Friday, 28 April 2017

Student protest leads to anti-LGBT MP standing down

Andrew Turner
Andrew Turner (Photo: BBC)
There's been a bit of controversy recently surrounding what Tim Farron thinks, or perhaps does not think, of homosexuality. But if a sense of perspective was needed today it has been provided by a Conservative MP apparently intent on demonstrating that there remain in the Commons some truly intolerant voices on LGBT issues.

In a remarkable story, Andrew Turner - who has been the MP for the Isle of Wight since 2001 - has decided to stand down after making what have been widely interpreted as "bigoted" comments.

At lunchtime today Mr Turner attended a school to talk to an A level politics class. Asked an innocent question about whether he has supported the work of the local Pride, he responded with "homosexuality is wrong and a danger to society". One of the students present, Esther Poucher, left the room in protest and shortly afterwards wrote a detailed description of the event on facebook - as a result, just a few hours after what should have been a straightforward Q&A session, the MP has been forced to resign.

Esther's facebook post stated: "So today our conservative MP Andrew Turner came into our A level politics class to let us ask him questions about his work. As a passionate campaigner for LGBT rights, and basically just a decent human being, I decided to open up a discussion about Isle of Wight pride. I asked him if he'd had any involvement in the event, and his answer has truly shocked me to the point of outrage. He told us that he'd been invited, but wasn't intending to go. This is because (and this is a quote) he thinks that homosexuality is 'wrong' and 'dangerous to society'. At this answer, I had to leave. It's terrifying that in this age and point in our development as a society, there are still people that can't care enough about a person's wellbeing to just accept who they are. And the most terrifying thing is that we as an island consistently vote him in to represent us. Well fuck that. HE DOES NOT REPRESENT ME. He never has, and never will. If there is anything I can give to you from this, it is that we need change. We can't wait, and we can't just nod politely and respect and opinion like that. Yes, we all believe different things, and that's wonderful. But when that belief treats a group as sub-human, and attempts to take away their fundamental rights, we can't respect it. I'm done with people not standing up and fucking shouting about what's right and not campaigning for justice. To those over 18- please do the right thing, and vote in a government that works for a society of diversity and acceptance. Don't be complacent."

It's difficult not only to disagree with that but also not to recognise the passion and sincerity behind it.

But what is truly astonishing is the outcome. Firstly, from the perspective of someone who grew up at a time when such views were considered normal, it demonstrates unequivocally that we've moved beyond that. No longer is treating LGBT people as a "danger" acceptable. That alone feels, to me at least, something worth celebrating.

But, even more significantly, Mr Turner's downfall is amazing because of how it happened. There probably hasn't been a quicker fall from grace since the crowd turned on Nicolae Ceausescu during a speech in Revolution Square and the speed at which a comment led to resignation is stunning. Confident in his being returned to what has become a safe Tory seat, Turner was expecting to win another term as the island's MP - although there have recently been calls by opposition politicians to select a single "progressive" candidate to stand against and hopefully oust him.

In the end, it wasn't political machinations, alliances or electorates that ended Turner's 16 year parliamentary career but the fact that a group of school students, who don't even have the right to vote, stood up to bigotry. And they did so using social media - uniting local people and organisations against Mr Turner in a way no other politician has been able to.

Never think you can't make a difference. Never.

And to Esther Poucher (and her friends) - you are truly amazing! Thank you so much for standing up to bigotry, and just being fantastic human beings.


Anonymous said...

"homosexuality is wrong and a danger to society"
"gay sex is a sin"

Does one of these statements really put the other into perspective? And if so, which?

And yet, the leader of the Lib Dems, over a period of several years, refused to deny that he held the second of those opinions. And a lot of people who should have known better pretended it would be perfectly OK if he did hold that opinion.

And in fact, when it comes down to it, there's no particular reason a social Conservative shouldn't take that view - so long as he's honest and open about it.

But I don't think it's a view a liberal should take, particularly if his voting record reflects a priority of defending religious perpetrators of discrimination over the victims of discrimination. And particularly if it's difficult to get him to be clear about what his views really are.

Andrew said...

"Homosexuality is wrong and a danger to society"
"Gay sex is a sin"

They are completely different statements.

I disagree with them both, of course. But the first of these, made by Andrew Turner, contains a value judgement that determines a specific group of people are - to use his words - "a danger to society". He's making a discriminatory distinction based on orientation, and suggesting that such orientation causes anti-social behaviour (and probably worse, but he doesn't seem to have elaborated).

"Sin" on the other hand is a religious term. As it's simplest, it's something that separates man from God. Christians believe various things to be "sin" - jealousy, anger, being quick to judge, and so on. No doubt many Christians think extra-marital relationships are sinful, but they wouldn't advocate discriminatory treatment to people in them or seek to legislate against them.

Ultimately what is and isn't sin is, for non-religious people, a question of meaningless value, framed as it is by theological subjectivity.

"Does one of these statements really put the other into perspective?" Yes. The context at least does. One was a question someone was uncomfortable with answering, in relation to their private beliefs. The other was a statement of opinion, with no factual evidence in support, which singled out a particular group as being dangerous on the basis of sexual orientation.

If someone was ever invited into my school or workplace and stated unequivocally that a group I identified with was "dangerous", I'd take issue with that. If someone privately thinks I'm "sinful"; well, I don't think I'd care too much. What Turner did effectively amounts to misusing his position to advance homophobia. Tim Farron has never done that.

I don't know if you're familiar with my blog, but interestingly I've been among the more vocal critics of how Tim has expressed his religious belief.

Tim hasn't been asked the "sin" question over several years. It was first asked in September 2015. I had this to say about it last year: Personally, I can't see why he couldn't have adopted the same position as that taken by the Pope and said "who am I to judge?"

I think Tim is very wrong if he believes same-sex relationships to be sinful. I'm not actually sure what he believes, which I think is a bigger problem - it's the honesty issue that's troubling (I mention this in my post from last year). But I think there is a real difference between privately believing something to be morally wrong and making public statements diminishing the humanity of those who take a different line.

Tim's voting record is somewhat mixed, but it's largely pretty good and infinitely better than many of his detractors. While I might be uncomfortable about some of the things he has said (and hasn't) he should be judged on his voting record and how well he listens to LGBT groups. From my experience I would say that he does listen and has a genuine interest in understand (and advancing) LGBT issues.

I've not been thrilled by Tim's indecision on the "sin" question. But comparing that evasiveness to an MP going into a school and making an undeniably prejudiced statement of non-truth to a group of sixth formers is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply, but I have to say I find these attempts to draw a distinction between sinfulness and moral wrongness - and to shuffle sin off into a religious zone separate from everyday life - utterly unconvincing.

Frankly, I don't see how someone can be "a liberal to their fingertips" and at the same time to believe that it's offensive to their god for homosexuals to express their relationships physically. It almost seems as though Tim Farron is trying to convert human society to liberalism, but is happy for his god to remain a bigot.

And as for Farron's voting record - no, it just can't be described as "pretty good" when he voted against the regulations outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. No one would be described as having a good record on race if he'd voted against outlawing racial discrimination. Opposing discrimination should be fundamental for liberals, and every time a Liberal Democrat describes Farron's record as "fantastic" or "superb", or even "pretty good", I can only wonder why.

Andrew said...

I've got a history of commenting about the way Tim expresses his religious views. I don't agree with him in several respects. But theologically speaking there is a difference between "sin" (which is a religious term) and moral wrongness. That's not a political defence - I'm actually studying for an MA in theology.

There are, of course, different expressions of liberalism. I'm a liberal Christian. Tim isn't - he's politically liberal but religiously conservative. Much as I don't buy his religious perspectives, I don't feel it's necessarily impossibly to be political liberal while an Evangelical Christian.

That said, my main point wasn't about making "a distinction between sinfulness and moral wrongness" but drawing attention to the context. There's a difference between evading an unwelcome question and peddling prejudicial untruths to a class of 16 year olds. If Mr turner had kept his views sensibly quiet he'd still be in a job.

Voting records aren't a singular expression of opinion. They develop over time. And yes, I was very critical about that vote by Tim 10 years ago. But if you look at how he's voted since - it's been generally good with a few question marks. As I said, it's infinitely better than many who are castigating him.

"Opposing discrimination should be fundamental to liberals". Unsurprisingly, I agree. But it can only be challenged when it is expressed, for example in the way that Andrew Turner did. When people hold views privately, and send out confused signals, it's more difficult.

However, I have had several conversations with Tim Farron about his voting record, LGBT rights and the way he has sometimes expressed his religious belief. I'm certainly not silently permissive!

Anonymous said...

"Voting records aren't a singular expression of opinion. They develop over time."

Then don't say his record has been good. Say his record in the past has been bad, but he's changed his mind since. Or, rather, he _says_ he's changed his mind.

Or whatever. I won't be voting Lib Dem this time, I can tell you that.

Andrew said...

Well, voting records are an accumulation of votes on a range of different issues.

For example, Theresa May is being criticised for her voting record on LGBT rights. But the objectionable stuff comes before 2004 - more recently she's been very good on such things as same-sex marriage and was one of the most consistently vocal Tory supporters of it. Has she changed her mind? Possibly - she seems to suggest that. But it's also true that the votes pre-2004 were not on the subject of same-sex marriage. It's possible to agree with extension of rights in some areas but not others. There's always historical context to consider. Tim gave his "reasons" for the vote in 2007 but also suggested he'd vote differently now.

As for the "pretty good" comment, even TheyWorkForYou states Tim "generally voted for equal gay rights" and "almost always voted for allowing marriage between two people of same sex". That is pretty good. Not perfect, but hardly terrible. As I've said, much better than many who are criticising him.

The "record in the past" you're talking about was a single vote. Was I happy with it at the time? No. But the comparison with Andrew Turner to me seems more than unfair - Tim would never behave like that.

I suspected you might a Lib Dem voter. I don't necessarily blog to appeal for votes, though!

Anonymous said...

I was an active Lib Dem member for more than 20 years. My local party even gave me an award at one stage, for God's sake. I still vote Lib Dem locally on a personal basis, and I still voted Lib Dem nationally in 2010 after I had left the party. Not in 2015, and not in 2017 either, though.

Farron voted to allow discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation to continue. That is the clearest example of his record of failing to support LGBT rights in parliament, but it is far from an isolated example.

Anyway, I presume you know how he's voted, and if you don't it's easy enough to find out. If you are willing to present that as a good record on LGBT issues, that probably tells us as much about your attitudes as it does about his. If you were saying he had been misguided in the past, but had changed his mind, that would be a different matter, but evidently you feel compelled to toe the mendacious party line.

Andrew said...

Anonymous - please take a look at some of my older blogposts!

As for the party line - again, check the blog!

As a former deputy editor of an LGBT news outlet, I know about both Tim's record and those of almost every other significant politician. I've addressed this enough times, and my own writing is the only real source for the oft-quoted Salvation Army interview in 2007. Believe me, I've been far from uncritical.

The vote you are referring to (from 2007) is actually isolated. Taje a look here: Nowhere else has he voted like this on this specific matter, and he has since said he regrets that vote. Otherwise he's supported LGBT equality with the exception of one abstention on the third reading of the Same Sex Marriage Bill - and that was because of the Spousal Veto, and how it affects trans people. He consistently opposed Section 28. He's spoken in favour of ending the blood ban. He was the first leader to speak out against what's currently happening in Chechnya. Theresa May has done none of these things.

All I'm asking for is context. I don't actually know what Tim Farron believes now. I am uncomfortable with the way he ahs expressed his faith at times, and with a couple of his votes (and yes, he expressed regret about one of them in hindsight). But there's a difference between privately believing something is "sinful", whatever that actually means in practice, and going into a school making public value judgements about specific groups of people.

I retain reservations about Tim Farron. But I don't think for a minute (as an LGBT person) he's going to vote against my rights. He hasn't in the last ten years, so what should change now?