Homophobia on a Sunday morning

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On Sunday morning (10th Jan) I watched the BBC’s Sunday morning debate show, ‘The Big Questions’ on BBC 1 by chance. You can watch it too on the BBC iPlayer if you’re in the UK. The second debate of the morning asked whether people should be honest about their sexuality, quoting the example of the Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas, who recently came out.

It seemed like an interesting point to debate. I thought we’d get a discussion on the difficulties of coming out for people in the public eye and for gay people in general. However, being a Sunday morning show, religion came into the discussion very early on. After a very eloquent contribution from a gay priest about gay people being allowed to be honest with themselves and the world, the debate degenerated into whether homosexuality was right or wrong. A former magistrate told us that it was wrong according to the Bible, while offering no answers for what gay people are supposed to do. Repress their sexuality? Just ignore it? Or maybe they’re imagining being gay?

Then a gentleman in the audience treated us to a quote from the Bible about how men and women are supposed to marry and become one flesh, something he claims gay people can’t do, however hard they try. Clearly that’s up for debate and he was left looking rather silly by the gay Member of Parliament seated next to him. He was largely undaunted though, going on to claim that heterosexual couples can reproduce, which makes being straight the right way to live (as though all straight couples are having children), only 1% of the population are gay, and that people aren’t born gay, it is brought on in the course of their development. Like a psychological disorder.

The discussion progressed to whether the Anglican church should embrace gay clergy and their gay congregation or not, which was interesting, if you’re into these things. Then we went back to whether gay people should come out or not and the same gentleman in the audience managed to make it sound like if no-one came out there’d be no gay people, since coming out is essential to the gay movement. Which is clearly ridiculous.

The potential for debating these points is of course endless, I don’t need to do it here, and the more homophobic opinions weren’t shared by the majority of the people in the BBC studio which, for balance, included Peter Tatchell, the gay human rights campaigner, who was given the last word.

What I was left thinking about, however, was how easily homophobic views had just been aired on a Sunday morning show. When the racist leader of the British National Party was a guest on ‘Question Time’ a night time political debate show, it caused massive protests outside the BBC studios, egg throwing, and national headlines. Yet two people with clearly homophobic views–people who believe being gay is not valid and is against God–are allowed onto a morning show, undoubtedly watched by all the family, without a whimper of protest. I applaud the BBC for allowing controversial speakers their freedom of speech, which almost always ends in them being shown up as the bigots they are. I wonder though, why racism can motivate the nation to protest, while homophobia is barely noticed?

Is homophobia the last acceptable prejudice? I don’t like to think so, but that show on Sunday morning certainly gave me pause for thought.

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2 responses »

  1. I think you may be right Rebecca.

    It’s interesting that schools particularly (I’m a governor of a primary school) go to great lengths to embrace diversity and to champion non-disciminatory practices, yet sexuality gets only a passing mention in Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) and young boys in particular routinely call each other gay (or some derivative of this such as ‘gaybo’ or ‘poofta’) as a term of insult.

    If equivalent terms of a racist nature were casually used in the playground, I think they would be dealt with much more severely but, whilst not condoning such language, many teachers do not see homophobic terms as being as ‘serious’ as racist ones.

    Maybe fear plays a part in this. If I, as a white man, challenge someone for making racist comments, it’s obvious that I’m acting out of a moral imperitive (because I’m not black). But, if I was to challenge homophobic actions or language, it might be construed that I am doing so because I am gay. Simply telling people that I’m not might not prevent them thinking it or saying it to others.

    On a personal level, this would not stop me challenging such behaviour but, if I was a teacher or a police officer or someone’s boss… maybe it would.

    Perhaps this prejudice against gay people also persists because, like another group still discrimated against – those with mental health problems – there is often no outside evidence of that characteristic of a person as there is with people of colour or the physically disabled. Ironically, you would think that this might make discrimination less likely but it seems to tap in to the fear referred to above… “if I challenge this, people might think I’m one of them.”

    Then there’s the religious lobby who can always find something in the Bible (or whatever holy book they subscribe to) to justify whatever they want, whether that’s war, execution, child abuse or persecution of minorities. In my view, the opinions of these people aren’t even worth considering.

  2. You’re certainly right about schools. It’s much in the news at the moment as a result of Nick Clegg’s promise that under a Lib Dem government even faith schools would have to teach that gay is normal. It’s going to be an uphill battle though – ‘that’s so gay’ is now a commonly used criticism amongst teenagers, even in a world where many more teenagers are ‘out’ at school. Perhaps the fact that so many are ‘out’ shows that the language doesn’t quite reflect the reality, things are certainly much improved. Yet in a world where ‘gay’ is still an acceptable insult and, as you say, straight people are still afraid of being labelled as gay, it’s going to be hard to erode the inbuilt prejudice.

    In my opinion the biggest problem is that being gay is still seen as an option. Whether the opposition comes from a religious or secular person, part of their argument is always either that gay people choose their unacceptable lifestyle, or that they are to be pitied for having a disorder that needs to be cured.

    People are born in the colour skin they have, clearly don’t choose their biological sex, or opt to have a disability, so those prejudices are seen as totally unacceptable. But if gay people choose their alternative lifestyle, they can be condemned for it, or ‘helped’. That and the fact that, even among quite liberal people, homosexuality is seen merely as a sexual practice–and is condemned (and tolerated) in the same way that people might frown on(or turn a blind eye to) anything seen as sexually deviant. It’s a ‘behind closed doors’ thing. The way that being gay can affect a person’s entire life is often overlooked.

    Of course gay people choose to be gay no more than straight people choose to be straight. I think that is the truth that needs to be at the core of the way children are encouraged to discuss the issue in the future. And we should ignore the Pope and his messages of hate.

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