on why David Cameron’s latest plan won’t work
More from Patrick Strudwick
David Cameron, the man who voted against gay adoption and for Section 28, wants homophobic foreign governments to listen to his pro-gay message.
He wants them to revoke their anti-gay laws. If they do not, he said publicly recently, he will cut British aid to them.
As with many things the Prime Minster says, it appears to make logical sense – like radically reducing spending to cut the deficit, a plan that forgets that if you reduce spending, you reduce growth and thereby reduce the country’s ability to pay off the deficit. But I digress.
Hit the homophobic nations where it hurts (their starving citizens) is the logic here – that way their leaders will be dragged into the 21st century. But zoom out from this apparent logic and behold the truth: it may make things worse, local gay activists are pleading with Cameron not to do this and Cameron is refusing to listen.
It’s not as if their voices are not bellowing out. A statement signed by dozens of organisations reads: “The decision to cut aid…creates the real risk of a serious backlash against LGTBI people. A cut in aid will have an impact on everyone. And more so on the populations that are already vulnerable and whose access to health and other services are already limited, such as LGBTI people.”
Why then is Cameron charging forth regardless? Other than the fact that he believes such a threat will work, it is convenient for him in three ways. Cutting aid would involve spending less money – that’ll help the deficit! It appeases those who think we should give less overseas aid. And it strengthens social conservatism. Let me explain.
Already in many parts of the world gay people are blamed for disease, child abuse, and even crop failure. Accelerate this blame epidemic by publicly linking gay people to aid cuts and the by-product of such inevitable homophobia is a mounting belief that heterosexual marriage and family is the only microstructure on which a stable, moral country can thrive.
Thus, small ‘c’ conservatism wins out – the deification of “traditional” family life. We all know that the 1950s model of the family meant gay people and their spouses trapped in miserable marriages, child abuse going unchecked and wife beating deemed so acceptable it wasn’t even discussed. But conservatives don’t mention that reality. No. Married life, they say, is the antidote to most social ills. It is no surprise then that the Civil Partnerships Bill was one of only two pieces of gay equality legislation that Cameron has ever voted for.
As anyone who has battled against homophobia knows, change is most successfully achieved through creative, clever, nuanced effort. A sustained front that engages with homophobic leaders, which presents protecting gay people as a winning tactic all round, and which presents simple facts, again and again, is the best answer. This takes time. There are gay people being electrocuted and kicked to death right now. But their torturers won’t pull punches if they’re even hungrier.
That is not to say that the dialogue about aid between Britain and anti-gay nations should not include gay rights. As Lance Price, the director of the Kaleidoscope Trust, told me: “We would all prefer there to be a foreign policy that takes human rights – including gay rights – into consideration than one that doesn’t. It’s how you go about it. Appearing to very publicly put pressure on governments is counter productive. Governments don’t like being lectured at and berated by other governments.”
Peter Tatchell offered an alternative suggestion: “Britain and other donor countries should divert their aid money from human rights abusing governments and redirect it to grassroots, community-based humanitarian projects that respect human rights. This way, abusive governments are punished but poor people are not penalised.”
This sounds like the best solution, but “diverting” funds will still come across – because repressive governments will spin it this way – as colonial powers cutting aid in order to bully others into accepting their values. I suspect that rather than diverting aid and making public threats, the answer lies in careful behind the scenes discussions in which gay rights are a part and greater financial support for grass roots organisations. This requires a multi-pronged effort based on a sophisticated understanding of the complexities involved. Given Cameron’s notoriously flustered interview with this magazine last year, which exposed his ignorance about gay issues closer to home in Europe, he is unlikely to excel.
It seems from that, and from how out of touch he is with advice from experts on the ground, he needs the very thing that in the end is what will set gay people free across the world: education, education, education.