Comment: Ken Livingstone is not homophobic

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Peter Tatchell says Ken Livingstone’s comments this week that the Tory party was “riddled” with homosexuality have to be taken in context and with regard to his overall record on gay rights.

Ken Livingstone is not homophobic. His use of the word riddled has to be judged in context. It was clearly not used with any homophobic intent. All parties have lots of gay and bisexual MPs, as Ken noted. He is right to state that there were many gay MPs in the Tory party, from the backbenches to the cabinet.

After Labour’s election victory in 1997 many gay Labour MPs came out, while gay Tories remained in the closet and continued to vote against gay equality. Ken was making a simple statement of fact,” added Mr Tatchell.

Ken is correct to suggest that in the 1980s and 90s the Conservative Party was avowedly anti-gay, while having many gay MPs. Lots of Tories opposed gay equality, despite their own homosexuality. They were hypocrites and homophobes. Ken is right to point this out.

In recent years, the Conservative leadership has embraced gay equality, which is commendable. However, only two weeks ago it was reported that 100 Tory MPs intend to block David Cameron’s plan to end the ban on same-sex marriage. They still oppose gay equality.

Ken was very wrong to invite the sexist, homophobic cleric, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, to City Hall in 2004 but he should be judged on his overall record, which on gay rights is exceptionally good.

In the early 1980s, as leader of the Greater London Council, he pioneered gay rights policies that most MPs opposed at the time. It took many of them another 20 years to embrace gay equality. Ken supported the lesbian and gay community at a time when most other politicians did not. He deserves great credit.