Like most Tory organisations, LGBT+ Conservatives entered 2020 convinced that it was ‘our year.’ Not only were we still glowing from the 2019 election result, but we had a new Chair in Elena Bunbury and a diverse new General Council. Besides, it was the dawn of the twenties, which promised more of the roaring parties our members have come to expect – particularly at Conference.
Fast forward a few months, and the General Council found itself huddled over a dour Zoom call, sipping coffee and exchanging despair. Covid had gone a step too far. Conference as we knew it was cancelled and would become a digital affair.
‘We’re still going to host a bash,’ Elena told us, glaring through her webcam and into our souls. ‘LGBT+ Conservatives does not miss an opportunity to party.’
The idea of a politico-studded ‘lip sync battle’ had previously been floated. Given the popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK and the infamous ‘Toryoke’, we thought we could have a good crack at it. But that was before the Conference, and our event, turned digital. How would we persuade politicians – in the middle of a national crisis and without the confidence installed by half a bottle of Moët – to volunteer as tribute?
We went about contacting potential candidates on social media. For a while, we heard nothing. Then Edwina Currie gave her enthusiastic approval. So did Andrew Boff AM. Dehenna Davison MP and Ben Everitt MP agreed, followed by Jamie Greene MSP. Then came the news we had crossed our fingers for: Carrie Symonds agreed to co-judge the event.
We would be broadcasting live via Zoom webinar. To ensure a smooth event, we asked contestants to send their pre-filmed lip syncs beforehand. The live element of the night would come in the form of their joining the webinar to receive ‘X Factor’ style critique from myself, Ms Symonds and other senior figures at LGBT+ Conservatives. As the hilarious videos trickled in behind the scenes, and social media campaigning sparked waves of curiosity, our expectations rose.
Ultimately the virtual ‘lip sync battle’ was a runaway success. Not only did our generous attendees donate hundreds of pounds to support LGBT+ candidates, but clips from the event reached almost half a million video views on Twitter alone. To top it off, the Prime Minister himself made an impromptu cameo, which generated national press coverage across the weekend. Best of all, we saw Andrew Boff miming to Conchita Wurst while dressed in full drag, which will live rent-free in my mind for time immemorial.
With Conference behind us, LGBT+ Conservatives is confronting a future – at least for now – comprised predominantly of digital outreach. It’s a far cry from the jovial get-togethers we’re known for, with social gatherings from London to Leeds previously connecting our brilliant members and forging friendships and networks.
Our physical events didn’t only unite LGBT+ members and allies for a knees-up. They were, at times, a crucial social outlet for people who felt isolated from their communities due to their orientation or gender presentation. We take our responsibility to those individuals seriously and strive to do our best by them, especially under the current circumstances.
So, following the success of Conference, we are extending our calendar of virtual events. The next is ‘Meet the Council’ on 15 December, which will give our members the opportunity to quiz the General Council on everything from our backgrounds to our policy views. We have also ramped up our social media efforts, and I spend a lot of time designing graphics and posts to drive engagement across our channels.
In addition, we have launched a fully digital mentoring scheme in association with PushFar. Its online nature means mentors and mentees can be paired with the most appropriate match, regardless of physical distance. So far, we have recruited Rishi Sunak MP, Brandon Lewis MP, Stuart Andrew MP and numerous councillors and other party officials as mentors, and our mentees have given us brilliant feedback.
While we may be known for our fun-loving nature (and top-drawer events), LGBT+ Conservatives is a social outlet for the marginalised and a political champion for LGBT+ issues. Balancing these responsibilities is no mean feat, particularly now that most of our activity is online and therefore open to scrutiny – OFTEN IN ANGRY BLOCK CAPS – by trolls.
2020 might not have been the year we envisioned, but LGBT+ Conservatives is taking its digital overhaul in its stride.
For more information on what we’re up to, follow us on social media at @lgbtcons