Ignorance is bliss, so the saying goes. It is indeed, in many cases, the mentality that we take in society when perceiving and accepting others. We judge on appearances and stereotype so that we can determine the type of individual they are and decide if we accept them. Whether we realise we’re doing it or not, we’re all guilty of judging someone at some point in our lives. It isn’t a good thing but it seems turning a blind eye to a situation or person we don’t feel entirely at ease with is the easiest way out and doesn’t interfere with what we find acceptable. Pretending something doesn’t exist makes things that little bit simpler and we can therefore stay in our comfort zones. But is turning your back on real people and living in ignorance really the best attitude to live your life by?
Hopefully, you would think not. We all know deep down that everyone wants to be accepted and treated the same way. If this is the case, then why are there still homophobic views lurking within society?
RELIGION & CULTURE
Everyone is brought up from a different background. Depending on our ethnicity, religion or general upbringing we are moulded to think certain beliefs and ideologies. Religion plays a big part in the discrimination against homosexuals. People with a strong religious upbringing will have been taught to believe two people of the same sex is and never will be acceptable. It goes against everything they believe in and what their religion teaches them. John*, gay father of two children, experienced this prejudice close to home: “My own experience of homophobia comes from my dad but that’s a cultural and religious problem instilled in him from an early age”.
The extent of homosexual exploitation is rife in many countries. In a recent documentary on BBC1, “The World’s Worst Place To Be Gay?”, Scott Mills, Radio One disc jockey, travels to Uganda and witnesses their bigoted views first-hand. The Anti-Homosexuality Act is being introduced where it will pioneer life imprisonment and the death penalty for those found guilty of having a relationship with the same gender sex. Gay Ugandans are ‘ousted’ in local newspapers and the Ugandan general himself backs and promotes the witch-hunt nature of these papers. It’s a shocking reality that these Ugandans are living in but they know no different to what they’ve been taught to think.
Despite many countries legalising homosexuality, there are still a great number that refuse to. There are still 80 countries around the world that maintain laws that make homosexuality illegal. It is more accepted in the UK having been made legal since the 1960s and the acceptance has come a long way since then. On the other hand, the majority of Americans still see homosexuality as morally wrong. Kate Meakin, young British lesbian, says, “I’ve received more discrimination while being here in America. I was talking about being gay on the bus and the bus driver stopped the bus at the nearest stop, got out of his seat and told me to get off and that this was my stop. Seattle is meant to be one of the most liberal places in America! I haven’t had a lot of difficult experiences as a lesbian, as my mum is so great about it and has never had any issues with it. I feel like England is pretty damn accepting of it, from what I’ve seen.”
Similarly, California bred James* witnessed discrimination in the work environment. “When I was working at a company that was purchased by another, I was offered a new job. When the new manager heard I was gay he sat me down and said he believed that he had to withdraw the offer because he felt my life choices made him wonder what kind of business decision I would make. I lost my job. It worked out okay in the end but you can imagine how angry I was.”
Gay people are often stereotyped and generalized. The stereotypes reduce the fear of the unknown yet it’s often from these false representations that homophobia stems from. John* says: “Peoples’ ignorance about being gay has probably been the most irritating with dumb, stupid questions and stereotypical comments like;
- Who is the man and who is the woman?
- Beliefs that you want to wear leather clothes, chains and grow a “handle bar” moustache.
- Beliefs that you want to have sex with any and every man that you look at or speak to.
- Beliefs that you get drugged up and go clubbing every chance you get and have multiple sexual partners in-group scenes.
- Beliefs that you must like silk underwear and want to dress up in drag with make-up and wigs etc.
- Beliefs that you must speak and act like Julian Clary or behave in a “camp” manner.
- Beliefs that you like doing girly things like flower arranging or wearing make-up.
- Beliefs that you like to wear pink.”
The media is somewhat to blame when it comes to homophobic views. Due to their representations of gay characters on television and in magazines, gay people are often misrepresented. We are injected to believe everything we hear is correct and that we should believe everything that is being mediated to us. We live in a “sheep” culture following everyone else because we feel if they think it’s right, it must be. It is these misrepresentations that are causing confusion and ultimately discrimination to sexual orientation.
Stonewall was set up in 1989. The small group of men and women running it fought against Section 28 of the Local Government Act. “Section 28 was an offensive piece of legislation designed to prevent the so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools; as well as stigmatising gay people, it also galvanised the gay community.” Stonewall are well known for their campaigning and preventing homophobic attacks. “More recently Stonewall has helped secure civil partnerships and ensured the recent Equality Act protecting lesbians and gay men in terms of goods and services.”
Former Member of Parliament, Ann Keen, asked by Stonewall, proposed and fought to lower the legal age of consent for homosexuals to the age of 16 so that they could have equal rights. It was backed by a number of companies such as NSPCC and The Royal College of Nurses. Though the Tory Government didn’t agree, she fought for what she believed in. Keen received a great backlash from the public and was bombarded with hate mail: “I was spat at in the streets and was called the next thing to evil.” During the Soho bombings, she received horrific voice messages about her gay son saying she can “collect her son’s arms and legs”. – a shocking ordeal for a mother to go through. She was later approached by Stonewall to launch the age of consent campaign in Soho nightclub G-A-Y. She persuaded many families to join together for the launch. “It was just about love”. “I’m very proud of what Labour and I did. It was an historical time for equality laws.”
WHAT IT ALL COMES DOWN TO
Put yourself in a gay persons’ shoes and think about the struggles they have to overcome to be accepted as one of us. They have to fight against the stereotypical and misrepresented views made about them, they have to grow up knowing that they’re going to receive backlash from some person, somewhere, some day. They have to come up against many obstacles and difficulties just to be accepted as the person they are. Why should anyone have to live in fear for the person they’ve grown up to be?
At the end of the day, be a person gay or straight, we are all the same. Whether someone is attracted to a person of the same sex or the opposite sex, it shouldn’t make any difference. They are still the same person and they are just the same as you! You treat people the way you wish to be treated. If you feel someone is different to you, embrace them, don’t push them away. Ann Keen adds, “They are people who are loved and respected in society.” So if you too want that respect, you have to give it to others and earn it back in return!