From use of slurs during his journalistic career to his checkered voting record, the rise of Boris Johnson is not good news for the LGBTQ community.
Things haven’t been too great for the LGBTQ community in England lately — from the persistence of anti-trans rhetoric at Pride marches and in editorial pages to the ascent of Theresa May, a Conservative parliamentarian with a record of anti-LGBTQ votes, to the level of Prime Minister.
But it now seems we hadn’t seen anything yet.
Yesterday, Boris Johnson became the UK’s new Prime Minister. This didn’t happen as the result of a popular election; instead, according to the desires of her party, Theresa May stepped down from the position, and the Conservatives voted within the party to decide their new Prime Minister. This happened because, unlike in the US, UK elections are decided in favor of parties rather than individual candidates.
Whatever, let’s not get into the complexities of international elections, or delve into the morass around Brexit, which was ultimately the reason May was forced to resign from office. Let’s just talk about Boris Johnson. Because we need to talk about Boris Johnson.
It’s probably overly reductive to compare Johnson to our own Donald Trump, but Johnson’s reputation as a “gaffe-prone buffoon” certainly tracks with The Donald’s own governmental record. His recent attempts to appear pro-LGBTQ despite some flagrant earlier issues of hate speech does as well.
For example, when Johnson was a journalist in the 90s, he once referred to gay men as “tank-topped bumboys” in the Daily Telegraph, while in a 2000 column for the Spectator, he blasted the Labour party for the classic homophobic talking point, “encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools,” which he of course called “appalling.”
Only last year, in his position as UK Foreign Secretary, Johnson declined to intervene when the British Territory of Bermuda overturned a judicial ruling and passed a law banning same-sex marriage on the Atlantic island. Johnson could have blocked the law’s passage in his position as Foreign Secretary, but decided, according to SkyNews reporter Aubrey Allegretti, that it would “not be appropriate” to do so.
Johnson also has a history of racist and xenophobic hate speech, writing in the Spectator in 2005 that Islamophobia was “a natural reaction,” and one the Koran “was intended to promote.” He’s also said that Islamic women wearing burqas look like “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.” In perhaps his most flagrant example of open racism, he once described inhabitants of the Congo as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” in a Daily Telegraph column.
Mohammed Amin, chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, has stated that he is quitting the Conservative Party due to Johnson’s ascent to the position of Prime Minister, and Alan Duncan, the first Conservative Member of Parliament to come out as gay, has also announced his resignation. They are just two of over a dozen important UK government officials who’ve resigned as a result of Johnson’s premiership.
According to a report by UK website GayStarNews, Johnson’s pet issue of Brexit — the departure of the UK from the European Union — threatens the country’s LGBTQ population. “Britain has advanced in its overall attitudes to LGBTI people,” writes editor Tris Reid-Smith in the foreword to the report, LGBTI & The EU. “But many of the senior UK politicians backing Brexit have openly homophobic and transphobic records… Trusting the future of the rights we have worked so hard to achieve to their goodwill seems to me to be reckless.”
That said, Johnson is at least saying the right things at the moment. When asked by LGBT+ Conservatives (a group roughly analogous to Log Cabin Republicans here in the US) about how he intends to approach LGBTQ issues as prime minister, Johnson said, “I will continue to champion LGBT+ equality, get tough on hate crime, and ensure that we break down barriers to a fairer society.”
Of course, Donald Trump said similar things before he was in office, so it’s an open question how Johnson’s Trump-supported premiership will actually turn out. I guess all of us will find out soon.
Photo via gov.uk/Open Government Licence v3.0