Edinburgh Pride: Asked to address crowd, I was shouted down by vocal minority determined to make gay Tories feel unwelcome – Neil Benny

John Stewart Mill said that “if all mankind, minus one, were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind”. The unique view, the minority opinion, the divergent point must always be heard.

It was sad, therefore, to be invited to speak at the Edinburgh Pride march on Saturday, only to be silenced by a vocal minority, determined to shout down the Tory.

I’ve been in politics for years and you have to take the rough with the smooth. It’s also a tense time to be a Conservative of any kind with Westminster shenanigans and in front of a crowd passionately involved in the debate around the gender recognition act.

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Suggesting we need to balance the rights of one group and another group to ensure they are both protected is not, to my mind, controversial, but people have strong views about this.

But then surely if a community, a community of which I am a member, is to be inclusive it must be inclusive of everyone. Looking at the Scottish Conservative Party, I am certainly not unique in my sexual orientation.

I couldn’t find definitive information on this, but the proportion of LGBT members of the Scottish Parliament in the Scottish Conservatives seems to be the highest of any of the groups. Many people I know who are LGBT support the Conservatives. This is because the LGBT community is as diverse politically as the rest of society. My party is also diverse.

That is why I showed up on Saturday to make sure the Conservatives who are also LGBT were represented and show that the party stands for LGBT rights.

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People take part in the Pride Edinburgh event on Saturday (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)People take part in the Pride Edinburgh event on Saturday (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)
People take part in the Pride Edinburgh event on Saturday (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

Freedom to be who we want to be, hold the opinions we want to hold, love who we want to love is precious. Whether those views and lifestyles are displayed widely or privately held doesn’t matter. When someone traduces your beliefs or stamps on your choices, it makes us all a little bit less free.

It makes the young gay man, Conservative in outlook, feel unloved in his community, perhaps forcing him back into the closet. It makes the trans woman, who wants to leaflet for a Conservative candidate, feel they have to make a choice between their political beliefs and their gender identity.

Expressing hatred for someone because of their beliefs is bigotry. It must be called out. We can disagree, we can debate, we can argue. But we must not hate. That way lies exclusion, rejection and segregation.

I’m a big boy, I can take it, but my husband was angry about it. He felt like he did when he was growing up gay in a traditional Andalucίan village, excluded, separate and like he had to be ashamed of who he was. Not things anyone should feel at a pride event.

Councillor Neil Benny and his husband Ismael Sanchez LeonCouncillor Neil Benny and his husband Ismael Sanchez Leon
Councillor Neil Benny and his husband Ismael Sanchez Leon
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It is not right for those of a particular view to hijack the LGBT community for their own ends. They have no right to make those they disagree with feel unwelcome in the community. It isn’t their community, it is our community and it is one where all minorities should be welcome, not just those who carry a bullhorn.

Neil Benny is Scottish Conservative group leader on Stirling Council



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