David Kuczora: It's time for me to come out
There's something about me I should tell you. Some, incorrectly, might label it a lifestyle choice. And some of my closest friends showed rather surprising disdain when I admitted it to them.
I don't tend to tell people I meet straight away. Not because I feel embarrassed by it. Far from it. But because I don't think it's polite to ram it down people's throats as soon as you meet them.
I'm a Tory. And when you're in your (late) 20s and gay, it's quite a difficult thing to admit. Please - come back! Let's talk about it and I can try to put your mind at rest that I'm not that horrendous.
It really is quite unfashionable to be young, gay and Tory. I exaggerate only slightly about the reaction I have received from a couple of my mates. The old adage of, and I paraphrase, "if you're young and conservative then you have no soul" does ring true.
It's completely understandable. The Tory party has a lamentable record on gay rights spanning many many years. And comments like those from Sir Gerald Howarth in today's debate on gay marriage do nothing to help change that perception. We learn from our elders, and the generations above mine just simply can't forgive the Tories for the litany of times they've stood by and done nothing to support the furthering of gay rights. Or, worse, opposed laws to bolster them. It has become ingrained to despise the Tories. Ironically, sometimes it's prejudice from the very people demanding less of it in the world.
I say prejudice because most Tories I've met are socially very liberal - and that's the grassroots members of the party as well as politicians. Yes, there are some of the old guard who are vehemently against gay marriage. But this seems to be more to do with their religious beliefs rather than their political views, although no doubt the two are intertwined.
As Jonathan Walker pointed out when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was voted in earlier this year, 50 senior Conservative activists signed an open letter in support of gay marriage. Included were the chairmen or deputy chairmen of the Ladywood, Edgbaston and Erdington constituency associations. I felt incredibly proud when I read that.
The new intake of MPs such as openly lesbian Margot James helps show that the party is committed to equality and social liberalism. But don't forget the old-school bruisers like Andrew Mitchell, who voted in favour of gay marriage too.
Undoubtedly there is a long way to go for the Tory party to rebuild its image in relation to gay rights. But I'm less concerned with the external veneer and PR polish than the day-to-day workings of the machine. And whilst the Conservative politicians in the region are helping to vote in legislation which furthers equality, then I'll loudly and proudly come out and say I'm a Tory. Don't judge me.
David Kuczora is principal consultant at Clive Reeves PR in Birmingham and regional chairman of PRCA FrontLine.