Pride and persuasion

When they convince themselves Grampa Simpson is gay, Marge remarks to Homer: ‘He probably doesn’t know how tolerant society has become. They even had a gay float in the Pride parade last year.’ 

The Pride Wars are now a fixed feature of LGBT politics. Lefties attack the event for being too corporate and apolitical. Tories, not always made welcome by other marchers, complain it’s too political and not inclusive of ideological diversity. You could perform a few stonings beside the Queers for Palestine stall and still be more welcome than Jews waving Stars of David. Intolerance never went away, it just rebranded as intersectionality.

Emma Little-Pengelly, the delightfully monickered MP for Belfast South, sent a tweet to coincide with Belfast Pride on Saturday: ‘Best wishes to all my friends & constituents celebrating today -all should be able to live a proud life free from hate, abuse or persecution.’

So… what’s the big deal? Oh, I see — Belfast. Very progressive statement; more of this, please. Only Little-Pengelly isn’t from the SDLP or the Alliance — she’s DUP. You might have noticed, they’re not keen on the Ls, the Gs or the Bs and no one get them started on the Ts. (They can call it what they like in That London but a tranny is that wee radio on your granny’s sideboard.)

Pride was always going to be the breakthrough moment for the DUP and gay rights. They could only resist all that marching, baton-twirling and fleg action so long. If Lady Gaga rushes out an electropop Derry’s Walls, they’ll be blessing same-sex weddings down the Orange Hall before the week’s out.

Given her party’s phobia for all things homo, Little-Pengelly’s tweet ought to have been welcomed as a step in the right direction. Instead, she was assailed as disingenuous and damned for not having single-handedly overturned the DUP’s stance on LGBT rights. ‘Instead of Tweeting how about having a chat with your fellow party members?’ snipped comedian Jake O’Kane. ‘I’m glad she wished people well,’ added Alliance Party leader Naomi Long. ‘Now I hope she’ll follow up by defending and promoting equal rights. That’s where it matters.’

If Little-Pengelly believes everyone should be able to live ‘free from hate, abuse or persecution’, she will need to commit more than 140 characters to the cause. (She might also want to turn down any future endorsements from UDA-linked groups.) But the cold shoulder which greeted her remarks underscores the dogmatic tone which has come to define the LGBT rights movement. Those arriving late to the equality party are scolded rather than embraced, regardless of how long and painstaking their change of heart might have been. This is a churlish and illogical attitude. If you hector people to change their minds then hector them when they do, maybe you just enjoy hectoring.

A DUP MP breaking ranks on gay rights ought to make it easier for others to follow but the less than enthusiastic reaction presents Little-Pengelly’s colleagues with a double hurdle: If they stick their neck out, they will provoke the ire of social conservatives and get a tepid reception from the targets of their outreach. Why should other Democratic Unionists follow head-long into a lose-lose situation?

And if it’s not well-meaning Ulsterwomen in the rainbow crosshairs, it’s elderly National Trust volunteers in Norfolk. In one of the more ludicrous silly season stories of recent years, some excitable meetings-enthusiast at the Trust decided it would be a jolly idea to out Felbrigg Hall’s last owner, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, and celebrate the estate’s apparently pivotal role in gay history. (No one who lived all their days in rural Norfolk and died in 1969 was ‘gay’; they were ‘flamboyant’ or ‘a confirmed bachelor’. These were repressive times but at least the euphemisms were charming.) A ‘Prejudice and Pride’ event was arranged and helpers told they had to wear LGBT-themed badges and lanyards. When some objected, they were reassigned to backroom duties until the papers picked up on the story and the stately homes of England became the latest identity politics battleground. The Trust eventually backed down but by that time their dissenting volunteers had already been cast as reactionaries.

Dull persuasion is how minds are changed but fabulous fire and brimstone is so much more entertaining. It’s also as anachronistic as calling Ketton-Cremer ‘gay’. The LGBT movement still talks with a righteous fury better suited to earlier times, when many of the big battles had yet to be won and where the stakes were somewhat higher than re-educating blue-rinse heritage fans. There are still matters of life and death to be resolved but lanyards and DUP dinosaurs are not among them. If anything they are a convenient distraction from more uncomfortable discussions — for example, homophobia in the Muslim world or in minority communities in Britain. Intersectionality always gets you in the end.

Pride ought to be brash and ballsy and it ought to make the right kind of people anxious. ‘Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often,’ squalled Mae West. But there are times to browbeat and times to charm and these are times to charm.

A version of this article was published on the Spectator’s Coffee House blog.

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