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’être, 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.”

Tags: World, World

Latest videos on Advocate

From our Sponsors

READER COMMENTS ()