Archives for category: Homophobia

Though he insisted that the care home he chose was “gay friendly at least”, Bernard Mays (pictured right) still couldn’t find somewhere with a visible LGBTQ community even in the Bay Area near San Francisco. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, he could no longer remain in his own home.

His story is well-told by Bay Area Reporter journalist Matthew S. Bajko, who’s been writing a series of articles about the challenges facing an ageing queer community. And those tough choices about how to manage dependency in old age are something we really need to talk about more. Bernard found somewhere which could cope with his physical decline, but which thus far risks making him feel isolated or forces him to join in with a community which he doesn’t feel part of and which he can’t guarantee will be supportive or accepting.

“One of the biggest adjustments for Mayes has been being assigned seating for meal times and sharing a table with the same people for three months at a time.”

 

 

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Love it or hate it, but ever since Dana International claimed her prize in Birmingham in a Gaultier gown trimmed with parrots, the Eurovision Song Contest can legitimately claim that it has done its bit for LGBTQ visibility. In recent years – partly because of the dreadful voting system and the way former Eastern bloc countries have tried to use it to bolster prestige – despite the scale of the event and viewing figures, it’s lost its allure a little and never quite recaptured that frisson of transgressive danger it enjoyed on Dana’s night of triumph in Birmingham in 1998. However, it might just do it again in 2014.

The decision of Austria’s ORF to send drag performer Conchita Wurst to Copenhagen is what could make the difference. Conchita is not the first drag queen to represent their country on the Eurovision stage; in fact, in the light of recent events, it’s worth recalling that Verka Serduchka nearly won for Ukraine in 2007, although this year’s entrant Maria Yaremchuk (not a drag act) can’t be certain of getting quite the same  level of support from countries of the former Soviet Union when it comes to voting this year. Just recently it was reported that the hugely popular  Verka Serduchka may have been dropped as a star act on Russian Saturday night TV because of the Putin government’s laws outlawing “homosexual propaganda”.

Conchita Wurst can sing, and the song will please anyone who likes Bond themes, but as any Eurovision fan will tell you, that doesn’t necessarily make it a winner.  What’s clear though, is that ORF’s decision to send Conchita to Sweden has resulted in an outpouring of homophobia in social media, and serious attempts in both Belarus and Russia to have Austria’s performance blocked from broadcast on the night.  To the Austrian broadcaster’s credit, they haven’t just issued a dull corporate response, but launched a viral campaign which jokily challenges the anti LGBTQ prejudice being shown to their entrant. They want you to knit a fake beard “for tolerance”, and have produced a promotional video to the soundtrack of their own version of Pharrell’s “Happy”.  Douze points.

In the context of Russia’s treatment of the LGBTQ community, and the increasing confidence of those who seek to roll back equality, even if you don’t get out the knitting needles, voting for Conchita – who is openly gay and consistently makes a stand for diversity – in the semi-final on May 8th, so as to ensure Austria is there on the big night (and maybe beyond), is something worth doing, even if you don’t give a ding-a-dong for the ESC.

Whether or not it’s what you want for you and your partner, there’s a compelling reason for campaigning for gay marriage and same-sex adoption rights. These two demands confront hidden prejudices and homophobia head-on and force law-makers and wider society to face the reality of our existence on equal terms and deal with it. There’s no place for second-class rights.

I was lucky enough to be living in Spain in 2005 when gay marriage and adoption were legalised. Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero later said it was one of his proudest achievements.

“We were told that we were killing the family in Spain and yet the Spanish family is in rude health and a lot more people are happy. We’ve managed to recognise the right of people who have been discriminated against and harassed for many years because of their sexual orientation – and I hope that is an unstoppable trend in advanced societies.” (Financial Times).

At the time the law was passed, surveys suggested that around 70% of the population supported gay marriage. And there’s little doubt that it has had a wider impact on Spanish society over time. The “normalisation” of gay relationships does make a difference.

But there are hidden dangers in what journalists have increasingly dubbed the “New Normal“.  There’s an immediate assumption that everything’s fine now, which of course it isn’t.  There’s still homophobia and members of the LGBTQ community still face physical violence and subtle humiliations or blatant discrimination. Education systems are still wrestling with what to tell classes about the LGBTQ community, and there are a thousand petty ways in which aggrieved people – who somehow feel disenfranchised by our rights  – will try and disrupt our lives.

And there’s also the notion that now we have rights like anyone else, we should start to “behave”. Getting gays on (how shall I put this?) “the straight and narrow” is often used by those on the Right as a means of justifying their support for equality, a position neatly summed up by US Republicans in a document submitted to a federal appeals court in support of allowing gay marriage in Utah and Oklahoma.

“It is precisely because marriage is so important in producing and protecting strong and stable family structures that (we) do not agree that the government can rationally promote the goal of strengthening families by denying civil marriage to same-sex couples”

At this point, as a greyed-out former (or maybe not) Gay Liberation Front activist, I shiver. Our thinking was that we should resist aping the nuclear family and reinforcing traditional patriarchal structures at any cost. Some of this might have been about allowing a lot of horny guys in their 20s to have a lot of guilt-free sex with a lot of others, but there was also a serious political, social and economic rationale behind it. And for me and many others, it took a long time to see the subversive potential of demanding the right to marry on equal terms, and to recognise the empowerment and emotional fulfilment that gay marriage can (but not always) offer on a personal level. Which is not to say that I’m unconcerned about a rise in numbers of affluent A-Gay male couples with children unwittingly spawning a new moral conservatism (on many levels) in our community, senses dulled by the prime directive to “belong” and “fit in” to a an image of wider heterosexual society and becoming a new model of patriarchy on steroids (both figuratively and in the gym).

Because the truth is that gay men are as likely to fall into the traps of the “New Normal” as anyone else. This week there was a good example as James Wharton, a former British soldier who wrote a book about his experiences as a gay man in the forces, got wide press coverage for an article he’s written for a new “luxury lifestyle guide for gay men” (go figure) in which he called for gay saunas to be shut down.

His justification is that they are “thorns in our side that mark our community as different for the wrong reasons..For me as a gay man, the notion that there exist within our communities a series of places that actively promote the convening of gay men for participation in sex of shades various and in groups of all sizes rather revolts me – and I’ve been round the block a few times, believe me…I’m no prude, not even close, but the days when we gathered in clandestine fashion for the want of a network or a sexual outlet are surely long gone.”

This is claptrap for so many reasons. The assumption that meeting others in groups for casual sex – whether or not it’s something you want to do – is unique to gay men is somewhat undermined by the large number of happy heterosexuals who visit clubs for swingers or sit in a steamed-up car in a lonely parking spot in the hope of an evening’s “dogging”.  At least one web community for swingers in the UK has more than a million members.

The unspoken self-oppressive desperation for “respectability” which underlies his comments has afflicted gay men forever, was eloquently dissected by Andrew Hodges and David Hutter in “With Downcast Gays” in 1974 and is still relevant.  And it’s naive to imagine that closing down gay saunas and sex clubs will have any positive impact on the sexual health of gay men or wider HIV infection rates; most offer free condoms and an increasing number of these venues actively seek to educate their clients with support from local organisations, some going as far as offering wellness clinics and free testing for HIV and other STDs.  In cities like London, support groups will tell you that one of their biggest concerns is private, unofficial sex parties fuelled by crystal meth.

I agree with Peter Tatchell (I don’t always) when he says “it would be very wrong if the gay community became proscriptive and moralistic over consenting adult behaviour”. And while we should demand, celebrate and enjoy gay marriage, we shouldn’t be seduced by notions of  the “New Normal” into uncritically embracing heteronormative assumptions about family structures, patriarchy and relationships.

In what looks like a heavy-handed attempt to pull Harriet Harman, Jack Dromey and Patricia Hewitt into a spiralling post-Jimmy Savile vortex of allegations that they somehow called for paedophile rights in the 1970s, the Daily Mail seems this time to have gone way over the bounds of credibility. You can read the facts and accusations here or here, but the suggestion that they were somehow apologists for Tom O’Carroll and PIE seems pretty outrageous, and is giving the whole issue much more importance and credence than it ever had at the time.

I never met Tom O’Carroll, and nor did I have any contact – direct or indirect – with PIE; but in the mid 70s, when the first heady days of GLF were fading, and more and more of us were finding ourselves on committees or part of steering groups in the student movement or elsewhere, I remember the talk and brief debate about his attempts to legitimise his view of the world on the back of the new enthusiasm for self-definition and personal freedom. He wasn’t stupid, he was articulate and and in those days at least – however he might have been characterised later – didn’t live down to the stereotype of the dirty old man preying on children.

Like any skilled Press Officer, he seized his moment; many of us were still trying to move from the heady emotional rush of collective coming out and empowerment into a more considered view of what we should be focusing on if we were to actively engage with the institutions around us. It was a time when the rights of school students and the future of the age of consent for gay men were legitimate subjects of debate, and he openly and neatly shoe-horned his own agenda into those discussions.

But, honestly, even if he did occasionally secure himself a platform for a few minutes, I don’t really remember him being taken seriously by anyone I knew, or anyone who mattered.   A fellow National Union of Students gay activist wryly remarked that PIE’s demands only went one way – it was a group of adults who wanted to “extend their relationships” with children – and the fact that there had never been the slightest sign of any pressure the other way round somehow undermined the legitimacy of his arguments. Intellectual debate about sexuality, consent and rights was one thing, but so many of us in the gay movement had been victims of abuse at either a personal or institutional level, those I knew were suspicious of him, and saw him as self-serving. Let’s not allow the Daily Mail to overstate his relevance in the history of the LGBTQ movement in the UK.  And Harriet, Jack and Patricia have nothing to apologise for.

As Uganda’s president called gays “disgusting” in a CNN interview and a tabloid newspaper published lists of suspected homosexuals, feeding hysteria and witch-hunts following the introduction of the country’s new laws against homosexuality, politicians and pundits elsewhere may have made appropriate noises of disapproval, but in truth they don’t really know what to do.

Desmond Tutu, William Hague, Barack Obama and the Swedish government (among others) may all have voiced dismay and muttered of consequences, which is to their credit; but the reality is that within a few days, people will nod and say how terrible it all is for gays in Uganda now, and then ask how the elections are going in the Ukraine or if there’s other news we should know about.  Compassion fatigue kicks in quickly as far as the LGBT community is concerned.  It’s a shame we spoiled the Olympics for the athletes, because they worked so hard to get there…

Out journalist Alice Arnold rightly argued in the Telegraph that we “mustn’t be left to fight American and African religious zealots alone”, and whilst happily there are many who support her view, there’s also a growing murmur that somehow none of all  this uncomfortable noise about homosexuality would be happening if we hadn’t kept on rubbing it in people’s faces.  Look what happens when you get uppity. We have only ourselves to blame, and gay was such a nice cheery word until we ran off with it, behaving inappropriately in public.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s Governor is deciding whether to sign the bill allowing businesses to deny services to the LGBT community; that it’s got this far is a disgrace, but a sign of how US evangelists are now beginning to push back at home after their African adventures. Scott Lively, the man who will have blood on his hands for his meddling in Uganda, now has a new target; he wants the American Psychiatric Association to reinstate homosexuality as a mental illnesss.  Don’t be naive and think this will go away overnight, as the debate (yes, the word debate will be used, and we’ll be asked to be reasonable and “hear both sides”) has barely started. And it’s our fault it’s happening, because if we hadn’t made all this fuss about marriage, people would have left us alone…

When Uganda’s Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, told AFP journalists that  treatment of homosexuals in his country is “tolerant” because the government is “not slaughtering them”, and reports showed suspected gay men being forced to walk naked through the streets of the Nigerian capital, Lagos, it was a stark reminder of just how bad the situation of the LGBT community has now become across much of Africa.  In Cameroon, it’s reported a well-known gay activist has been arrested, and in Malawi, Muslim leaders are calling for the death penalty for gays.

This increasingly active state-sponsored persecution of our community has – as we’ve said before – been partly fuelled by US evangelists exploiting splits in the Anglican Communion (ordination of women, gay rights etc.) and the power of fundamentalism; having lost traction at home under Obama, it’s an opportunity they’ve seized aggressively, often using pseudo-science and stoking the notion that homosexuality is somehow “un-African”, just another example of Western moral decadence imported under colonial rule. It’s given an increasing number of African leaders a useful scapegoat to distract populations from debates about corruption and so forth as well as creating a spurious image of “moral leadership” and a sense of continental unity and shared values linked to ethnic identity which gets beyond tribalism and the tensions between Islam and Christianity.

This week Vladimir Putin gave a top honour for – among other things – “humanitarian work” to a top TV news presenter who says the hearts of gay people who die “should be buried or burned as unfit for extending anyone’s life.”

The combination of what’s going on in Africa and Putin/Russia’s institutionalised homophobia is a particularly dangerous and toxic cocktail,  because it creates a climate which implies there is a twisted “legitimacy” to the anti-gay lobby, and suggests that there is somehow a large-scale morally-acceptable alternative to what has been happening in more enlightened countries in recent years.  

You can already see the effects spreading; a growing sense that the Christian community is being marginalised, and proposals to curb discussion of homosexuality in schools. In the US, several states are debating laws which will allow doctors to deny healthcare to the LGBT community on grounds of conscience.

If you add to that the complacency of the LGBT “community” the world starts to feel increasingly unsafe. It may be partly down to visibility and changes in reporting over the years, but somehow it feels there is a much bigger aggressive and physical threat to the LGBT community than I can ever remember.  It’s time we spoke up.

Frank Mugisha, one of Uganda’s few public gay activists (good reason for that), is convinced that’s the case. The US-based Center for Constitutional Rights is working with him to take evangelist Scott Lively  to court over his alleged involvement in shaping the dreadful legal sanctions the LGBTQ community in Uganda has been fighting. There’s a good interview with Frank in the UK newspaper The Independent, in which he argues that “homophobia is actually imported, not African”.

“Lively has been the man with the plan in this enterprise,” said Pam Spees, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “He long ago set out a very specific and detailed methodology for stripping away the most basic human rights protections, to silence and ultimately disappear LGBT people. Unfortunately, he found willing accomplices and fertile ground in Uganda.”

So far, Uganda’s President Museveni has refused to sign the bill which went through the country’s parliament in December 2013 – possibly because of international pressure – but he still said we’re “abnormal”, and that lesbians suffer from “sexual starvation”.

“You cannot call an abnormality an alternative orientation. It could be that the Western societies, on account of random breeding, have generated many abnormal people.”

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