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Ann Widdecombe’s Big Brother popularity highlights UK’s homophobia

Ann Widdecombe’s Big Brother popularity highlights UK’s homophobia

Ann Widdecombe from Celebrity Big Brother and Big Ben with a rainbow flag

What do you get when you cross a gender fluid polyamorous pansexual drag queen with a staunch Catholic ‘scourge of snowflakery’? Fierce public debate, evidently.

Former Conservative politician Ann Widdecombe just lost out to Drag Race star Courtney Act in the finale of Celebrity Big Brother UK. And their rivalry seemed to cause a huge storm on social media throughout their time in the house.

During the month-long social experiment, two clear sides ended up playing out on the show. It was team Courtney versus team Ann.

Ann describes herself as a ‘pensioner and defender of the unborn, traditional marriage and the Roman Catholic Church.’

Ann Widdecombe campaigning for Conservative MP Mark Coote
Ann Widdecombe campaigning for Conservative MP Mark Coote. | Photo: Michael Findlay / Flickr

During her time as an MP in parliament, she voted against equalizing the age of consent for homosexual acts. She also voted against allowing same-sex couples to adopt, as well as voted to maintain a ban on the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

But during the show, a dangerous narrative prevailed.

Producers of the show framed Ann as the loveable grandma archetype, who adores chocolate biscuits and a cute cuppa tea before bed. Fellow housemates praised Ann for her convictions, as she refused to participate in anything she deemed indecent or immoral.

Courtney Act causes stir

Cue drag queen Courtney Act – an intelligent and confident free thinker with progressive ideals.

During her time in the house, housemates criticized Courtney for getting ‘too political’ and constantly challenging Ann.

But due to these strong convictions, some of her exchanges with housemates went viral online.

She spoke to controversial transgender daytime television host India Willoughby about gender and sexuality being on a spectrum. She also spoke to ex-soccer player John Barnes about ideas surrounding straight men feeling uncomfortable around gay men.

And then she had a fight with bisexual soap actress Amanda Barrie over Ann’s voting record of LGBTI rights.

Celebrity Big Brother final 5
Celebrity Big Brother final 5. | Photo: Channel 5

Throughout the season, Ann continually rolled her eyes at Courtney expressing her ideas on gender expression and identity. She also nods disapprovingly every time Courtney’s in drag and says she ‘much prefers’ her as Shane.

Ann represents an audience that laments political correctness and ‘social justice warriors.’ She’s a mouthpiece for people who are disillusioned with progressive change in society. Ann tapped into this prominent UK audience, much like Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign tapped into the disenfranchised Republican base.

It’s a rise in playing on the seemingly sensitive liberals and rallying against positive discrimination.

‘Ann’s views give power to prejudice’

Tonight, Ann lost out, but it came down to the wire – leaving many LGBTI viewers wondering why she’s been so popular.

As 2016’s controversial Brexit referendum suggested, is the Great British public reacting against progressive and liberal politics? Or is a silent minority grabbing on to any opportunity to make their voices heard?

Girl in drag make up at Pride in London 2017
Pride in London 2017. | Photo: Chris Beckett / Flickr

As she’s no longer an active politician, it would be easy to dismiss Ann’s views as unimportant, but that would be wrong. Showing her as a success empowers those who share her views to speak out with impunity.

This year’s Celebrity Big Brother has been a thought-provoking, funny, gripping ride. But its finale leaves a sour taste in my mouth. (Congratulations Courtney!)