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banner Thursday, 5 October, 2000, 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK
Sing if you're glad to be Tory
"I understand Lady Young was invited tonight," said Angela Mason, head of gay rights group Stonewall, referring to the Conservative baroness who earlier this summer led the successful charge in the House of Lords to nobble the government's bid to scrap Clause 28.

The rest of Ms Mason's remarks on Lady Young, fierce defender of traditional family values against the forces of permissiveness, were drowned out in jeers and mock-cheers from the Tories assembled on the party's conference fringe in Bournemouth for the joint Torche (Tory Campaign for Homosexual Equality) and Stonewall reception and disco.

Steve Norris, who against the party line supported gay marriages and the abolition of Clause 28 but who was nevertheless recently appointed Tory vice-chairman, hosted the event.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the recent Clause 28 controversy and a noticeably less tolerant line from the party hierarchy towards equality between gays and heterosexuals than was evident a year or so ago, the mood at the party was cheerful. Optimistic, even.

"I don't feel alienated from the party because what has my sexuality got to do with politics?" said Paul Willitts, deputy chair of Derby South Conservative Association.

"It's generational - it's just the blue rinse brigade who bang on about family, family, family, and the upper echelons of the party having to pander to their core vote. But I'm not despondent. There's light at the end of the tunnel and one day they will accept us for what we are - equals."

Clause 28 was "the most iniquitous piece of Tory legislation ever". And as for Lady Young, "she's a bigoted old bag, completely out of touch - she's of a generation that would put us in jail if she could".

Nicholas Van Grugdings, a Tory activist from the same area, agreed. "The gay bit of being a Tory is the worst bit, policy-wise," he acknowledged.

"But I can more or less live with it. I've always been a Tory and I've always known I'm gay - there's no contradiction in that.

"The party hierarchy is just using that anti-gay rhetoric now in a cosmetic way. They don't believe it, they just say it because they want to keep the older core vote on board."

According to Karen Gillard, chair of Torche and a Tory councillor, the party's policy on gays was no different to policy on any other area: up for grabs and no reason to leave the party if you didn't agree with it.

"There are people in the Tory Party who have many different views on all kinds of policy areas - Europe, for example," she said. "We will fight this on a policy basis and we will continue to debate this until we get the majority view."

Addressing the party-goers from the stage, her message was: "Be proud, whether you're gay or straight, because we're all good Tories."

With that, she cleared the platform for the evening's entertainment to begin: drag artist duo Cher Travesty, performing songs in homage to their eponymous heroine.

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