Comment: Will the media stop the pity for homophobes?
As part of marking Tuesday’s Darwin Day, Adrian Tippetts celebrates the extinction of bad ideas in a PinkNews comment piece.
While last Tuesday’s passing of the same-sex marriage bill by MPs was a landmark for LGBT emancipation, there will be no noticeable change for the rest of the nation. Hysterical conjecture of Christians being persecuted for their beliefs can be countered by visiting any country that has already legalised same-sex marriage: life really has continued as usual, with no sign of ‘upheaval’.
Still, if you heard the BBC commentary, you might have assumed rebels were about to be fed to the lions. In much of the coverage, the passing of the bill was not presented as a victory for civil rights, but a defeat for religious freedom. BBC political correspondent Nick Robinson laboured over how the bill went against the “most sincere beliefs” of many, seemingly oblivious to the fact that others too have equally ‘sincere’ beliefs, not least about their own right to equal treatment under the law. The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 last Wednesday asked if we were in danger of “not listening” to the opponents.
This is a bizarre question, for an array of lobbyists and public figures have dominated news headlines to tell us how they despise the idea of gay people being treated equal under law. Since the Coalition for Marriage launched its campaign against equality, clerics have lined up to compare equal rights to legalising slavery and the rise of Nazism, Tory MPs said it made them want to “throw up”, pundits reasoned that gay relationships were “of no use to society” because there is “no potential to produce children” and pollsters claimed it would bring down the government.
Apart from Chris Bryant sparring with Roger Gale, the Vine programme featured a stream of bile from cherry-picked callers unanimously agreeing with, and thereby simultaneously disproving, the proposition. One caller even demanded that the media banned the word “gay” and stopped portraying homosexuality as normal. If anything, this “shower of arseholes” as Marcus Brigstoke described the show’s callers on Twitter, was a reminder that a hard-core of vicious anti-gay sentiment is alive and well and to be ignored at our peril.
But the broadcast media does ignore it. The choice of question on the Vine show was all the more insulting because of all the more urgent questions that are not being asked, at a time when faith schools can teach children that same-sex relationships are sinful, homophobic hate crimes number over 5000 and nearly three in four LGBT people do not report hate crime to the police. When will the BBC ever hold the politicians, judiciary or police chiefs to account on what they are doing to protect LGBT people from discrimination or abuse?
Simon Jenkins’s commentary in the Guardian also buys into supposed victim narrative while overlooking the prejudices that are still at large. He writes:
“The public acceptance of homosexuality has been one of the greatest social changes of the past half-century. The real breakthrough may come only when gay people cease to demand the exceptionalism of a ‘victimised’ group, when they can shrug off the intolerance of a few, having won the acceptance of the many.”
It is true that public acceptance has risen by a large extent. ‘Only’ one person in four thinks same-sex relations are always wrong. This means gay people must expect to be confronted by others who find their very existence, never mind their expression of affection, to be a source of ridicule or a reason for hatred at some point in life. There is still a long way to go. When you are subject to abuse or trauma based on homophobic prejudice – whether it be a family member’s reaction to your coming out, being threatened in public, enduring taunts from a fellow guest at a wedding reception while no one else intervenes – it is not possible to simply “shrug it off’”as Jenkins suggests. The psychological effects can be lasting.
The very title of Jenkins’s article, “Tory metrosexuals won the vote – but at what cost?” is telling. It is in the big cities where tolerance grows because people of diverse cultures and races exist alongside and depend on each other. Many gay people migrate to cities for the opportunities and the ability to meet more people, but also to escape prejudice and a monoculture hostile to non-heterosexuals.
The term ‘metrosexual’ mocks the live-and-let-live attitude, especially to sexuality – that allows gay people to live in relative safety and openness in the first place. After all the legislative progress of the last 15 years, there are a few metropolitan enclaves where same-sex couples can comfortably be themselves and show affection in public. Even that is optimistic: regular reports of homophobic assaults in supposedly ‘gay-friendly’ zones show that nowhere is really ‘safe’.
Jenkins says he finds it hard to call equality opponents “bigots” because of their stance. Opposing marriage equality isn’t the same as being called a “faggot” on a train, and I have no doubt that Sir Roger Gale would be the first to intervene on any gay person’s behalf were he witness to such thuggery. But the belief underpinning the prohibition on same-sex marriage – the belief that homosexuality is wrong, a choice, useless to society – is cruel. We are asked to be polite in arguing our case for equality, but I might argue too, that being treated as second class is the height of rudeness to start with. Of course, people can believe what they like, but such a viewpoint does not reflect the reality of society. To privilege and enforce that belief in law, then, would do great harm because it provides justification for society to treat LGBT people differently for no other reason than their nature.
It is hard to see what “cost” Jenkins imagines the equal marriage opponents will bear once the same-sex marriage bill becomes law. No churches will be forced to hold weddings for gay people against their will; no existing marriages are being undermined or “redefined”. The law change may well have unhappy consequences for the idea of inequality, though: traditionalists might be more likely to change their minds.
In the House of Commons, opponents lost heavily because their double standards were exposed when their arguments were examined. East Ham MP Stephen Timms’ assertion that marriage was about the ability to procreate infuriated a fellow 52-year-old Labour MP, Lyn Brown, whose wedding last year Timms attended. Was her marriage, she interjected, inferior because she was likely too old to have children? MPs like Austin Mitchell were moved to change their minds after passionate speeches by Mike Freer, Chris Bryant and Stephen Gilbert about the harm caused by a society in which LGBT are set apart and made to feel different and inferior.
I rang up the Jeremy Vine programme to suggest that, since every observation shows same-sex couples capable of showing the same commitment and love as straight couples, there is no debate to be had. The researcher was astonished. “Surely,” he asked, “people have a right to their beliefs? Why should their beliefs die out?” It can be earth-shattering when the belief you invested much time, money and contemplative effort in turns out to be false. Charles Darwin was a creationist for years after his world tour on the Beagle. But as the evidence mounted up, he had no option but to reappraise his views. He described his theory of Evolution as “like admitting a murder”. But what a feeling it is to be rid of bad ideas when they don’t stand up to evidence or logic! The world is a less prejudiced place when we put the search for truth first.
The real question that radio producers might consider is, if we treat beliefs with “respect” just because they are deemed to be religious or traditional, are we in danger of condemning people to holding bad opinions for life?
Adrian Tippetts is a freelance journalist, human rights campaigner and PR consultant specialising in the graphics industry.
The views expressed in this article are his own and not necessarily those of PinkNews.co.uk
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