The election is over. Following May’s embarrassing election campaign we are left with a hung parliament and are facing a toxic coalition between a minority Conservative government and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Essential services for vulnerable LGBTQ+ folk have already undergone enormous cuts by the Conservatives. With a confidence and supply deal now secured between the Tories and the far-right DUP, we should be ready to go on the offensive.
If you haven’t heard of the DUP, get to know them. When it comes to LGBTQ+ and women’s rights they are decades behind the rest of the UK. They may be one of the smallest parties in Westminster, but they are the largest party in Northern Ireland and their extreme views on LGBTQ+ issues haven’t gone unnoticed.
In November 2016, the DUP’s Trevor Clarke drew criticism during a debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly on a motion calling for a new campaign to promote awareness and prevention of HIV. Clarke admitted that he thought only gay people could contract the disease until he was corrected by a member of the charity organisation Positive Life. In the past, Ian Paisley Jr, the son of the party founder Ian Paisley, has been quoted saying that he is repulsed by gays and lesbians.
The DUP’s views have influenced their policy contributions and the party agenda as members have consistently voted against the legalisation of gay marriage. In 2016, party leader Arlene Foster said: “I could not care less what people get up to in terms of their sexuality, that’s not a matter for me: when it becomes a matter for me is when people try to redefine marriage”. Former DUP Health Minister, Jim Wells, has taken a more barefaced position, claiming that children raised in homosexual relationships are more likely to be abused and neglected.
The reality is that May is sympathetic to the DUP’s vision. Her manifesto had no policy proposals that addressed the rights and concerns of the LGBTQ+ community. At the height of her election campaign, she attended a church service held by a pastor who has described gay rights as “Christianophobic”.
Of course, none of this is surprising when you consider that May voted against the repeal of Section 28, a Thatcher-era government Act that banned the celebration or promotion of homosexuality in the workplace and schools. But more worrying, perhaps, is that May has been an apologist for Tory candidates that make misogynistic and homophobic remarks, as was the case with Peter Cuthbertson, the Tory candidate running for the Darlington seat in the previous election.
Supporters of May have pointed out that she voted in favour of gay marriage. But securing that vote would not have happened were it not for large-scale and repeated pressure from grassroots organisations. Under the Tory government we have seen the closure of half the LGBTQ+ youth services in the North West of England with a devastating impact on young LBGTQ+ people, particularly those from ethnic minority backgrounds, who are at greater risk of being forced into homelessness than other youth. According to a 2015 report, LGBTQ+ youth, who make up 3.3 percent of 16 to 24-year-olds, account for a quarter of homeless young people in the UK.
Movement For Justice By Any Means Necessary, an anti-racism group which has campaigned against the Conservatives’ minority government with the DUP, point to the often overlooked fact that while the government has legalised equal marriage, it also continues to deport LGBTQ+ people to countries where they risk persecution. Speaking on the issue, a representative said, “For us, that fight remains the same: expose May’s hypocrisy on LGBT rights that only extends rights to those with papers. With the DUP’s backwards and offensive views, May will be even more likely to send LGBT people to a life of fear and possibly death.” They add, “we must support and magnify the women’s and LGBT rights movement in Ireland and the UK. Rise up, mobilise, expose the truth and fight to bring down this government.”
Given the Conservatives’ track record of homophobic policies, its alliance with the DUP will further threaten to jeopardise the right of LGBTQ+ communities. May is so desperate to stay in power that she is willing to barter away the hard-won rights of minorities. As LGBT+ we need to remind ourselves that to be complacent during these times is to take our rights for granted.