Labour’s Rachel Reeves offers tepid excuse for Keir Starmer’s homophobic church visit

On the left: Rachel Reeves speaks to her laptop webcam in front of her bookshelf. On the right: Keir Starmer speaks wearing a suit.

Senior Labour MP Rachel Reeves delivered a tepid excuse Monday (5 April) for why Keir Starmer visited a notoriously anti-LGBT+ church.

Reeves, the shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, responded to the rash of criticism that the Labour Party leader has faced since his Friday (4 April) trip to Jesus House in London.

To Starmer, the Barnet-based church is a “wonderful example” of a church serving its local community amid the coronavirus pandemic. To LGBT+ people, however, it’s a place with a troubling track record on queer rights and whose pastor is one of marriage equality’s most outspoken opponents.

Appearing on Sky News, the shadow cabinet office minister sought to shrug off the stinging scrutiny Starmer has faced for visiting the northwest London church by stressing that Starmer visited not the place of worship but the vaccine centre on its grounds.

Labour, she said, does not align with “all” the views held by Jesus House, but that faith groups must be involved with the vaccine rollout to achieve widespread immunity.

“I don’t think anyone can cast doubt on Keir Starmer and Labour’s commitment to the rights of the LGBT+ community,” Reeves explained.

Keir Starmer ‘does not endorse all views’ held by Jesus House, says Rachel Reeves

Labour’s LGBT+ wing, LGBT+ Labour, said it had received a private “unreserved apology” from the opposition leader. An out-of-sight act that did little to dial down the backlash – Keir Starmer still has a video of the visit up on his social media.

When pressed on this, Reeves rebutted it being a “private” apology – “We’re talking about it on the telly,” she said.

Reeves trained the focus of the conversation back onto Britain’s vaccine rollout, clarifying that Starmer was not visiting the church itself but the NHS pop-up vaccine clinic operating out of Jesus House.

The rollout must “reach some of the hardest to reach communities”, she said, as she echoed how church-goers tend to trust religious leaders over public health officials when it comes to vaccines.

The need for vaccine distribution to involve faith groups, she said, is “to ensure everyone has the confidence to take it up”.

“We don’t support the views of everybody at Jesus House, but we do support everybody being able to access this vaccine,” Reeves added.

“Just in the last couples of weeks,” she continued. “Labour have been calling out the government’s failure to ban conversion therapy, for example.

Keir Starmer has spoken very powerfully and passionately about what Labour would do in government.

“He was visiting a vaccine centre,” Reeves emphasised, “it doesn’t mean we endorse all the views that people who worship there would potentially endorse.”

Jesus House is part of the international Redeemed Christian Church of God network, a pentecostal denomination founded in Lagos, Nigeria.

The group was accused in 2009 of carrying out “exorcisms” on people who are “sexually attracted to members of their own sex” – claims the church denied.

Its pastor, Agu Irukwu, frequently signed letters opposing advances in LGBT+ rights, from anti-discrimination laws to marriage equality.

A promotional video for the visit showed Starmer, joined by Labour MP Dawn Butler, praying alongside the pastor.

Jesus House has been visited by former Tory premier Theresa May and Boris Johnson, both during his time as mayor of London and as prime minister, as well as most recently Prince Charles.

The trip quickly came to capture and ignite some of the long-simmering frustrations held among some queer Labour supporters towards Keir Starmer’s leadership exactly one year on since his election.

He has faced repeated calls to do more to tackle transphobia within Labour – his silence, activists have warned, could deter queer voters in the long run.

Venerable LGBT+ rights activist Peter Tatchell branded the trip a “bid to appease bigoted churches” in a statement to PinkNews.

It was, he said, “a slap in the face to the LGBT+ community, especially Black LGBTs.

“Labour seems to putting religion before human rights.”

“The Labour Party is unwavering in its support for the LGBT+ community and a woman’s right to access safe abortions, and have called for the government to stop dragging its feet and ban the abhorrent practice of conversion therapy,” a Labour spokesperson said in a statement to the press.