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Surrey district councillor: "I’m not anti-gay"

Surrey district councillor: "I’m not anti-gay"

Published by Local Democracy Reporter Rebecca Curley at 12:34pm 16th July 2019. (Updated at 12:45pm 16th July 2019)

A Surrey district councillor said she felt uncomfortable watching "vulgarity" and being "constantly bombarded by professional homosexuals" on television during a debate about sexuality.

Councillor Patricia Wiltshire stressed she would always protect people from being "castigated because of their sexual orientation", but that if people "flaunted it all the time" they would be "bound to come up against prejudice".

Her comments were made during a council debate on July 9 about how Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) should be promoting diversity across the Surrey towns and surrounding villages within its area.

Councillors were each given three minutes to speak on the topic with Cllr Wiltshire, Independent member for Ashtead Common and Mole Valley deputy chairman, opening the debate. 

In her impassioned speech she was keen to point out that she would "support and protect anyone who felt they were being castigated or diminished because of their sexual orientation".

But that she felt if people "flaunted it all the time" then they were "bound to come up against prejudice" adding:  

"You cannot protect from prejudice. You can only prevent the action that might come from prejudice".

She said with television "we are constantly bombarded by professional homosexuals and others" who present "a lot of vulgarity".

During her speech, which she had to cut short to fit into the three minutes, she said that when watching television:

"As a heterosexual I feel very very uncomfortable. We are talking about making the gay, lesbian and bi-sexual people uncomfortable. But I’m uncomfortable. Why should I be made uncomfortable?"

She admitted to not "knowing very much" about the LGBT community so had carried out her own research so she could make an informed contribution to the debate. 

And she said people should celebrate and be proud of and celebrate their achievements rather than celebrating their sexuality.

Councillors were discussing a motion which looked at promoting diversity in council communications and introducing rainbow painted pedestrian zebra crossings in Dorking and Leatherhead. 

Many councillors said they could not support spending what little public cash they had painting the pedestrian crossings in rainbow colours, but did support trying find other ways to fund it such as sponsorship through private businesses. 

Councillors, including Cllr Wiltshire, voted unanimously to take action to "positively celebrate local diversity" and to promote inclusion, cultural diversity and community wellbeing in every appropriate future communication from MVDC. 

The idea about rainbow pedestrian crossings and how to find funding for them will be referred to the scrutiny committee.

It is estimated around 4,000 residents in Mole Valley identify as non-heterosexual.

Since her comments in the council chamber, Cllr Wiltshire says she has received messages of support from people but she was concerned her point was misunderstood due to the time limit for speaking.

So on Thursday night she emailed councillors to explain her comments further.

Speaking afterwards Cllr Wiltshire said: 

"We have to accept people for who they are. I’m not anti-gay. I’m not anti-anything. I believe in diversity". 

"But I do feel uncomfortable watching television.

"I feel very uncomfortable about the language that is used and the innuendos referring to sexuality. Sometimes it’s not innuendos. It’s overt."

Cllr Wiltshire, a professor and renowned forensic scientist, said a lot of people had expressed similar views to her and she wanted to make sure the debate in the council chamber represented all views.

Cllr Patricia Wiltshire’s email to councillors following the Tuesday, July 9 Mole Valley council meeting:

"I felt that the application of the five and three minute rule, for addressing motions and issues in council meetings, was unfortunate on Tuesday night. Because of this, I was cut short and, as a consequence, some may have misunderstood what I was trying to say in my response to the motion.

"My main point was that I welcome human and social diversity of every kind but, by the same token, all groups need to heed the sensitivities of all others, irrespective of group size. I was trying to say that we are what we are, and we must be accepted for that without discrimination. Our identity should come from what is in our heads, hearts, and hands. But, it is true that, whereas it is easy to prevent discrimination, it is not easy to rid ourselves of prejudice, even though we would like to do so. 

"We must fight prejudice, but it is an internal battle and, because of our hard wiring, it cannot be imposed from outside by others; the challenge is to nurture and encourage the battle.

"I made a strong stand for fighting discrimination against all, including the LGBT community, but I also said that I did not understand the need for the motion because we have stringent laws to protect anyone who is not heterosexual. I also tried to make the point that I felt uncomfortable at the flaunting of people’s sexuality, whatever its nature; and I regard my comfort as being as important as that of any anyone else, regardless of their affinity.

"I am not happy to celebrate anyone’s sexuality because I do not understand the need to do so. I celebrate human diversity, but I genuinely cannot see what there is celebrate in one’s sexuality. It is the word ‘celebrate’ with which I have a problem.

"I thought the motion was confusing as it conflated general human and cultural diversity with the specifically sexual. In my view, there should be no ambiguity in a motion’s main objective. This was not the case in the one in question."


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