England is a Fag Country

Archie Bunker informed us decades ago that “England is a fag country.”

Andrew Sullivan — an Englishman and proud homosexual — verifies this for us:

The Conservative Party in Britain now has eleven openly gay members of parliament and nine more in a glass closet. Compare that with zero for the Republicans and three for the Democrats, and no-one in the upper reaches of the Obama administration. One of the new Tories is an open lesbian. Two gay Tories are ministers — and both friends of mine. No one seems to be terrified of acknowledging this or reporting it — in fact, the party is deeply proud of this new diversity. I am too — as a Tory, a native Brit and a gay person. To see prejudice vanquished in such a way that the Tories now have more openly gay MPs than Labour is a real Cameron achievement — built on accepting the social changes that Thatcher unwittingly unleashed and Blair solidified.

All joking aside, this is indeed quite remarkable.

But how did it come to be?  Granting that the House of Commons is somewhat larger than the combined U.S. House and Senate, how can the numbers be that different?   Sure, there are parts of the country that where religious fundamentalism makes it hard for gays to run for office; but one imagines that’s true in the UK, too.  But there are numerous urban centers in the United States where gays have lived openly since before Archie Bunker went on the air.  And whole swaths of the country where rugged libertarianism is the norm.   How come some few open gays are in senior positions in American politics?

Beyond that, and this is perhaps unknowable, one presumes that the proportion of actual homosexuals in the two countries and the two governments is roughly equal.  If so, then the difference is Closeted vs. Uncloseted rather than Gay vs. Straight.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    You actually did that post without mentioning the Republicans who have been caught with pages, or with male escorts, or tapping in bathroom stalls?

    … how’s Jeff Gannon these days?

  2. Franklin says:

    My off-hand theory is the size of the countries. In the United States, it is easier to keep large groups of fundamentalists fairly isolated from the rest of society. Heck, there’s a whole state full of Mormons. And of course if you’re in one of these isolated groups, there’s a lot of pressure to stay in the closet with the occasional one bursting out on accident.

  3. Maggie Mama says:

    Although it has been disproven by British studies, it is always fun to blame the practice of sending your young son away to a “British Boarding School” for greater numbers of homosexuals in their society (also a fallacy).

    Then, too, it could be that men speaking with that “stiff upper lip” leads casual observers to think England is full of omi-polare.

  4. Part of what’s at issue, I think, is that Britain has been much more tolerant on these issues than many parts of the United States have been, at least in the past several decades.

    Also, I don’t know that it’s so much that there are more homosexual politicians in the UK as it is that there are more open homosexual politicians there.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Inside The Beltway closet is pretty full of people.

  5. Vast Variety says:

    As Doug points out it’s really a matter of tolerance. Unlike Britain, the US is full of people like Congressman Steve King who would prefer we simply shut up and stay in the closet, and people like Maggie Gallagher and Peter Sprigg who would rather strip us of our rights and ship us all off to camps to be “cured.”

  6. TangoMan says:

    Beyond that, and this is perhaps unknowable, one presumes that the proportion of actual homosexuals in the two countries and the two governments is roughly equal.

    Why would one presume proportionality? We know that homosexuality is about 3x more prevalent in people who were raised in urban areas than suburban or rural areas irrespective of where they live as adults. The UK is far more urbanized than the US.

  7. Grewgills says:

    We know that homosexuality is about 3x more prevalent in people who were raised in urban areas than suburban or rural areas irrespective of where they live as adults.

    Really? We know that?

  8. Triumph says:

    Sure, there are parts of the country that where religious fundamentalism makes it hard for gays to run for office; but one imagines that’s true in the UK, too.

    I don’t think this is the case–remember, all of the religious nuts left the UK for North America in the 17th & 18th centuries.

    We’re still living with the consequences of that historical trend.

    Even current polls show stark differences in religious participation between UK (and other countries in Europe) and the US. Something like 10-15% of Brits report going to church versus 41% of Americans.

    Assuming that the few English who go to church attend Anglican parishes, that would be a further difference. Anglicans are much more tolerant than the evangelical sex-obsessed folks we see in US churches.

  9. Washguy says:

    Here’s the explanation: in the US most gay candidates right now are only electable in urban or some close-in suburban districts. So right off the bat, figure 2/3 of districts in the US won’t even think about electing a gay person. The remaining districts tend to be extremely safe, electing members who will sit tight and accumulate seniority. Think Nancy Pelosi, who has had her seat for going on 23 years now. Many of these senior urban members have had their seats for just as long or longer, pre-dating most openly-gay candidates, even in urban areas.

    Another reason: politics in the US are a ladder. You usually start local and work your way up. Up until the mid-90’s there were very few GLBT members of state legislatures, which are the proving grounds for Congress. Sullivan failed to look at the numbers of openly GLBT state legislators. There used to be a site that maintained a list of them all, but I alas cannot find it. The last time I looked, there were something like 70-90 GLBT state legislators in the US (vast majority D, only 1 or 2 R’s). This bodes well for electing many more members of Congress in the next 10 years or so.

    The number of states that could elect an openly gay person to a state-wide office are very limited. Not surprisingly, Oregon is the only state that has any state-wide GLBT officials that come to mind: 2 State Supreme Court Justices and a bisexual woman Sec. of State, who is married to a man. Oregon has large numbers of white liberals, a key component to any gay candidate’s campaign for state-wide office. We’re likely 30-50 years, or more, away from any Southern states elected GLBT people to Congress or state-wide office. Meanwhile, some Northeastern and Western states could conceivably elect an openly gay governor or us senator in the next 10-15 years.

    Finally: 2 of the 3 openly gay congressmembers are fairly powerful. Frank of course, chairs Banking, and Baldwin has worked her way up in seniority on Judiciary. Not surprised Sullivan doesn’t touch on that, as they are both D’s, and he seems committed to ignoring the fact that most gays are now as wedded to the Democratic Party as African-Americans.

  10. Dan says:

    There are a couple of differences in the country and political systems which others have picked up on.

    In terms of the counties the changes in the attitude in the UK since 1997 are noticeable. I doubt there were any open Gay Conservatives then, there were several open Gay Labour MP’s prior to that several more got elected then and within a few years several more came out of the closet after the fear of losing the 1st election was past.

    In terms of the individuals elected a large part is the sweeping changes in 1997 and this year so in 1997 the conservatives saw more than half of their MPs 171 of 336 lose their seats. They also had a generation retire partly just because of age but with more because of an expectation of losing the election. In 2001 election another significant cohort of Conservatives retired as they realised that though they might win their local seat the prospect of government was not there. So there now may be as few as 50 Conservatives of 300 who were elected originally prior to 1997.

    Simon Hughes the out Bisexual Lib-Dem MP shows how much things have or have not changed, he won his seat originally in 1983 in a very dirty fight with the out and proud Labour candidate of the day Peter Tatchell. He was still denying his sexuality as recently as 2006 when he was forced out by a Tabloid. His local seat is very metropolitan London with no issues at all but he presumably still has memories of attitudes of the 1980s and he has ambition for national office even just within his Party.

  11. BobN says:

    But how did it come to be?

    Perhaps it escaped your notice, but the UK didn’t have an Anita Bryant and her host of lying, fear-mongering, “Christian” leaders.

    Oh, and more importantly, the UK doesn’t have a political party that would exploit ignorance and bigotry to win elections. (Well, they did for a bit with Thatcher, but her focus wasn’t “teh gays”.)

  12. TangoMan says:

    Oh, and more importantly, the UK doesn’t have a political party that would exploit ignorance and bigotry to win elections.

    Labour has disbanded? When did that happen?