Thursday, 17 October 2013

Out There

I've just watched the second part of Stephen Fry's series on what it means to be gay in different parts of the world. It is a hugely important series, we're living in a world where on the one hand we're celebrating as more and more countries pass equal marriage laws whilst at the other end of the scale laws exist criminalising homosexuality or outlawing "homosexual propaganda." In too many parts of the world it's a frightening and dangerous time to be LGBT. Homosexuality is illegal in 78 countries, it's illegal to be a lesbian in  49 countries. In 5 countries same sex activity is a crime punishable by death.
I am straight, laws passed giving LGBT people more rights or taking them away do not directly affect me. I am not victimised by homophobia. This doesn't mean I nor any of us should sit back and pretend we're not affected at all. What sort of world do we want to live in? We cannot and should not accept that somebody is treated differently, as a threat to our children, as somebody to be feared, despised or ridiculed just because of their sexuality.
I do not "tolerate" gay people, neither do I "accept" them. I don't say I tolerate or accept straight people so why would I need to for non-heterosexuals? People just are and if I'm going to judge somebody it certainly won't be because of who they are attracted to.
I'm more minded to say what I won't tolerate and what I won't accept. I won't accept homophobia, not the laws being used to threaten LGBT people in places like Russia and Uganda, not the "therapies" used to supposedly cure gayness and not the casual use of the word gay as an insult.
 Today is Spirit Day when people are asked to either wear purple or go purple online to support the stand against the bullying of LGBT youth. I've just taken these statistics from Stonewall's website from their School Report 2012 looking at the experience of gay young people in Britain's schools:
  • Homophobic bullying continues to be widespread in Britain’s schools. More than half(55 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils have experienced direct bullying
  • The use of homophobic language is endemic. Almost all (99 per cent) gay young people hear the phrases  ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’ in school and ninety six per cent of gay pupils hear homophobic language such as ‘poof’ or ‘lezza’
  • Three in five gay pupils who experience homophobic bullying say that teachers who witness the bullying never intervene
  • Only half of gay pupils report that their schools say homophobic bullying is wrong, even fewer do in faith schools (37 per cent)
  • Homophobic bullying has a profoundly damaging impact on young people’s school experience. One in three (32 per cent) gay pupils experiencing bullying change their future educational plans because of it and three in five say it impacts directly on their school work
  • Gay people who are bullied are at a higher risk of suicide, self-harm and depression. Two in five (41 per cent) have attempted or thought about taking their own life directly because of bullying and the same number say that they deliberately self-harm directly because of bullying.
To quote Edmund Burke, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Perhaps there is little I can really do here, I'm aware I'm an armchair warrior but I don't think that's enough of an excuse to just sit here and accept what happens with a rueful shake of the head. At the very least the more of us straight allies who stand shoulder to shoulder with the LGBT community the stronger the message sent out to homophobes across the globe.

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