Ann Widdecombe has had a long career in politics. She served the Conservative Party for 23 years as a Member of Parliament in the Maidstone area before retiring at the 2010 general election. However, her loyalty to the Conservative Party came to an abrupt end this year, where it was revealed that she would be contesting a European Parliament seat for the newly-established Brexit Party in the 2019 elections.

After a successful EU elections night and nine years out of politics, Widdecombe was elected as a Brexit Party MEP for the South West England constituency. Her new party, led by Nigel Farage, managed to win 29 seats and over 30 per cent of the vote share.

Recent comments though by Widdecombe over gay conversion therapy have slightly overshadowed this result. In an interview with Sky News this month, Widdecombe stated that ‘science may produce the answer to homosexuality’.

These comments received a huge backlash on social media platforms. Everyone has their different opinions. Despite this, are we now in danger of losing free speech in our very politically-correct society?

Ann Widdecombe is a devout Catholic, a religion that opposes homosexual relations in some cases. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why her views on homosexuality are less progressive. But if we are accepting as a society, does this mean it’s right to respect religion regardless of some of its less popular beliefs?

Old forms of religion and modern-day society have always been at odds. The Bibles and Holy books of different religions have been passed down through history — during a time when it was seen as more acceptable to scapegoat minorities. Privately, many of us many think that some of the ideologies that are expressed in these holy books are no longer acceptable.

Despite this, the United Kingdom prides itself on being a tolerant nation. This begs one question: are we actually as tolerant as we think we are? It’s great that we support the LGBT community, but shouldn’t we be equally understanding of those who are opposed to gay relations?

There’s one notable exception to this. This is when a person who opposes these homosexual acts also deliberately incites hatred against a member of the LGBT community. Things like this are totally unacceptable and is part of the reason why we now have tougher equality laws in this country.

This is one of the only exceptions to where I feel it’s right to shame individuals that hold these opposing opinions. Personally, I believe that love is love. You should be able to love whomever you want and be whoever you want to be. However, we should not be criticising people who hold views against homosexuality until, of course, they begin to cause harm by stirring hatred and discriminate against those who are part of the gay community.

Horrendous homophobic crimes still take place and have been on the rise for the past couple of years. People need to be careful not to incite hate against others. This is why marches are necessary. Whether you’re for or against homosexuality, it’s imperative that crime against those who are of a different sexual orientation is condemned strongly.

As a hugely influential politician and a person who’s caused the controversy to begin with, Ann Widdecombe could, theoretically, be someone to play a major part in reducing homophobic crime. The media have to be responsible in not stirring up hate against Widdecombe, who herself stated that she doesn’t hold the opinions that the press have attributed to her.

In return for society accepting opposing views towards homosexual relations, those who hold those types of opinions must accept the fact that they may be criticised for their beliefs. It is the way that these issues are being debated however, that needs to start changing.

Parts of social media platforms have become places for people to insult others’ viewpoints. This often happens between those who are left-wing and those who hold views to the right of the political spectrum. Political point scoring in the House of Commons and by politicians on Twitter is partly to blame for this. Such tactics set a bad example.

Polite debate between two sides, where both respect each other’s opinions, is quite obviously lacking. What example does this set for our future generations? I respect that some debates are going to be volatile because of the severity of the issues that are discussed. However, online platforms have become places for some people to impose their views on others, and to shout anyone down who disagrees with them. I must emphasise the word ‘some’. Others on social media have frequently managed to engage in sensible debate.

A final word

The LGBT community will play their part in changing people’s perceptions — something that they’re doing during this Pride month of June. I’m proud of the majority of our nation who accept that love is love.

Part of me naturally wishes that LGBT marches and Pride month didn’t have to exist. The fact that these events still happen only reaffirms that homophobic-related crimes still take place.

People have to be very selective with the words they use when they voice their opinions. Crime and aggression are not acceptable; different opinions and viewpoints are (unless they incite hatred/advocate discrimination). There’s a clear difference between the two.

Opinions make our society great. We need to protect our free speech, for the sake of the citizens of other countries who do not have this privilege.

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