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Digital Subscriptions > Attitude > May 2015 > ELECTIONS SPECIAL






Why should gay people vote for the Conservative party come May?

Well looking at the big picture, the big task facing the country has been turning round the economy, getting the deficit down, getting our country moving again, that’s the big thing – and that benefits everyone, straight or gay, black or white; the whole community. But I would say to the LGBT community that actually, this government really has delivered. Obviously equal marriage is something I’m very proud to have achieved, but there are also other things like wiping historic convictions for consensual acts and recognising foreign same-sex partnerships; making sure we punish hate crimes properly. I read the other day that Britain is the best country in the world to be LGBT and that makes me very proud.

The passing of equal marriage was an historic moment, but a majority of Tory MPs voted against it and you’ve faced a backlash from both backbenchers and the grassroots. Is there still a problem with attitudes to gay issues within the party?

Well I think the Conservative party has changed a lot. You can see Conservative associations are selecting openly gay men, openly lesbian women as candidates. There’s no doubt I took a personal lead on gay marriage – it’s an issue I’d come to the conclusion was the right thing to do – but you know, I lead a conservative party: We’re very cautious, we think before we act, and not everybody reached the same conclusion as quickly as me. But I think the Conservative party in this parliament have more broadly shown they’re a party that believes in equality.

But if you weren’t leading the Conservatives tomorrow, are there grounds for concern that the party could go backwards on gay issues?

Look, there’s no one saying, ‘Let’s reverse gay marriage.’ I think the Conservative party believes in marriage and this institution now includes everybody. I think as the years go by more and more people will see that it was very sensible, it wasn’t a threat to religious freedom or all the other points people made. Of course it was politically painful and difficult making this change, but it was absolutely the right thing to do. I’ve never doubted that and I’ve lost count of the gay weddings I’ve been invited to, a lot of them by complete strangers! When I was first standing for parliament there were virtually no out gay MPs – you certainly wouldn’t be an out gay candidate – but by the last election I’d forgotten the number because there were so many. There are a lot of openly gay members of parliament who are selected by the Conservative party, and this is one area where we’ve made big leaps and bounds. The Conservative party is rightly proud of that.

Obviously issues like homophobic bullying remain pressing concerns, and Nick Clegg has told us that the Tories have been scuppering progress on mandatory sex and relationship education over the last few years. Where do you stand on this?

No, that’s not right. Where we stand is that we say all schools should teach sex education, and when you teach sex education it must include relationship education. We’ve established a two-million pound fund to make sure that sex education includes the right modules on combating homophobic bullying. I think the point where some others take a difference is arguing that PSHE has to be a statutory, mandatory part of the curriculum, which doesn’t actually mean you’re going to teach sex education better or relationship education better, it’s just the classic, ‘let’s try to dot ‘i’s and cross ‘t’s and create a bureaucratic answer to the question.’ What I want is for every school to teach good sex and relationship education, and that’s what schools do. Of course parents still have the right to take their children out of sex education, but I think we can lay down the right guidelines and trust schools to deliver what needs to be done.

But don’t you think that needs a specific commitment to LGBT students? We’ve seen HIV rates double among gay 15 to 24-year-olds in the last decade, and these kids are clearly falling through the cracks – they’re not receiving this information from elsewhere.

All of them should. Sex and relationship education should include these things, because as I say, I think you can make sure that happens, through the two-million pound package we announced back in October 2014 for instance. By having good modules available and making sure schools feel confident to teach them, I think that’s what matters.

Under the government’s austerity agenda, cuts to the third-sector, mental health services and outreach programmes are having a disproportionate effect on the LGBT community. Will these services continue to suffer under a future Tory government?

Well what I’d say first of all is mental health services come under the NHS, and the NHS has not been cut. We made a specific commitment – it wasn’t a Liberal Democrat commitment, it wasn’t a Labour commitment – not to cut the NHS, and we drove that through the coalition agreement. What we’ve done in government is make sure mental health has parity with physical health, and make sure that we have waiting times for some of the vital mental health therapies which have been under-invested in in our country for many years – cognitive behaviour therapy, other talking therapies – which can make a big difference. As for third-sector organisations, I’m keen for them to be part of the NHS. It tends to be the other parties that say health charities have no role in delivering health services. That’s not my view. That’s a question you need to put to [Shadow Secretary of State for Health] Andy Burnham, not to me. My view is that these charities should be part of a thriving NHS which is protected.

HIV/AIDS organisations have been concerned about the upheaval and confusion surrounding HIV prevention provision, and spending in this area has reduced – not just under this government but over the last decade – despite infection rates reaching record highs.

Well this is a worry. I think you’re right to highlight this point. Let me make a general point: Prevention spending was much higher 15 or 20 years ago when there was a need for those big public information campaigns, and so obviously you see a lower spend now. If you look at what we spend on HIV treatment and care, it’s getting on for three-quarters of a billion pounds a year. In terms of public health spending, it’s ringfenced: It can’t be raided for the rest of the NHS. But I understand the need to make sure we are getting information through to the right people and that’s one of the reasons why Jeremy Hunt is bringing in a number of the AIDS charities for a meeting here at Number 10 in the coming weeks, because I want to listen to peoples’ views about what more we can do.

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About Attitude

The latest Attitude is a glam rock spectacular with America’s biggest gay singer Adam Lambert on the cover, chatting about everything from working with Queen to his new solo material, and what he thinks of taking on Sam Smith in the charts and homophobia. We also have the only interview with former Westlife star Mark Feehily who opens up for the first time about his troubled dark years to re-emerge as a very different kind of solo artist. As we approach the General Election we have exclusive interviews with David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, Nicola Sturgeon and Natalie Bennett, challenging them on LGBT issues and asking why they deserve your vote. We also rate the leaders’ style, and have interviews with a spread of LGBT candidates from around the country. Elsewhere in the magazine, we speak to Broadway stars Michael 'Ugly Betty' Urie and Christine Baranski, and we wave goodbye to Mad Men by talking a look back at Mad Men’s gay storylines. We also get a sneak peek inside John Whaite’s newly decorated home, and put Lulu to the How Gay quiz.