The first time I really had any contact with, or knowledge of, Tim Farron was when he was standing for the job of Lib Dem President. At the time, I was supporting the campaign of a friend of mine, who didn’t make it to the final ballot, and said something about this on Twitter, to which he replied in a friendly and witty manner.
I immediately liked him, but I had concerns about him, which I mentioned in an email list I was on for other Lib Dems — “isn’t he a bit of a homophobe?” I asked.
And I was immediately told, by a gay friend, “no. I know Tim well. That was all a misunderstanding based on one bad vote and him having a dodgy intern. He gets it now.”
And for the next seven years I’ve defended Tim. Tim became, if not a friend, at least a friendly online acquaintance — one of those people who’ll occasionally turn up in your DMs at random when you’re having a bad day, to check if you’re OK, and with whom you could have a bit of a joke. Someone who could take the teasing about his obvious ambition for the leadership in good humour. He’s someone to whom I felt a great deal of personal loyalty.
And when he was asked in 2015 if he thought gay sex was a sin, almost every LGBT+ person I know stood by him. Not *every* one, but the vast majority — they agreed that he was right not to answer questions about his religious beliefs, and that he was not a *phobe of any variety. The biggest supporters of his leadership bid I know were trans people, lesbians, and bi people, all of whom told me, and said publicly, that he was better on their specific issues than many politicians with far better reputations. I was told over and over that he was someone who was well intentioned, who paid attention, and who actually changed his views based on what he was told by LGBT+ people. And all his public statements seemed to confirm that. In the 2017 election he was asked again if he thought gay sex was a sin, and at first he prevaricated, sticking to his line that he didn’t make theological pronouncements, before seeing that the issue wasn’t going away and saying that no, he did not think that gay sex was a sin.
And if that had been the end of it, I’d have been happy with my steadfast support of the man while he was leader. He did an immense amount of good for the party when he was leader, right up until the election campaign got derailed by this question, and his stance on Brexit and general attempts to reposition the party on the left, where we should be, are undoubtedly what saved us from the complete wipeout that seemed likely three years ago. I still think that, given the choice between him and Norman Lamb (who turns out to be both an anti-autistic bigot and a supporter of Brexit) the party made the better choice, though I *really* wish we’d had enough MPs that we’d had a non-problematic candidate standing. (Just as I wish that in 2017 we’d had a contest at all, rather than a coronation of a leader who has at least as many problems as either of them. Luckily, a party is not its leadership.)
But it turns out that when he said gay sex was not a sin, he was lying, and he now says he was wrong to do so. Presumably this means he also was lying when he said all those things to LGBT+ organisations that made so many of my LGBT+ friends so enthusiastic about his leadership.
Now, at the time, I had what I considered extremely good reasons to support Tim, and to say he wasn’t a homophobe. But every one of those reasons has unravelled, one by one, since his extraordinarily petty resignation speech. He has been remarkably bitter and ungracious, and has repeatedly stated that it is currently impossible to be both a Christian and a Liberal politician. This is, to my mind, a slander against many, many, decent Christians who manage not to be massive homophobes. Indeed, in the same interview where he said that he was wrong to say that gay sex isn’t a sin, he also said that there was only one other Christian in Lib Dem head office. This seems to suggest to me, unless Lib Dem head office is *far* less representative of the party than I thought, that he’s using Christian in that particular way that fundamentalists use it, in which Catholics, mainstream Anglicans, and anyone else who doesn’t share their peculiar interpretation of the Bible doesn’t count as a Christian (unless and until they’re trying to make a claim that Christianity is the majority religion in the country, of course).
This seems to me almost as offensive a claim as his claim that “gay sex” is a sin. He’s not claiming that his fellow Christians are misguided, or misinterpreting the Bible, or wrong on doctrine, but that they’re not Christians at all. As his version of fundamentalism is still, I believe, an Anglican one, that means that he’s considering tens of millions of people worldwide with whom he’s in communion to be falsely claiming to be Christian.
Anyway, I’m drifting from my point, which is this:
Based on all the evidence I had, and in particular based on what I still think is the sound principle of taking my lead from the people most affected (as a cishet married man I am exempt from Tim’s criticisms, though for all I know since I was married in a Lutheran church he may think my marriage, and therefor sex life, is also sinful), I defended a man who was being accused of being a massive homophobe. It now turns out that he was a massive homophobe all along, and is not only unrepentant about it but thinks that the worst thing he did was pretend not to be.
So I am saying publicly: I was wrong, I fucked up, the people who told me differently were right, and there’s no wiggle room in this. Bear that in mind when judging anything else I say.
This blog post is supported by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Patreon’s well-publicised missteps last month led to the level of support dropping dramatically, so I appreciate even more than usual the people who continue to back me, and now would be a better time than ever to join them.