Keir Starmer’s apology for homophobic church visit is ‘genuinely welcome’ for some and ‘too late’ for others

Keir Starmer watches on sat in a cushioned chair wearing a suit

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer apologised Monday evening (5 April) for visiting an anti-LGBT+ church called Jesus House and the response was, well, mixed.

The apology tweet, sent at 9:09pm three days after the visit to London’s Jesus House, affirmed Starmer’s support for queer rights as he distanced himself from the church’s controversial beliefs. It is led by pastor Agu Iruku, who has written about his opposition to equality legislation and gay marriage in the past.

“I completely disagree with Jesus House’s beliefs on LGBT+ rights, which I was not aware of before my visit,” Keir Starmer wrote in the tweet.

“I apologise for the hurt my visit caused and have taken down the video. It was a mistake and I accept that.”

For his party’s LGBT+ members, activists and fellow lawmakers, though, it was a grab bag of emotions. Relief and wariness towards a statement that some felt was too-little-too-late, while others saw it as nothing other than a copybook apology – for a politician, that is.

“Thank you,” tweeted House of Lords member and venerable LGBT+ activist Michael Cashman. “We all make mistakes (except our critics) and your statement is a declaration of principles and leadership.”

But for many, the days-long wait for the apology was a tender trigger point.

“Three days late,” wrote actor David Paisley. “You know, if you really wanted to do something positive for the LGBT+ community, you could suspend Rosie Duffield,” he added.

“That might help.”

Labour shadow cabinet minister Rachel Reeves’ earlier justification for the trip – that Starmer visited not the place of worship, but its pop-up vaccination centre – also left some users irritated.

“This is a genuinely welcome apology,” Guardian journalist Owen Jones said.

“But why on earth did it take three days and why did Rachel Reeves falsely claim on national television that it was just a vaccination site visit, rather than the centrepiece of Labour’s Easter video[?]”

LGBT+ people welcome Keir Starmer apology – but wonder why it took three days to come

These mixed emotions were all too common, with users as well as LGBT+ Labour member blocs both praising the politician for apologising, but at the same time wondering why it took days to do so and why operation staffers did not properly brief Keir Starmer in the first place.

Other users called on Starmer to do more than send out a tweet – he must, they said, prove his support by donating to queer charities.

The statement appeared to confirm a previous account issued by the queer arm of the party, LGBT+ Labour, that Keir Starmer’s office did not research the church in advance of the trip.

If they had, they told LGBT+ Labour, it would never have gone ahead.

Indeed, if dutifully researched, opposition office officials would have known that Jesus House, part of the wider international Redeemed Christian Church of God network, has a deeply troubling track record with LGBT+ rights.

Not only has the pentecostal denomination been accused of carrying out “exorcisms” on people who are “sexually attracted to members of their own sex”, but the church’s top pastor has furiously opposed anti-discrimination laws and marriage equality in Britain.