Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Wednesday, 7 October 2009 13:03 UK

Gay Tories hold first pride night

By Andrew Gilhooly
BBC News, Conservative Party conference

The party on Tuesday night on Manchester's Canal Street was a political one.

Spirit club
Canal Street was the venue for the first Tory gay pride night

The city's famous pink street turned blue, as the Conservatives attempted to reach out to a gay constituency with their first ever gay pride event.

The evening of music and performance drew a colourful crowd, but the traditional Tory "blue rinse" brigade decided to stay away.

Instead at a bustling bar there were Conservative cocktails and Tory tree logos painted in rainbow colours.

The hand of friendship to the gay community follows David Cameron's apology for Section 28, the 1980s law that banned the "promotion" of homosexuality in schools.

Speeches by shadow cabinet ministers Theresa May and Nick Herbert were warmly received.

Mr Herbert, the gay shadow environment secretary, declared that he was "living proof" the party had changed.

'Broken Britain'

He joked that being gay and in the shadow cabinet was not an issue, the problem was staying in it - a reference to his recently demoted colleague, Alan Duncan.

Mr Herbert told his audience "that gay people are not the property of the Labour Party" and that the battleground had moved on.

Ian Dale and Margot James
Blogger Iain Dale and Tory vice chairman Margot James gave speeches

Absent from the stage was Ben Summerskill, head of the equality campaign Stonewall.

He pulled out in protest at the appearance at fringe meetings this week of Michal Kaminski and Roberts Zile, two controversial Conservative allies in the European Parliament.

As the party got going, revellers were treated to some 1990s hits with a performance from singer Angie Brown who said she had written a more recent song with "broken Britain in mind" - a reference to one of the Tories' key themes this week.

The Conservative night of fun received a more hostile reception from Outrage protesters gathered outside and at a rival event at the long-running gay club, Poptastic, just around the corner.

'Tory shame'

Their alternative "Tory shame" night, hosted by gay performer and broadcaster Amy Lamé, aimed to draw attention to the party's past record, rather than current aspirations.

Amy Lamé told BBC News she felt it "important to highlight that the Conservatives have a terrible reputation when it comes to equality".

The performer pointed out David Cameron's past voting record against the repeal of Section 28 and claimed the Tories have "nothing in their policy to make gay voters feel comfortable or confident".

Labour 'Tory shame' poster
Labour and Lib Dem activists held a rival event

The atmosphere at Poptastic seemed less politically charged than might have been expected, but a drag queen dressed as Margaret Thatcher drew laughs of recognition from some.

The Conservative organisers of the Pride event dismissed "Tory Shame" as, well, "a shame".

They argued it was little more than a stunt organised by gay Labour and Liberal Democrat activists.

But some of the hardcore party goers at Conservative Pride were more open minded, declaring their intention to attend "Tory Shame" afterwards.

If nothing else, the recent spat between Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives over their records on gay issues shows that whichever party you choose to go to, the election battle for the "pink vote" has begun.

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