the DUP.’ However, in a triumph of hair-splitting, Green also says he ‘can understand why Theresa May is considering seeking loose co-operation’ with the DUP in the run up to the Brexit negotiations.

This distinction is surely meaningless to the vast majority of LGBTQ people in the UK, who recognise that either a coalition deal or a confidence and supply arrangement is an endorsement of the DUP’s programme, and of the party’s values. Moreover, it enhances the party’s leverage and ability to advance its agenda both in Belfast and London.

Already famous for its trenchant opposition to progress, the DUP’s new position at the fulcrum of national government will not make it more likely to compromise either on forming a power-sharing executive at Stormont, or recognising the will of the Northern Irish people to legalise equal marriage for LGBTQ people.

Green went on to argue that:

“For anyone to suggest that the Conservative Party would begin to erode its strong support for LGBT rights is ridiculous verging on the contemptible. I cannot imagine a situation in which the DUP will have any influence on the Conservative Party or the Government’s policies on equality.”

This entirely misses the point. While the Tories are unlikely to reverse already-passed legislation, they are less likely to advance pro-gay policy measures in the course of this parliament, since it would damage their relationship with the DUP. Moreover, their dependence on the DUP in Westminster prevents the government from applying pressure on the party in Northern Ireland, or encouraging the extension of marriage rights across the UK.

This is a kick in the teeth to LGBTQ people in Northern Ireland, but it’s also a blow to LGBTQ Conservatives across the UK, who now have clear evidence that their party’s commitment to LGBTQ rights is no more than skin-deep.

The LGBT+ Conservatives are in a difficult position, having to choose between party and identity. But sitting on the fence is not the answer — LGBTQ Tories need representation and leadership more than ever.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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