Portillo – A (Temporary) Victory for Homophobia

The Moral Equivalent of Electing a Racist

OutRage! is condemning Michael Portillo’s victory in the Kensington & Chelsea by-election as a “victory for homophobia”.

“We are saddened that the voters have elected a candidate who supports discrimination against homosexuals”, said Peter Tatchell of OutRage!. “It is the moral equivalent of electing a racist.”

“Portillo’s success is proof that homophobia is still acceptable in British politics. If he had advocated similar discrimination against black people, his election would have been greeted with huge public protests and near-universal condemnation. The media and public indifference to Portillo’s support for antigay discrimination shows a toleration of homophobia that would not be accorded to racism.

“We are, however, gratified that Portillo received nearly 9,000 votes fewer that his predecessor Alan Clark in 1997. That is a big humiliation for such a major political celebrity.

“The OutRage! campaign against Portillo helped put gay equality on the by-election agenda and helped expose his opposition to homosexual human rights. Everyone now knows that he endorses Section 28 and the ban on gays in the military. Our success in getting that message over to the public probably contributed to the big drop in the Tory vote.

“Without the OutRage! campaign, many people would have been fooled into believing Portillo’s claimed conversion to caring Conservatism. That now stands revealed as a total fraud. His much-hyped compassionate Toryism does not include lesbians and gay men.

“Throughout the by-election, Portillo tried to evade gay human rights issues. To avoid questioning by OutRage! over his homophobic policies, he scuttled in and out of events by the back door, not having the guts to face his critics.

“Portillo was constantly surrounded by a ring of police and Tory party minders to prevent OutRage! asking him awkward questions. Whenever we got close to him, we were variously shoved, punched, grabbed around the throat, held in arm-locks, muzzled across the mouth, and knocked to the ground – all because we wanted to ask Portillo how he justified voting against lesbian and gay rights.

“The police acted as Portillo’s agents. They allowed Tory officials to assault us with impunity. What happened to freedom of speech and the right to put questions to the candidates? Since when has assaulting critics been a legitimate by-election tactic? How come Portillo and the Tory party got away with using such violent methods without any significant media or public condemnation?

“Michael Portillo will soon find his stance on gay issues being put to the test, with two bills on homosexuality due for parliamentary debate in the next few weeks.

“Even at this late stage, we hope that Mr Portillo will have a change of heart and support gay equality in the forthcoming votes to equalise the age of consent and repeal Section 28.

“His recent announcement that he is ‘uncertain’ how he will vote on the age of consent represents a shift away from his previous total rejection of equality. This movement is, at least in part, due to OutRage!’s relentless pressure on Portillo throughout the by-election campaign”, said Peter Tatchell.