Pride is a golden opportunity to keep the torch of liberty burning bright

Pierre Andrews is Vice-Chair Outreach of LGBT+ Conservatives, Head of Policy at Digital Tories, Senior Parliamentary Assistant to an MP and a CiC-Start Mentee. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

June is Pride Month. A yearly opportunity to freely express and celebrate the strength and diversity of the whole LGBT+ community.

However, Pride isn’t just about the rainbow flags, live music performances and a celebration of rights and freedoms we enjoy at home in the UK. It is a reminder of the need for constant vigilance in the face of oppression around the world to keep the torch of liberty burning bright; and of the leading role Britain must play in the promotion of  LGBT+ rights globally.

June is not Pride Month by coincidence. It commemorates the Stonewall Riots of 1969, a turning point in LGBT+ history. Members of the community pushed back against the state for infringing on their freedoms of expression and association, through regular police raids of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York.

While in Britain today the situation would be unrecognisable to those who lived in fear and desperation in the 1960s – positive relationship education in schools, anti-discrimination legislation, equal marriage and adoption for same-sex couples, and the possibility to change your legal gender – such freedoms are sadly not the case in many parts of the world. Indeed, in 68 countries around the world homosexuality is still criminalised and in too many places repression against LGBT+ people seems to have worsened in recent years.

Last May, in Iran, 20-year old Alireza Fazeli Monfared was allegedly beheaded by his half-brother and cousins after they discovered he was gay. Iran continues to have one of the most homophobic regimes in the world, where homosexuality can be punishable by death. It is thought that the discovery of Fazeli Monfared’s military exemption card – for which gay and trans men can apply to be exempted from military service – led his family to conduct what local LGBT+ rights group 6Rang are calling an ‘honour killing’.

Alireza’s tragic story should serve as a reminder to us all this Pride Month – we cannot and should not rest until every LGBT+ person around the world has the freedom to be themself. Britain must continue to play a leading role on the international stage to achieve LGBT+ equality for all.

This Conservative government has set advancing LGBT+ rights internationally as a priority and our role and influences should not be underestimated. Next June, the UK will host the first ever Global LGBT Conference. Chaired by Lord Herbert – who was recently appointed the UK’s Special Envoy on LGBT Rights – the conference will provide a global platform for the UK, as co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition, to call for the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies against LGBT+ people and legal protection from discrimination.

The Stonewall Riots took place 52 years ago, yet around the world, many LGBT+ people still live in fear, with the ultimate threat of death simply for being themselves or loving who they choose to love.

This Pride Month the UK is at the centre of the world stage as we host the G7 Summit in Cornwall, taking a leading role in championing our shared values as we recover from the global pandemic. In doing so, we can look proudly ahead to a year of golden opportunity, by making the most of our world-leading diplomatic networks, to reach out an arm of friendship around the world and encourage all States to attend our Global LGBT Conference, and spread the torch of liberty together.

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This piece was written for 1821.

The craft of communications and the coming culture war

GUEST POST: Jason MacKenzie is Managing Partner of Corporate Communications at Nudge Factory and Past-President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

We’re neck deep in that Orwellian future. Fake news is the new norm, and effective communicators will win the coming clash between the ‘based’ and the ‘woke’.

If you’re not entirely sure what those two sentences mean, but you’ve got a good idea that this is an important debate, you’re in the majority. We’re familiar with the language of Brexit, and the emotive political discourse leading up to the EU referendum. It’s rooted in an older, simpler paradigm. But we now need greater nuance to navigate the rhetorical battlefields of the future.

The US culture wars started in the 1920s, with the clash between rural and urban American values. The term was rebooted in the 1960s, placed centre stage by disagreements between conservatives and progressives over moral issues, including marriage and abortion.

‘Pro-life’ verses ‘pro-choice’ is a classic example of the framing of an issue. On the face of it, both seem positive and widely acceptable positions to adopt. In reality, they are diametrically opposite. One emphasises the sanctity of life, based on the conviction that human rights begin in the womb, the other prioritises the well-being of a mother over her unborn infant. No one ever describes themselves as ‘anti-choice’ or ‘pro-death’.

American pollster Frank Luntz demonstrates the importance of persuasive language in Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear, by asking why people dislike big oil.

America’s energy producers have been their own worst enemies…“drilling for oil”…reminds people of Jed Clampett shooting at the ground, conjuring images of liquid black goo gushing into the sky…

The antidote is simple: they replaced ‘drilling for oil’ with ‘energy exploration’ – far more acceptable, at least semantically.

Language matters. Phrasing matters. Framing matters.

Vote Leave won because 17.4 million people understood and embraced ‘Vote leave, take back control’ – most importantly because it encapsulated the underlying message. You could argue that ‘Make America Great Again’ worked for the Republicans in 2016 in the same way, and that ‘Get Brexit done’ delivered an 80-seat majority for the Conservatives six months ago.

But not all air wars are fought by giant industries to reposition themselves, or by political parties to win elections. The coming culture war will be fought on multiple fronts, across social, digital and traditional media, and with myriad voices and factions. While many combatants will simply shout into echo chambers that reinforce their own worldviews, deepening tribalism – others will cut through, and change the way we think, feel and act.

Over the past few weeks we’ve witnessed two major flashpoints. The diehard remain coalition piled pressure on Boris Johnson to sack Dominic Cummings, for actions that Durham Police said “might have been a minor breach of the regulations.” But the Prime Minister’s adviser neither resigned nor was forced out.

The old rules no longer apply. Cummings would not have survived in the pre-Trump era. The US President’s relentless refusal to adhere to convention has crossed the Atlantic. There’s a willingness to stand up to received wisdom, herd mentality and the prevailing media narrative. Whether you believe that this shows craven weakness or bold leadership depends on your worldview and where your loyalties lie.

The second major incident sparked riots, looting, and a torrent of hatred and outrage. The universally-condemned and unjust killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis after being pinned to the floor by police officer Derek Chauvin took place on 25th May. Conservatives, liberals and almost everyone across (and beyond) the political spectrum condemned this instance of police brutality. But from there, narratives and courses of action diverged.

On the one hand, there are calls for law and order to prevail, for justice to be done, and for peace – whether peaceful protesting or other meaningful action. At the other end of the spectrum, anarchic looting and violent protests carried out by the likes of Antifa, the militant left-wing movement. Meanwhile, the middle ground is flooded by virtue-signalling.

Our 52/48 nation will continue to be divided, and social media will play an increasing role as a catalyst, stoking the fires of anger and hatred, and deepening our societal fractures. Even something as innocuous as a blog about whether we need ‘Pride Month’ by young, gay Conservative activist Darren Grimes provoked a furore. “I find it utterly depressing that the pride flag now takes pride of place in our national life over our own national flag” he wrote for Conservative Home. Rather than welcoming debate and the free exchange of ideas, he was pilloried on Twitter, rebutted by PinkNews, and the post was ‘cancelled’ by Facebook.

Free speech is vital for democracy. When social media platforms behave more like publishers, exercising censorship and editorial control, they need to be treated as such. Digital acts of ‘no platforming’ such as ‘temporarily restricting’ Twitter parody account @TitaniaMcGrath, smack of censorship and conscious mass manipulation. This is what the founding father of public relations, Edward Bernays might have called “the engineering of consent”.

Identity politics is here to stay. Tribalism is getting deeper. Truth (and underlying trust in our institutions) is more evasive than ever. That’s why professional communications, precise language and persuasive discourse are needed now more than ever. In the court of public opinion, the most powerful arguments will win. Let’s hope that democracy, decency and common sense prevail.

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This piece was written for our website.