Coming out as a Tory by Ivan Massow

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Conservative London mayoral candidate Ivan Massow writes for PinkNews on why sexuality should no longer determine which political party LGBT voters support.

It’s time for lots of gay people to come out of the closet for a second time. This time it isn’t who we love that we need to confess, but what our values are and which party best embodies them. Too many of us troop into the ballot box and vote Labour as a matter of habit, as a badge of identity rather than as an active, political choice. That’s why I told Attitude magazine that many gay people are Conservatives without knowing it. It’s not that gay people are more likely to be conservative, we are just less likely to realise it.

We as a community, need to think more carefully and more imaginatively about politics – rather than being stuck in a long-passed, two dimensional mindset that focuses only on our sexuality and doesn’t take much account of the wider world around us.

Just the other day a guy sidled up to me and whispered that he was one of the closet Tories I’d talked about. As a young man he had instinctively voted Labour because they were the party of equal rights. He’d worn his politics on his sleeve – an identity in much the same way as his sexuality – and had mouthed along with the anti-Tory dogma without ever really stopping to think about what he wanted from politics. Now, with a home of his own and a career that matters to him, for the first time he will be lending his vote to the Conservative Party.

He has sat and thought hard about who best embodies his values, and who will look after Britain and our economy best. And he has concluded that it is my party and my leader, David Cameron. But he felt the need to whisper his new allegiance rather than shout it in the way he once did his Labour membership. Why?

Obviously for our community the battle for equal rights is a collective memory. It is recent and it is often painful. Lord knows that I myself carry scars on my back from the long struggle for the rights and respect that gay people deserve. I resigned, briefly, from the Conservative Party at the turn of the century in order to shock the party into speeding up the pace of change on issues like Section 28. But times have changed for the better and it is vital that we acknowledge that wonderful fact.

We are protected from discrimination, have equal rights to participate in public and commercial life, face less and less everyday prejudice with each passing year and – thanks to a Conservative Prime Minister – we can get married. Our fight for freedom was important. But it no longer has to define us.

Instead, I believe, we now have to move on. Society has welcomed us as full members and that gives us the opportunity to go into the ballot box with more on our minds than who we happen to love. We pay taxes, use transport and the NHS, many of us have children who are in school and we all rely on the police and the fire brigade to keep us safe. Are we supposed to hold one, uniform opinion on all of these messy, complex political questions simply because we are gay? Not only would that be ridiculous, I think it would be dangerous.

One of the greatest manifestations of our community’s remarkable success in traveling from the periphery of society to the mainstream is the abundance of gay politicians who hold high office whilst being open about their sexuality. In my own party, ministers like Nick Boles and Margot James do the hard work of Government without having to hide who they are. Our leader in Scotland, the fabulous Ruth Davidson, is not only openly gay but her partner features in the party’s latest political broadcast. To be gay and to be open about being gay is no longer a handicap.

And that means that we have a voice no matter who is in Government – Labour or Tory, there are gay people at the top table to share our concerns and advocate for our needs. That keeps us safe and means we are protected from falling backwards and losing the progress that we have made. Those who want to see gay people vote as a block for Labour put us all at risk – they are lobbying for an ‘eggs in one basket’ approach that would mean our experiences and our voices were lost to one of this country’s great parties of Government. What a shame that would be. And how detrimental to us as a community.

I want to live in a country and a society where being gay is only ever a part of who a person is. I love art, I’m an entrepreneur, I am a campaigner, I was adopted, I am a recovering addict and I am gay. All these and more make up the person who is Ivan Massow. And all of you, reading this, are more than the sum of one part. It’s time for gay people to start voting like the complex, diverse group of people that we really are. And that means, for some of us, taking a deep breath and finding the courage to tell our nearest and dearest “I have something to tell you… I’m a Conservative.”

Ivan Massow was the first Conservative Party candidate to declare he is standing for the 2016 London Mayoral election.

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