A Bristol City councillor has caused anger within both the council and LGBT community after voicing his concerns regarding a recent school visit from gay rights charity Stonewall, and its co-founder actor, Sir Ian McKellen.
Speaking during a community cohesion strategy session on the 16th November, Conservative Councillor Chris Windows, who represents the Henbury ward, told the chamber that he felt “some of the issue could be counter-productive” and that he was “unhappy and a little disturbed of the involvement of Stonewall with our local schools particularly the use of a ‘certain leading actor’ as a potential role model for our impressionable young people”.
Sir Ian had visited both the City Academy in Lawrence Hill and Fairfield High School in Horfield to talk about homophobic bullying – where people are insulted or attacked because they are gay or lesbian – on an invitation from Bristol City Council when they found out about the unacceptable level of gay bullying.
His statement was met with jeers from his council colleagues, and his following speaker Cllr Helen Holland, who is Leader of the Labour Group, started her response with “Oh dear, Oh dear” and continued “A comment like that shows how much the community cohesion strategy is needed. Young people hearing that kind of comment are going to be turned off the idea of people representing them or coming out.”
Liberal Democrat councillor, Alex Woodman added that he “wholeheartedly, unequivocally condemn the outrageous homophobic remarks by Chris Windows. He should be ashamed.”
Cllr Windows then responded that he was “not homophobic, I never have been… I just don’t like undue pressure put onto young people .. particularly when it’s a famous character.” he then continued that he believed that he should be able to express his views without receiving abuse.
Continuing with his response to his fellow councillors disgust, Cllr Windows said ” it is my own personal opinion … I’ve nothing against people with a different sexual orientation to myself. I just don’t think we should make a fuss out of it. I don’t jump off of wardrobes and expect to be represented .. We should leave things where they belong, in the bedroom.”
A spokesman for Stonewall Chris Gibbons told the BBC that it was disappointed by the criticism.
“The schools we are working at are very alive to the fact that by talking about lesbians, gay and bisexual issues, and a range of diversity issues in a very positive way, helps tackle bullying and discrimination and helps young people feel a part of their school community,”
Since the meeting, Councillor Windows has voluntarily suspended himself from the City Council. His party has yet to decide the length of his suspension.
The Leader of the Conservative Group, Cllr Geoff Gollop said, in a statement that Cllr Windows now realised his remarks were unacceptable and inappropriate.
“I know that Chris rejects all forms of homophobia and regrets that his words were capable of misunderstanding or misinterpretation. However, appreciating that an apology is not sufficient in this instance, Chris has voluntarily agreed to suspend himself from all of his council responsibilities for a temporary period.”
“Chris will use this time to better acquaint himself with the aims of Stonewall and the important work they are undertaking in tackling homophobic bullying in our schools.”