Writing for PinkNews.co.uk, Will Harris says it’s wrong for commentators to assume the battle for equality has been won with equal marriage.
In the ongoing row over the Sochi Winter Olympics, it troubles me that some commentators have begun to question the tenor of the LGBT community’s response. Earlier this week, even The Guardian published an article stating: “while western opponents of the Kremlin’s law may have noble intentions, their criticism has far too often been hysterical and hypocritical”.
It’s a shame. That particular piece, which makes a well-intentioned point about what chance the international outcry has of penetrating Mother Russia’s deaf ears, falls wide of the mark in grasping why LGBT activists have been going for her jugular with such ferocity.
A key motivator, of course, is fear. Within the community, we look at what’s happening in Russia, at the newly-forged ‘Jail the Gays’ bill in Nigeria, at the re-criminalisation of homosexuality in India, and we see people like us being stripped of their rights and told in no uncertain terms that they’re second class citizens. We see it happening swiftly and arbitrarily. And then comes the inevitable ‘what if’; what if it happened here? What if it happened to me?
Western commentators can argue the toss over how many people have actually been jailed as a result of Putin’s anti-propaganda law (cases of mob justice tend not to reach the court-room, after all), but what they can’t seem to get their heads around is the rubber stamp laws like this put in the hands of ordinary men and women to discriminate and persecute. Nor do they acknowledge the devastating psychological impact of your homeland legislating against you, or of your president – the person charged with representing you on the world stage – equating you with a paedophile.
What Russian LGBT people are going through now is not unfamiliar territory. The 80s is a recent memory, and Section 28 fucked up a whole generation of us. We came through it in the end of course, but we know (or we ought to) that getting equality into the statute books was only the first step. The wider challenge, achieving social equality, so that we can live good lives with nary a twitched curtain or batted eyelid, is a much longer game. And we’re not there yet.
It’s long fascinated me that the only physical attack I’ve experienced because of my sexuality happened at the end of Old Compton Street, at the point where the G-A-Y strip butts up against the sex shops and stairwells of Soho’s neon hinterland. A midnight clinch at the end of a second date, the kind of scene you see all over London, was suddenly interrupted by an elderly Italian businessman, dukes up, face swollen with rage above his collar. He swung for us, right there at the heart of the gay scene, where we had thought we were safest.
Changing the way society perceives a group can take generations – look at the civil rights movement; look, for that matter, at feminism. Until we reach that tipping point where our sexual orientation is the least interesting thing about us, some part of us will always be aware there is no step forward that can’t be driven back. And that some individuals will continue to paint a target on us, no matter how safe the law tells us we are. Call us hysterical if you like, but maybe we have a right to be.