Being gay in Britain these days is pretty
amazing, compared to 30, 10, or even five years ago. Section
28, the final bastion of outright homophobic legislation
on the statute books was finally repealed last September.
The Employment Equality Regulations in relation to sexual
orientation came into force in December last year, making
it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexuality at work.
And the Government is actively pursuing a ‘Civil Partnerships Bill’,
aiming to place committed homosexual relationships on a par
with their heterosexual counterparts, ensuring gay couples
have most of the same rights as straight married couples.
Even the Tories are holding gay summits!
You can barely switch on the TV without coming across ‘gay’.
Gay is chic, gay is cool, and gay is certainly in. With personalities
such as Will Young breaking into pop music, Graham Norton
taking over chat show TV (even breaking into America!) and
virtually every home design programme hosted by a flamboyant
homo with design tips to turn even the ugliest homes into
palaces, it’s virtually impossible to get away from
gays on the telly. Big Brother would be nothing without the
loud, brash and ever-so-self-(un)conscious-bigger-than-life-size
gays with more than a point to make. You’re almost
lead to feel that a gay mafia have planned and executed a
massive coup that no-one will quite admit to.
But before we get all dragged into the maelstrom of the ‘cool
gay revolution’, big hair and all, let’s take
a small mince backwards and survey the scene a little bit
For all the public commitment to their gay supporters, the
Tories are clearly not being as truthful as we would all
like. For one, they believe that the burgeoning problem of
obesity in our society is directly linked to the Government’s
support for more liberal, gay-friendly laws. Lord Tebbit
on obesity: “[it is because of the] attack being waged
on the family. We don’t have an epidemic of obesity,
we have a huge problem of Aids, and this Government’s
attitude is to do everything it can to promote buggery – knowing
that the two are intimately connected.” Need I even
bother to dissect the homophobia in that one?
On the more social side of life, gay as a lifestyle is being
promoted ceaselessly. ‘Gay’ is slowly moving
away from a classification of sexuality and is becoming more
of a style preference or a programme classification. Gay
is being promoted as a particular set of characteristics
(camp, bitchy, razor-sharp wit, fashion conscious, etc) and
the thing that actually defines homosexuality – the
sexual preference – is being ignored. And this, I feel,
is a particularly dangerous development.
Young people growing up and identifying themselves as gay
these days are being bombarded with a million and one images
about how to be gay and how to gain acceptance. Not only
having to look perfect, but having to show your uniqueness
to everyone can put a lot of unnecessary pressure on young
people who want to fit in but also want to be seen as cool.
Just because a boy grows up fancying other boys, he is also
being faced by a multitude of other personality aspects that
go together to create the ‘prefab gay’. And what
if he doesn’t want all that?
Which brings me onto girls who like other girls. The sad
problem at the moment is that lesbians still do not exist
in the shared public awareness.
Lesbianism is still seen as taboo, long after gay (for boys)
seems to be have been mainstreamed, and female homosexuals
have few positive role models that share their sexuality.
To compound this, a worrying discrimination is grabbing hold
of certain sections of the male gay community which almost
borders on misogyny (“it IS misogyny” says a
close lesbian friend), a fear and distrust for a community
that logically and historically has been the closest ally.
OK, so it’s not all doom and gloom, but there are
significant social and political problems for us to overcome
in order to ensure that gays have a true equality to the
rest of society.
We need to aim for a day when coming out is not met by the
response ‘I have loads of gay friends, really I do’,
and backed up by a preconceived conception of homosexuality
emanating from the mass media. No gay man or lesbian woman
can walk down the street hand-in-hand with someone they love
without fear of reprisal. We need to ensure that both of
these forms of discrimination are ‘designed out’ of
It will take time. It is incredibly positive that legal
changes have made real differences for the estimated five
million gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in
the country. But we must make sure that these changes are
supported by a parallel effort to shift public perceptions
of homosexuality to ensure that true equality is gained.
I personally can’t wait for the day I can be a scruffy,
not-particularly-sharp queer who is happy with who he is
and can walk down the street holding hands with his boyfriend,
reading a gay magazine without worrying about who might see.
I wait with bated breath.