Page last updated at 14:54 GMT, Wednesday, 7 October 2009 15:54 UK

Gay campaign bid to calm Tory row

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News, Conservative Party conference

Nick Herbert
Nick Herbert gave a speech to the Tory gay pride event

The Conservatives are monitoring their new partners in Europe for evidence of homophobia, a gay rights chief says.

Stonewall chief Ben Summerskill said he had been assured that the party was studying past statements by Poland's Law and Justice Party.

He told a fringe meeting he hoped the party would take a "firm view" of any "offensive activity" by them.

Mr Summerskill denied boycotting a Tory gay night over the presence of the Polish group at the conference.

He had been due to speak at the party's first "Pride" evening, but pulled out at the last minute, attacking the party for sharing platforms in Manchester with politicians holding "extreme and offensive" views.

He spoke out after two MEPs from the Conservatives' new grouping in Brussels, from Latvian and Polish parties accused of homophobic views, spoke at a fringe event alongside shadow Europe minister Mark Francois.

'Firm view'

But he sought to play down the row at a Stonewall fringe meeting, at which he was booed by gay Tory activists.

He insisted he had not deliberately boycotted the event at the behest of the Labour Party, which has recruited celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Eddie Izzard to campaign against the Tories' new European alliance.

Most of the parties in Poland do take a stance like that on issues like gay marriage - I don't happen to agree with them
David Cameron

"I am not being used by Downing Street," Mr Summerskill told the meeting, saying he had merely decided to go to bed at a "normal hour" on Tuesday night.

He said he had received assurances from shadow environment minister Nick Herbert that the Conservative Party was studying previous statements by the Law and Justice Party for evidence of homophobia.

He said he hoped "if people are currently engaged in deeply offensive activities, the Conservative Party take a very firm view on that".

'Shrill'

Mr Herbert warned Stonewall it was "in danger of being perceived as not being a cross party group by your actions".

And he urged voters not to judge the Tories by the company they keep in Europe, insisting the party had transformed its attitude to gay rights in recent years.

"You cannot define the Conservative Party's attitude to gay rights by these alliances. It is just not a sensible position to take," he told the meeting.

He attacked "shrill and silly Labour politicians" who he claimed were trying to create false dividing lines on the gay rights issues, insisting "the Tory party has changed - we want equality".

Tory leader David Cameron has also sought to calm the row by saying he disagrees with some of the views held by his new allies but did not believe the Law and Justice party was homophobic.

He told Sky News: "They have said very clearly that they believe in equal rights and they believe in equal rights for people of different sexualities - they are very clear about that."

Put to him that the party did not support gay marriage or gay adoption, Mr Cameron said: "Poland is a very Catholic country. Most of the parties in Poland do take a stance like that on issues like gay marriage - I don't happen to agree with them. But they are not a homophobic party."

Mr Cameron also sought to defend his record on gay rights and claimed political opponents were seeking all means possible to undermine the new EU grouping.



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