When the Liberal Democrats last week launched their general election campaign, no doubt they had high hopes and expectations. Despite having just nine seats in the British Parliament since their poor show at the 2015 general election, it seemed that for the Lib Dems the tide might finally be turning.
As the only one of the main parties to be demanding Britain’s impending exit from the European Union be halted, their hope is to appeal to swathes of the remain-voting 48%. It’s a fairly sizeable chunk of the population.
But it seems that for Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, gay sex just keeps getting in the way.
He’s been asked countless times now whether as a deeply religious Christian he thinks gay sex is a sin, and it’s clear he’s finding it hard to settle on a simple response. The latest in a line of worrying interviews came on Sunday; when asked 11 times if he thought engaging in same sex sexual activity was sinful he still failed to give a concrete answer.
It’s an issue that he just keeps on avoiding, but it’s one that for many people is of the upmost concern. Don’t get me wrong, our Prime Minister Theresa May’s homophobic record should not be forgotten; she voted against repealing homophobic S28 legislation, said to no same sex adoption and the equalisation of the age of consent. But that’s not excuse for Farron to be a gay rights dinosaur.
Because it’s this subtle homophobia that sees so many people in religious communities repress their sexuality and identity, why for young queers with parents of faith the future can seem insurmountably tough.
Sure, voting for equal rights and same sex marriage is important, but so too is the question of your deeply held religious beliefs. If Tim really does believe to be gay is to be a sinner, that to act on such natural urges might see you banished to the darkest fiery corners of hell, voters must surely have the right to ask him questions.
So when a message comes through that he’ll be addressing a crowd in Vauxhall on Monday afternoon, the centre of London’s late night gay clubbing scene, it seems to good an opportunity to miss out on. I would go down to a church in the shadow of London’s most hedonistic gay clubs and saunas to confront Farron on his views on sodomy once and for all.
I make a placard to take with me, posing the question for all to see. As far as I’m concerned gay sex is nothing to be ashamed of.
Arriving at St Anne and All Saints Church a crowd is already gathering, a small army of campaigners in yellow and wielding placards stands patiently around. With at least half an hour before the leader’s impending arrival, I get chatting to some of those who are here to dress the stage for the camera crews this afternoon. Would party members stand up for Farron’s beliefs?
Most people I get talking to seem to have conveniently not heard about this whole gay-sex debacle, although each are willing to talk about Brexit instead.
But standing front and centre is 19-year-old Guy Russo, this is the first general election he’ll be able to vote in, and thankfully he’s been keeping track of the news.”As a young member, fundamentally, I am behind my leader’s right to have his Christian views himself, his own religion,” Guy explains somewhat awkwardly. “At the end of the day we do believe in independence of thought and the independence of the person.”
After chatting a little more about Brexit, he returns to this question once again.
“I care about what he’s done in parliament, I care about how he will legislate, and he legislates totally in favour of LGBT rights and in favour of equality. At the end of the day what I care about is what he does in practice.”
I keep walking through the crowd looking for answers, and finally stumble on a bloke holding a swish top hat. He introduces himself as Carl Jokl, the only person I meet who is willing to accept the leader’s views need to be addressed.
“The Liberal Democrat party is full of LGBT people,” he proudly tells me, “there are certainly lots of us here. Yes this question is an issue, but it’s an issue that’s not going to go away. Article 50 has been triggered, the clock is ticking – I’m happy to say ‘let’s take that, stick a pin in it’ and we can deal with it later.”
The problem is this election isn’t another Brexit referendum, the likes of Carl want us to put Farron ahead in the polls. When, I therefore ask him, might be a better time to have this difficult conversation?
“I grew up in a homophobic religion,” he replies, pausing briefly. “I guess I am used to some homophobic reactions, I’m much more concerned about Brexit right now.” It’s not entirely convincing as a response.
Soon Tim Farron has entered the building, the Liberal Democrat crowd descending into a whooping frenzy (well, bare in mind they were all Lib Dems). Farron starts making his pitch to be leader, so I sneak off to the back to relax.
Protestor at the back holds up a placard saying 'Farron hates gays' – v quickly removed by party aide
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) April 24, 2017
But as I’m taking a photo to sit alongside our little investigation, the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg clocks on to our bit of fun. She tweets some #fakenews about it kicking off as we posed for the camera, but for the record, no aide asked us to leave. Quite the opposite; they said Tim wants to talk.
Before I have a chance to chat to the bronzed leader, it’s time for the media to have their Q&A. Twice during the following press conference Tim is asked directly about his views on gay sex, and twice more he actively avoids answering the questions being posed. By the time the second journalist asks him to comment, the assembled crowd of party supporters begins to heckle and groan.
“I am passionate about LGBT issues,” Farron asserts as the tutting continues. “It has been at the heart of our party’s programme for decades, and it will continue to be under my leadership.” This still is far from a yes or a no.
As I’m making my way out the building I’m greeted by an aide of Tim Farron’s, he tells me that while his boss has had to shoot off they’d like to find a time to for me and him talk. I pass him my phone number and say I’m ready and waiting.
With my phone not yet ringing and no more clarity coming from Farron when the press asked him questions, it’s clear he’s still avoiding giving an honest response.
Until he starts listening though, and engaging in a serious conversation on this topic, it’ll be following him around until voting opens. Right now his silence is deafening.
At the time of publication Tim Farron has not called the author, the story will be updated if and when he does.
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