Downing Street defends Boris Johnson’s own visit to homophobic Jesus House church in wake of Keir Starmer apology

Boris Johnson speaks to the camera with the caption: 'Hi, folks. I'm here at Jesus House on a Sunday morning.'

Downing Street has defended British prime minister Boris Johnson’s visit earlier this year to the anti-LGBT+ church Jesus House – yes, the very same one Keir Starmer has apologised for attending.

At a press conference Tuesday (6 April), Johnson’s press secretary, Allegra Stratton, claimed that the Tory premier’s attendance at the church in March was “incredibly important”.

It was a “profitable” visit, she described, seemingly shrugging off criticism by repeating Labour’s initial wrap on the visit – he was visiting not the church, but its vaccination centre, according to The Daily Mirror.

She told journalists: “We remember the visit to Jesus House well because that day it was the site of a pop-up centre for vaccines.

“And one of the main jobs inside government over the last few weeks and months has been driving up vaccine take-up in communities that are hesitant about taking it – most notably the Black community.

“That was the purpose of his visit that day. It was a profitable visit where he was able to meet Black community leaders and work to increase vaccine take-up and deal with vaccine hesitancy.

“So it was an incredibly important visit, making sure every aspect of the population feels confident in and takes the vaccine is a top priority for this government.”

Labour leader Starmer suffered stinging criticism for a social media post last week where he praised the “wonderful” work the church in Barnet, London, has done for its local community.

Senior Labour lawmakers initially sought to justify the visit by claiming Starmer was attending not the place of worship itself, but the pop-up NHS vaccine clinic on its grounds.

While Starmer has since apologised for the tinderbox visit – it was a “mistake”, he said, and he was not aware of church’s beliefs beforehand – Boris Johnson’s stop-off vastly flew under the radar.

“I met some wonderful volunteers at Jesus House this morning who are spending their Sunday running a vaccination centre and protecting their local community,” he wrote in a Facebook post on 7 March.

Jesus House, and the wider megachurch network it is part of, has a deeply troubling track record when it comes to LGBT+ rights. It is led by pastor Agu Iruku, who has written about his opposition to equality legislation and marriage equality in the past.

Downing Street says Boris Johnson is ‘fully committed to advancing LGBT+ rights’

Stratton capped off her answer by praising Boris Johnson’s own history with LGBT+ rights – one any activist could tell you is shot with holes.

“Hopefully people don’t need reminding, but in case they do, this is a government that is fully committed to advancing LGBT rights and championing equality,” she said.

Indeed, the government has been so committed to “advancing LGBT+ rights” it has dragged its heels for years in banning conversion therapy. Repeatedly giving vague promises of a legislative ban, all the while several members of its own advisory board resign in protest, citing the Conservative’s creation of a “hostile environment” for LGBT+ Britons.

The very same government scrapped long-sought reforms to the Gender Recognition Act. Both shattering a 2017 promise to streamline gender recognition law for trans Britons by previous premier Theresa May, and going against the reforms’ overwhelming public support.

Moreover, Johnson’s own track record is blotchy at best. As a then Telegraph columnist, Boris Johnson used the phrase “tank-topped bum boys” in 1998 – 23 years on, he has yet to apologise, even when pressed by PinkNews to do so.

In 2019, he chaired what Labour dubbed the most homophobic cabinet in recent history, with multiple policy-makers in the top jobs having opposed marriage equality.

This also wasn’t Conservative Party leader’s first trip to Jesus House – during his term as mayor of London in 2009, he attended a carol service led by Iruku.