Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader

by Stephen Tall on February 12, 2012

Here’s a story that shows politics in both its best and worst lights — the facts, as far as I’ve gleaned them from the local paper, the Thame Gazette, are as follows…

Four Conservative councillors on Aylesbury Vale district council coined a nickname for the openly gay leader of the Lib Dem group, Stephen Lambert — they called him ‘Lily’ on at least four documented occasions, at the election count last May and at a number of group meetings. The homophobic slur came to light ‘when a member of the Conservative group approached [Cllr Lambert] with notes of the comments’.

Here’s what Stephen had to say about it all two weeks ago:

“It’s about equality, but I’m clearly seen as different, and people feel it’s acceptable to use nicknames. I’ve been out for nearly 20 years, this is me and it’s something I can’t change. It’s something that should be out of bounds. … I was told I had a nickname some time before, but I dismissed it at the time. In October I had a conversation with someone who brought this to my attention in detail.”

Stephen said that if the allegations were proved, he would demand a full, public apology. An apology certainly didn’t seem to be on the mind of the local Tory leader, John Cartwright, who brushed the allegations aside:

“All of us have over the years have attracted derogatory remarks and nicknames, that’s par for the course in politics. You don’t tend to get uptight and upset. I’m aware of some talk about a nickname in times gone by, but most certainly not recently.”

But the story did not stop there, with Stephen’s colleagues — not just in the Lib Dems, but also among Labour and Ukip councillors — outraged on his behalf:

Last week all Liberal Democrat members at Aylesbury Vale District Council, as well as their Labour and UKIP counterparts, sported pink anti-homophobia badges at a crunch budget meeting. The badges, declaring Homophobia Is Gay, were worn to a full council meeting on Wednesday.

And Tory leader John Cartwright’s response to the continuing row? Well, he issued one of those conditional, half-apologies so beloved of politicians hoping to shrug off anything awkward: “May I apologise for any such remarks which may have been made by any member of the Conservative group.”

Stephen Lambert is unimpressed:

“What I’ve got isn’t an apology, it’s insulting. I’m so angry, and my group is livid.” He said he had contacted the Local Government Association, calling for Mr Cartwright and AVDC chief executive Andrew Grant to be removed.

Here in microcosm is politics at its worst (casual bullying being ignored) and at its best (colleagues from all shades of opinion rallying round to support the person being bullied). Best of Luck to Stephen Lambert as he confronts those who seek to make light of homophobia.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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18 comments

New post: Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader http://t.co/z8oIh5kP

by Stephen Tall on February 12, 2012 at 4:52 pm. Reply #

RT @stephentall New post: Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader http://t.co/LnXJWgeK

by HouseofTwitsLib on February 12, 2012 at 5:05 pm. Reply #

RT @stephentall New post: Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader http://t.co/0Ksh116R

by House Of Twits on February 12, 2012 at 5:05 pm. Reply #

RT @stephentall New post: Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader http://t.co/0Ksh116R

by Andrew Collingwood on February 12, 2012 at 5:07 pm. Reply #

RT @stephentall New post: Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader http://t.co/0Ksh116R

by Alex Burrows on February 12, 2012 at 5:08 pm. Reply #

I’m struggling to see what the fuss is about in this story. Are there any homophobic connotations around calling someone “Lily”? I can’t think of any.

Sure – name calling is not very funny, nor very nice, but is it any worse than calling the current (Tory) leader of the County Council “Kaiser Keith”? Many Oxfordshire folk – politicians and others – do that all the time!

As an openly gay LibDem member of Oxford City Council I must say I wouldn’t be terribly concerned if other members of the council started calling me Antonia. Oh, no, wait…

by Tony Brett on February 12, 2012 at 5:09 pm. Reply #

New post: Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader http://t.co/z8oIh5kP

by Laura Gilmore on February 12, 2012 at 5:12 pm. Reply #

Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader http://t.co/1xChdC6B #homaphobiaisgay (via @stephentall)

by Rachel Oelbaum on February 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm. Reply #

New post: Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader http://t.co/z8oIh5kP

by Richard on February 12, 2012 at 5:34 pm. Reply #

New post: Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader http://t.co/z8oIh5kP

by Dan Watson on February 12, 2012 at 5:56 pm. Reply #

New post: Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader http://t.co/z8oIh5kP

by Paula Keaveney on February 12, 2012 at 6:58 pm. Reply #

New post: Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader http://t.co/z8oIh5kP

by Victor Chamberlain on February 12, 2012 at 7:01 pm. Reply #

New post: Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader http://t.co/z8oIh5kP

by Alvin Horsfall on February 12, 2012 at 7:05 pm. Reply #

New post: Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader http://t.co/z8oIh5kP

by Jonathan Price on February 12, 2012 at 7:53 pm. Reply #

Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader http://t.co/1xChdC6B #homaphobiaisgay (via @stephentall)

by Ashley R. Bullard on February 12, 2012 at 8:17 pm. Reply #

Tony – Thx for the comment. I think there’s a clear distinction between ‘Kaiser Keith’ and calling someone ‘Lily’. Keith Mitchell’s nickname is a result of how he acts as a council leader: self-consciously out-spoken, un-PC etc. ‘Lily’ has been chosen simply because it’s an effeminate name. It has nothing to do with how Stephen Lambert is as a councillor, and everything to do with who he is as a gay man. That’s a crucial difference.

The same thing happened with the nickname ‘Mandy’ for Peter Mandelson – it was journos’ way of hinting at his gay background long before he was out. But at least that was an abbreviation of his surname so it was less of an obvious taunt.

by Stephen Tall on February 13, 2012 at 8:11 am. Reply #

@TonyOX3 @tonybrett Cldn't fit in 140 chars so response here! http://t.co/95utVHnb

by Stephen Tall on February 13, 2012 at 8:15 am. Reply #

Stephen,

What you say is true, of course, but gender and sexuality are not the same thing. Using a nickname that is perhaps a bit “girly” does not equate to using a nickname that is homophobic. There are plenty of homophobic nicknames of course but I just don’t see that Lily is one of them.

There are plenty of effeminate straight men around. Do you think it would be homophobic to call one of them Lily? It might be offensive but I don’t think it’s homophobic.

I don’t know Stephen Lambert personally so I don’t know if he is effeminate or not, but either way that isn’t the same as being gay or straight.

I think what matters is how the person feels – if Stephen has clearly said that he doesn’t like being called Lily and has asked fellow councillors to stop doing it then certainly they should stop – that’s just common decency. Whether or not calling him Lily is homophobic is in many ways a different discussion. Whether it is or not, if Stephen finds it offensive then people should stop.

Others may not find nicknames used for them offensive though. I have two male friends, both gay men, and they are called Minnie and Moira to practically everyone who knows them and have been so called for years. I occasionally struggle to remember their real names!

Tony

by Tony Brett on February 13, 2012 at 9:38 am. Reply #

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