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Crispin Blunt’s Story: The Evolution of a Gay Conservative in Parliament

Crispin Blunt’s Story: The Evolution of a Gay Conservative in Parliament


Two days after former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman came out of the closet in an interview with The Atlantic -- a move that garnered both praise and dramatic scorn ("He's as good as a Jew that collaborated with the Nazis," publicist Howard Bragman quipped of the news) -- a Conservative member of parliament across the pond had decided to do the same. The timing was coincidental, but what their stories had in common was a gay population unsure of how to welcome a former adversary.

Tory prisons minister Crispin Blunt, married with two children, put out a press release late on a Friday afternoon, August 27, 2010, regarding his sexual orientation. The missive was clear-cut and written in the third person.

"Crispin Blunt wishes to make it known that he has separated from his wife Victoria. He decided to come to terms with his homosexuality and explained the position to his family. The consequence is this separation," the statement read. He further asked for privacy and asserted that there was "no third-party involvement."

To the extent that it could, the British press spawned seductive headlines, like the Daily Mail's "Wife 'traumatised' after top Tory MP Crispin Blunt admits: 'I'm gay.'" But like Mehlman's, Blunt's confession seemed not to be the result of any sordid affair, however hard some in the U.K. press had plumbed to find one.

Sitting in a Capitol Hill restaurant a year later with The Advocate, Blunt, now 51, reminisced about that decision. A gay member of parliament from the Conservative Party (a.k.a. Tories) in the United Kingdom has a different calculus to make than, say, a Republican campaign operative like Mehlman, who was largely out of the public eye when he admitted being gay. What might be surprising to Americans is there are more openly gay Tory MPs than all from other parties in the U.K. combined -- starting with Alan Duncan, the first sitting Conservative to come out, in 2002. In fact, last year the party released a list of openly gay Tory MPs and candidates in an apparent attempt to modernize its image (the number of out gay parliamentary Conservatives now stands at 13).

Yet Blunt was married and has some regrettable votes and past statements on homosexuality that he'd now wish were never made. Shortly before he was to issue the statement, Blunt says, he was in a restaurant in Barcelona, where he met a recently wed gay couple from Massachusetts who were on their honeymoon. Blunt was at an adjacent table, alone and reading a book, and he struck up a conversation. "I posed them the problem of someone in my position," Blunt says. "That I needed to come out to my wife, that it's going to be on the front page of every newspaper. They thought it was the drink talking, what I was saying. ... But they told me to be honest. And I was. Of course a few weeks later they fell off their chairs when they realized I was serious."

Blunt hasn't talked until now about his sexuality and still declines to discuss elements of his personal life (he is still separated from his wife, though the couple have not divorced). "There was a mixed reaction in the [U.K.] gay press," Blunt says. "Half of it was, 'You bastard, where were you when the fight was on?' And that's entirely legitimate."

Blunt's marriage and family weren't the only roadblocks to coming out. He grew up in a conventional military family and a homophobic boarding school environment. He wanted a career in the army -- Blunt served as an officer in the 13th/18th Royal Hussars from 1979 to 1990 -- and he also had political aspirations. Those circumstances, Blunt says, "militated against choosing to explore that side of myself. My career aspirations were pretty strong, and made it impossible. So I didn't."

After he was elected to parliament in 1997, Blunt took interest in a bill on lowering the gay age of consent from age 18 to 16 -- the same as the legal age of consent for heterosexuals in the U.K.

Opposing the law, which ultimately passed in 2000, he said during debate, "It is also clear that there is a much greater strand of homosexuality than of heterosexuality which depends for its gratification on the exploitation of youth." That charge was met with jeers. In particular, Blunt was dressed down by the Labour Party's Ben Bradshaw, one of the first openly gay MPs in the country, who intervened and said, "You can't choose your sexuality."

"From that moment, the penny started to drop with me," Blunt now says. "The edifice I had created around myself over the past 30 years, from the age of 13 onwards, began to crack. It was no longer illegal [to be gay] in my previous profession, the military. It was no longer impossible to pursue a political career if you were out. It was from that debate that I had begun to reevaluate myself. What I said in 1998 was based around the level of control I suppose I created around myself."

His voting record has since been more sympathetic -- if imperfect -- on LGBT issues, including support for civil partnerships as well as a law preventing discrimination in public accommodations and services on the basis of sexual orientation. Blunt believes that gay Brits have attained equality in the eyes of the law with civil partnerships, that the word marriage is not as totemic as it is in the U.S., and he's hesitant to push for marriage, though he expects the nomenclature will evolve to be the same, regardless if you're gay or straight.

Traveling through the United States this week to visit American correctional facilities -- in addition to a meeting with the gay conservative group GOProud -- Blunt says he's disappointed by antigay rhetoric and continued opposition to repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" from many on the right in this country. Those political positions don't square with true conservatism, he says.

"From a British perspective, it's so difficult to comprehend," Blunt says. "As a center-right politician, I really struggle. ... If your language is so exclusive about gays, you've suddenly made your job a whole lot harder. You're also sending out a message about your own values and what you stand for as a party and your attitudes to minorities."

Mehlman came out in part so he could work openly for marriage equality in California and then in New York. For Blunt, antigay bullying in schools is a crucial issue. But striking a balance on his own advocacy, one year after coming out, remains a challenge.

"It's not going to be my political raison d'etre, I think it would be presumptuous to take a leadership role," Blunt says of the movement. "But I would want to make sure that we support equality. The longer I'm out and the more comfortable those closest to me become about it ... I think I can then begin discussing these issues. I've ridden on the back of other people who have fought, and I'm extremely conscious of that. I do have a huge debt of gratitude to people who fought for equality."

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