Dominic Grieve, the Attorney-General for England and Wales, made the gaffe in an exchange with Labour MP Chris Bryant during the Oxford Union’s annual “No Confidence” debate last Thursday.
Mr Bryant, who is openly gay, began his speech proposing the motion with a discussion of the phrase “practising homosexual”, stating that he had “never quite understood it”.
In a point of order, Mr Grieve replied: “I think being a practising homosexual is a bit like being a practising member of the Church of England – it’s one of those things which you have to explain, it’s thought to be a little bit weird by large numbers of people.”
Mr Bryant responded by telling the MP for Beaconsfield: “I think you’ve let yourself down a little bit there because I know you’re not illiberal, although some of your voting record is.”
He added that Mr Grieve had used “language of the nineteenth century, not the language of the twenty first.”
Speaking to The Oxford Student this week, the former Mansfield English student said: “It just goes to show that sometimes the casual prejudices of the past get stuck in Tory minds; and even when you try and help them to stop digging a hole, they carry on regardless.”
The Attorney-General claimed that he had been “misunderstood”, explaining that he was attempting to show “the commonality between practising members of the Church of England and practising homosexuals.” He stated that “practising” is “the word being used”.
But the comment has drawn widespread condemnation from students across the University.
Ollie Smith, a second year historian at Lincoln, said that Mr Grieve’s comment “signifies how British Parliamentary politics is still rigidly heterosexual, rigidly masculine, and so steeped in tradition that it is incapable of fathoming diversity.”
Frankie Goodway, a Jesus finalist studying English, said: ‘I’m vastly relieved to see that Grieve is finally taking a stand for the big guy, making sure the majority voices of “large numbers of people” speaking against minorities are heard, even if those voices exist (miraculously) inside his own tiny mind.
“When people in positions of power show such total disregard for their privilege and responsibilities, my soul dies behind my eyes.”
Ben Crome, a second year historian at Balliol ridiculed Mr Grieve, saying: “Typical Tories can’t even go to a Union debate without making a horrific gaffe.”
A Fresher who wished to remain anonymous said: “I don’t understand what he was trying to say. I got the sense he was just trying to get involved as he was the last speaker. It was the first thing he said.”
Mr Grieve, a former history student at Magdalen, told The Oxford Student: “My remark was illustrative of the prejudices of others and was not expressing my own view.”
He apologised for his comments at the Union, adding: “It is always possible in what was a fast moving and good humoured debate to express onself less well than one would wish. If I was misunderstood by anyone because I expressed myself poorly then I am very sorry for it.”
LGBTQSoc President Simone Webb was unavailable for comment.
PHOTO/ Attorney General’s Office