Former GaydarRadio news editor says politicians must ‘up their game’ on gay issues

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Known as the voice of the evening news on GaydarRadio since February 2010, Scott Roberts has developed a reputation for high-quality LGBT radio journalism to an audience of over two million people around the world. He told it was “one of the best jobs in radio” – and he left last week with only one big regret.

“I came close, but in the end, there was no cigar, or even a five minute cigarette,” he says after missing out on an interview with the Prime Minister.

“I think Downing Street is still haunted by what happened with Martin Popplewell,” he adds, referring to the video of David Cameron’s faltering interview with GT before the 2010 general election, an interview sources said he was not aware was going to be filmed.

For Scott, it is part of a larger concern about how mainstream politicians across the board engage in a “patchy” way with the LGBT media.

Scott believes politicians of all persuasions could “up their game” when discussing LGBT issues: “One of the fantastic benefits of the job has been to indulge my shamefully nerdy passion for politics. Earlier in the year, I interviewed the main candidates of the London Mayoral 2012 election. Without going into a long rant about their records and what they each “promised” during those encounters, the biggest single impression that came across from all of them was their patchy and sometimes lazy approach to gay equality.

“There was a rather surreal moment during Stonewall’s Mayoral Hustings in April when a candidate whose party, arguably, had one of the strongest LGBT manifestos decided to ask the audience for their suggestions on tackling health inequality.

“If that same person had taken the same approach on transport or policing ‘mainstream’ media would have had a field day. To paraphrase one of the most iconic lines uttered by Heath Ledger’s the Joker in Batman ‘The Dark Knight’, I really believe the LGBT community “deserves a better class” of politics.”

Scott says, in the end, a “foggy” approach to LGBT political engagement results in a “ground-hog” style reporting of news: “HIV infection rates are a prime example. Every year, the Health Protection Agency reports a rise followed by politicians trotting out the same generic sound bytes of being “alarmed” and calling for “action”.

“To be fair, as journalists, we are always happy to use these clichés because it makes for nice copy, but it ultimately does not add much to the debate or push forward the narrative.

“The Terrence Higgins Trust and the other sexual health charities face a herculean task of trying to improve and maintain society’s knowledge of good sexual health – yet the deficit of understanding, particularly in regard to what’s happening within the LGBT community, can be found at Westminster and throughout the media.”

Scott believes political engagement on LGBT issues has the potential to change dramatically in the next few years and says the Out4Marriage campaign demonstrates how lobbying via social media can be a very effective tool: “Getting such a diverse range of supporters from Richard Branson to Nick Clegg and scores of MPs has paid dividends in producing increased political momentum for same-sex marriage. If Out4Marriage had been launched two and a half years ago, I think the debate for marriage equality by some of the key community stakeholders may have progressed with a bit more cohesion and dynamism”.

Scott says one way to enhance the discourse at Westminster lies with the political parties’ LGBT advocacy groups: “They all do a sterling job in pushing for equality in both for their own respective parties and for the LGBT community in general, however, it’s important to remember that they are run on a voluntary basis with each chair having to contend with his or her day job.

“In the US it’s different, National Stonewall Democrats and the Log Cabin Republicans both have full-time executives and permanent offices. The volatile and divisive nature of American politics means these elements are essential for any lobbyist organisation to be heard let alone to be taken seriously. I believe all of the main UK parties should consider using a modest amount of their funds to replicate this model by employing at least one full-time LGBT parliamentary caseworker.

“It’s important to have an official that can scrutinise, promote and lobby for LGBT policies, with none of the bureaucratic shackles of being within a sprawling government department. Parliament could also consider forming an all-party parliamentary LGBT group, but it needs to do more than just identify inequalities and meet once in a blue moon (like so many of them).

“The recent debacle with World Pride, Boris Johnson and the Greater London Authority illustrates how brittle (or fickle) political accountability towards for the LGBT community can be at times. In the same way as the struggling eurozone, we need to find ways of building up our fire power, so we can ultimately achieve a better a settlement on equality and reduce the likelihood of being fobbed off by our representatives time after time.“

Scott Roberts is the former news editor of GaydarRadio and a contributor.