Archives for posts with tag: gay marriage

Brief notes on some media stories from the last week:-

“If you think about the folks who supported a whole society that was extremely discriminatory, that is the population that is in the nursing homes now”

  • A good report from the BBC about the growing need for housing and care alternatives for the ageing LGBTQ community; the video clip is worth watching. Old age brings enough threats of loss of autonomy, personal dignity and dependence without the additional burden of being forced to deny your identity or face homophobic or transphobic attitudes from those delivering personal care.

“I would predict that every trans person who has ever come out has been asked a variation on the question, “But what was your old name?” Or the ruder version, “But what’s your real name?” Or the slightly bizarre, “But what was your birth name?” I’d like to know how many of us are born with names.”

  • Fred McConnell’s article for The Guardian about the intrusive questions openly trans people are endlessly asked reminded me of my early days as an out gay man and activist, when I was constantly asked about what I did in bed with other men (and more creepily, about lesbians and what they did).

“[The wedding] is all going to hang around an idea: a historic moment in time. While this is a deeply personal thing … we’re doing it publicly, partly to display to the whole world that our country recognises and respects our relationship. Marriage is not the apotheosis of gay rights [but] it’s a steady step in the right direction”

  • One of the gay and lesbian couples planning to marry next weekend when the new law comes into force in the UK, talking to The Independent. There’s a popular misconception that once same-sex marriage is in place, LGBTQ rights are all fine and dandy, and it’s good to see that not all those quoted are falling into the trap of believing it.

“People who cash in their pensions in order to save or invest the money risk losing their right to free social care if they fall ill or become too frail to look after themselves, leading charities have warned.”

  • The economic crisis of the past few years has made financing adequate pensions and social care provision an even more difficult issue in many countries. This week the spotlight was on the UK, where many at first welcomed news to give people more rights over how to manage their pension savings. The downside is that they’ll be at the mercy of a financial services industry which has a dubious track record, and there’s a real risk that some will find themselves making bad decisions; it’s a relief to see some of the potential worries about this liberalisation being recognised. The LGBTQ community has a larger proportion of people living alone or without extended family support, so there are particular risks for us.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome…

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.

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…

“In every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States, they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections and rights as opposite-sex marriages.”

As the LGBTQ community in other countries where gay marriage has become a part of everyday life will attest, the impact of the legal acceptance of the validity of gay relationships on a society has a wider significance; it’s not just the letter of the law that counts. That wider context of US Attorney General Richard Holder’s announcement was summed up by Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin when he said “our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all.” More here.

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