Late January, 2002. A middle-aged American family man relaxes in his garden, reading his favourite magazine.
Loud, if cheesy, pop music on the street begins to distract him.
He joins the rest of his family staring at the rainbow flags, the colourful flotillas and gorgeous hunks with six-packs parading in front of them.
“Rainbows? Tank Tops? Empowerment? This is the gay pride parade!” the family man cried.
Two gay men in the parade, holding hands and flaunting their not-so-perfect-yet-hairy bodies, kept screaming, “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!!”
The family man’s young daughter, the cleverest one among the lot, retorted, “You do this every year. We ARE used to it.”
But are they really?
When it comes to advances in gay rights, there seems to be a significant divergence of trends in how different societies around the world have progressed.
On the one hand, we have countries like the Netherlands, Spain and that exemplary, if unlikely, companion, South Africa, where homosexuals have all the rights that heterosexuals have taken for granted for millennia.
Then we have the less bold and somewhat cowardly countries like Britain, where the politicians, pandering to religious bigots, are afraid to use the term ‘marriage’ (that’s religious, you see) and despite granting almost all the rights, term such unions as ‘civil partnerships.’
(Don’t ask why there are no civil partnerships for the straights. Please.)
Some of these ‘cowardly’ countries though don’t actually provide homosexuals with all the fundamental rights that heterosexuals enjoy.
But many are getting there, if the latest polls are to be believed.
Then there are the ugly ones, which either have remained ugly for as long as we can remember, like Iran, or are getting uglier (Nigeria springs to mind).
There are other countries still, which hover between these extreme categories, with pro-gay and anti-gay elements fighting each other out-some bitterly (Russia), and others more subtle (India).
In a world of 6 billion people, such diversity is quite understandable.
It may be an irony only understood by gay rights activists in the US that such diversity is also present in the so-called “land of the free.”
Turing will take that up in a subsequent column. For now, he wonders if, as columnists and writers in the West have increasingly argued in recent years, gay pride parades have had their day.
The early pride marches, probably drawing inspiration from the symbolic defiance that has come to characterise the 1969 Stonewall Riots, had three important premises at their heart/
That sexual orientation and gender identity are inalienable biological traits which cannot be ‘cured’ or ‘modified.’
That every individual should be proud of his or her sexual orientation, and that this message must be channelled to a patriarchal and heterosexist society at whose hands sexual minorities have long suffered oppression and brutality.
In other words, it served as a much-needed cry for attention, calling on the world to embrace sexual and gender plurality.
The flamboyant display of colours, bodies, dresses (or the lack thereof) was, and still usually is, meant to be symbolic of these premises.
An unabashed announcement of who the LGBT community thought they were, their comfort in declaring that, and their challenge to the established norms of human sexuality and gender identity.
Despite the fun and turbulence that such pride marches enjoy, it can be safely said, as succinctly summarised by the clever girl in the opening story, that the message has partly, if not substantially, reached its target, and probably is still doing so.
However, some important issues about gay pride marches and events, and hence the conclusions drawn from them, are often ignored.
Arguably not because the so-called pundits deliberately choose to, more so because their preoccupation usually employs their immediate geographical vicinity rather than the entire world.
Firstly, the gay pride movements of the seventies and the eighties, which gave rise to the modern pride season, were confined largely to Western Europe and North America.
Secondly, the increased politicisation of gay marches, particularly in the US and UK, has come to be misinterpreted by the masses as a mere photo-opportunity for politicians, at the expense of traffic woes for the public, especially at a time when homosexuals are, for better or worse, tolerated by most people in the cities where such marches occur.
Then, there are those well-known criticisms within the LGBT community, some of which are quite well-founded.
An undue emphasis on sex, drugs and popular culture; labelling people on the basis of their sexual orientation; a wide-ranging departure from, and hence a failure to integrate with, what is seen as ‘mainstream’ society; and so on.
One vexed gay man (who has just ‘married’ his partner in London) told Turing:
“We’ve got what we want. What’s the point of all this flamboyance? People are only going to continue thinking that we are obsessed with sex, and sex alone.”
Your columnist, however, comes from a society where one can be still jailed for life for committing “carnal crimes against nature,” which, by law, includes homosexuality.
As it happens, most countries around the world either have laws that fail to recognise, or actively oppose, same-sex relationships.
Given the globalised world we live in and the international reach of Western media outlets around the world, any one who argues that gay pride marches have had their day is seriously mistaken.
Even if the festivities are confined to cities where homosexuality is well tolerated (or, dare I say it, even embraced), the fact that they are pictures are transmitted to television stations in countries as far and hostile as Poland and Pakistan is reason enough to actively encourage the marches.
Politicisation is not always bad, you see; not least when international relations and their consequences depend on it, and where politicians can add some strength to the argument advanced.
That said, even Turing has some qualms about the overtly sexual nature of most pride parades; not because it is anything to be ashamed of; nor because your columnist believes in moral constructs enforced a patriarchal society that shamefully values celibacy and stoicism above contentment and enjoyment; rather because, it has the potential to send wrong signals at a time when the community needs positive visibility around the world if it is to make a difference in countries where the sexual minorities constantly fear the worst.
Despite the proverb, there is such a thing as bad publicity for the LGBT community.
That is no reason for scrapping or even modifying gay pride marches, as some unreasonable pundits (some of them gay, actually) have occasionally claimed.
No, the time is ripe for organisations and tolerant governments to organise events, exhibitions and yes, marches, that commemorate the long struggle in the West to achieve equality, and that highlight the pathetic state of events in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Public education should certainly lie at the heart of it, for any change in the world requires a change in the mind-set of a country’s population.
Your columnist grew up listening to the BBC World Service throughout his childhood, and yet failed to realise he was gay, and that it was normal.
It took a television series, Will and Grace, to help him realise that being gay was normal, tolerated and accepted in many Western societies.
This, and the reasons behind the tolerance and acceptance, are the messages that need to be communicated around the world loudly and urgently, and the gay pride events can serve as important tools to do just that.
Oh, and if you haven’t guessed by now, the family man happens to be Homer Simpson, and the clever girl, of course, is Lisa. The more discerning reader might have even guessed the publication Homer was reading – The Big Pie Times.