The Tories can’t wish us a happy Pride Month with the party’s queerphobic past

The party needs to acknowledge the hurtful role it’s played in LGBTQ+ history


As we celebrate Pride Month this June, it feels like a kick in the teeth to see political parties like the Conservatives celebrate our freedoms without acknowledging the negative role they’ve played in our history.

In 2021 the movement for queer rights has come so far from the Stonewall riots of 1969, but we need to remember the road which queer liberations have taken and that it has been a rocky path to get to where we are today.

Of course, there is no political party that is perfect for LGBTQ+ people, but there is a rich sense of irony that the Conservatives are celebrating us whilst at the same time still implementing policies against us.

Here’s a very brief history of the Conservative party’s past of anti-gay legislation:

The Tories completely mishandled the AIDS crisis

Earlier this year we were all hooked on the hit Channel 4 series, It’s A Sin, which captured the life of Ritchie Tozer and his friends who navigate life in London during the AIDS crisis.

However, Ritchie and his pals are all impacted in some way by HIV, reflecting how LGBTQ+ people disproportionately suffered because of the UK’s blatant mishandling of the crisis, under ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher.

At the time of the epidemic, the very idea of accepting gay people was nothing like how normal it is now. Despite this being 20 years after the Stonewall riots, Thatcher’s sentiments and bigotry demonised gay people and normalised shaming them into social isolation.

Since the epidemic began to the present day, 32 million people have died of AIDS and still today, adequate LGBTQ+ sex education is not mandatory across all of the UK.

At the time the media witch hunt convinced people that the gay community were the only people impacted by the virus. Thatcher’s attack on gay people across the UK was amplified through Section 28.

The party introduced Section 28 which made it illegal for schools to talk about being gay

During the AIDS crisis and also during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, in 1988 the UK government passed Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which was rooted in sickening homophobic biases and had a detrimental impact on many queer people in the UK. It stopped councils and schools “promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” As a government, the Tories made it illegal to talk to young people about being gay.

Margaret Thatcher was afraid that children were being brainwashed into being LGBTQ+ and said children needed to be taught “traditional moral values” because they “are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay”. Section 28 shamed gay people, and had catastrophic impacts when the legacy of gay shaming still lives today.

Section 28 was only abolished in 2003 – not even abolished 20 years ago and yet the LGBTQ+ Conservatives behave as though they are the guardians of gay rights. It’s tone deaf. PM Boris Johnson has since made commitments to abolishing conversion therapy, although this was three years after the government initially promised to end it.

The Stonewall Inn in New York where the modern gay rights movement began in 1968

Boris Johnson referred to gay people as ‘tank-topped bum boys’

In a 1998 Telegraph column, Boris Johnson described LGBTQ+ people as “tank-topped bum boys”.

When Johnson became Prime Minister of the UK in 2019 following the resignation of Theresa May, there was criticism from proponents of his promotion following his history of inappropriate and offensive remarks to social minorities. 

This isn’t the only time Boris Johnson’s history in journalism has marginalised groups like the queer community – his track record can be extended to harmful comments against women and Muslims as well as Black, Indigenous and People of Colour.

136 Tory MPs voted against same-sex marriage

136 Conservative MPs voted against marriage equality in 2013 – more than the 132 Tory MPs who supported it. When Boris Johnson formed his first cabinet in July 2019, five of these ministers had opposed the same-sex marriage vote.

In 2017 it entered a coalition with the homophobic DUP

Following Theresa May’s decision to hold a snap-election in 2017, the Tories needed 10 more MPs to secure a majority and so went into a “confidence and supply” coalition with Northern Ireland’s DUP, to bump up their majority.

Yet the DUP have a colourful history of attacking LGBTQ+ people and ran similar campaigns to Thatcher’s Section 28, the 1977 “Save Ulster from Sodomy” campaign. More recently the DUP have much to stop equality, particularly by using a cross community veto on votes on these issues, citing concerns for cross-community tensions.

Tories cut funding for LGBTQ+ bullying projects

Only three months ago, the government chose to cut funding aimed to tackle homophobic bullying in schools. Despite pledging to continue investing in anti-LGBTQ+ bullying and admitting those identifying as LGBT face a higher risk of bullying which can cause long-term harm, the government said the funding was due to come to an end.

The Conservative government is ‘attempting to roll back transgender rights’

Following previous commitments to reform the way transgender people in the UK can self-identify, a public consultation was held in 2018 to harness the views of the public – how can the entire country have a say on issues which impact an already marginalised community? These plans were later shelved, with the UK government saying that the present legislation would remain the same.

Presently to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate, trans people have to prove they have been living as their identified gender for over two years but they also must receive “a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria from an approved medical practitioner”. This dichotomy literally reduces transgender people to being an illness, implying that one’s trans-ness has to be diagnosed by a doctor who there are no reassurances if they are specialists in LGBTQ+ healthcare.

If you think this is bad, this didn’t even happen one year ago. Whilst the events we see in It’s A Sin and the era of Section 28 marginalised gay people, the same thing is happening to trans people right now, and across the political spectrum too.

There is no easy way to politically identify when you’re an LGBTQ+ person in the UK. Bur consistently under a Conservative Party leadership, the UK government has undermined LGBTQ+ identities.

Yes, whilst marriage equality was legalised under a Conservative government in 2015 and there was no stopping from the House of Commons legislating on marriage equality and abortion in Northern Ireland (albeit from a Labour proposal), there is a past which must be remembered.

It’s hurtful for the LGBTQ+ Tories to say the party has always championed these liberties without acknowledging their hurtful past.

The Tab’s Pride reporting series is putting a focus on highlighting LGBTQ+ issues and celebrating queer voices across UK campuses.

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story you can contact Switchboard, the LGBTQ+ helpline, on 0300 330 0630 or visit their website. You can also find help through The Mix

If you’ve got a story you’d like to tell us – whether it’s an incident of homophobia on campus, an experience you’d like to share, or anything you think we should hear, get in touch in confidence by emailing [email protected]

Read more from The Tab’s Pride series:

• ‘Nobody who matters cares’: LGBTQ+ students on what they’d tell their younger selves

Take our homophobia on campus survey and help us uncover the scale of the problem at unis

What is ‘rainbow-washing’? How to tell if it’s happening to you

You can find all articles from The Tab’s Pride series here