In recent years gay rights have come a long way, but we can’t become complacent. Roger Helmer’s comments on Twitter last weekend show that many on the right of British politics still don’t get it. By asking why it’s “not OK for a psychiatrist to try to “turn” a consenting homosexual” Mr Helmer was implying that homosexuality is a mental illness or some kind of disease that can be “cured”. This is an unfair and damaging stigma that LGBT people have had to deal with for decades, with the World Health Organisation only removing homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in 1990. So when my fellow MEP for the East Midlands made this statement I immediately called on David Cameron to condemn it, or risk showing that the Tories are still the nasty party. However, as shown in last year’s interview with the Gay Times, the Prime Minister doesn’t seem to care what his MEPs are up to. Roger Helmer and some of his colleagues have voted against numerous measures promoting gay rights in the past.
This all comes at a time when it is crucial that the European Union is firm on upholding LGBT rights. This week in Strasbourg we voted for a tough resolution condemning a proposed law in Lithuania which would make the “promotion of homosexual relations” illegal. The law, similar to Thatcher’s Section 28, would mean that people could be fined up to £2,500 for “offences” such as holding hands with someone of the same sex in public, or taking part in a gay pride march. If passed the law would breach the European Convention on Human Rights, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Unsurprisingly it was allies of the Tories in the European Parliament who stood up for Lithuania’s freedom to flout the rights of their minorities. The EU was set up in the wake of the mass murder of homosexual men and women, and we have a responsibility to make sure a member of the EU does not abuse the rights of its citizens. As for Mr Helmer, he has a responsibility to represent his many gay constituents, not insult them.