David Cameron apologises to gay people for section 28

Tory leader offers public apology for backing legislation which banned the 'promotion' of homosexuality in schools

David Cameron has embarked on another major step in the modernisation of the Conservative party by offering a public apology for section 28, the notorious legislation which banned the "promotion" of homosexuality in schools.

In a gesture hailed by gay rights campaigners as "historic", Cameron condemned section 28 as "offensive to gay people" and predicted that a Conservative would become Britain's first openly gay prime minister.

The Tory leader, who voted against the repeal of section 28 as recently as 2003, reached out to the gay community on Tuesday night at a Tory fundraising event linked to Gay Pride this weekend.

"Yes, we may have sometimes been slow and, yes, we may have made mistakes, including Section 28, but the change has happened," Cameron said of the repeal of the legislation originally passed in 1988 when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister.

In remarks reported by the Pink Paper, he admitted that he did not have a "perfect record" on gay rights, a reference to his decision in 2003 to vote for the retention of section 28. But he added: "It does give me great pride to be standing here to celebrate Gay Pride and all you have achieved.

"If five years ago we had a Conservative and Gay Pride party, I don't think many gay people would have come or many Conservatives would have come. In wanting to make the party representative of the country, I think we have made some real progress.

"If we do win the next election, instead of being a white middle class middle-aged party, we will be far more diverse. The Conservatives had the first woman prime minister and we are bound to have the first black prime minister and the first gay prime minister."

Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall, described Cameron's speech as "historic". He said: "We have heard the leader of the Conservative party say the words 'section 28' and 'sorry'."

Cameron's apology shows how far the Tory party has moved in the past decade. Shaun Woodward, now Northern Ireland secretary, defected to Labour after he was sacked from the Tory frontbench by William Hague in 2000 for rebelling against the party's support for section 28.

Cameron, who succeeded Woodward as MP for Witney at the 2001 general election, mocked his opposition to section 28. "Did Mr Woodward order a survey of local opinion about the issue that triggered his resignation – clause 28 and the promotion of homosexuality in schools?" Cameron wrote in a letter to the Daily Telegraph in September 2000.

The future Tory leader voted to retain Section 28 in the 2003 Commons vote which led to its abolition. Cameron, whose wife Samantha has long opposed section 28, later admitted that this was a mistake.

In his first conference speech as Tory leader, three years later in 2006, Cameron showed how he had moved on in what he called a "journey". He said: "There's something special about marriage. Pledging yourself to another means doing something brave and important ... You are making a commitment.

"And by the way, it means something whether you're a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and another man. That's why we were right to support civil partnerships, and I'm proud of that."

However as recently as last year, Cameron alarmed gay and lesbian campaigners by voting to restrict access for lesbian couples hoping to conceive children through in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

To the surprise of Tory modernisers he supported a Commons amendment by the former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith that would have strengthened existing laws to make IVF clinics consider the "need for a father and a mother" before allowing women to begin fertility treatment. The amendment was defeated.


Nicholas Watt

The GuardianTramp

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