This quotation, from a poster called ‘How To Build Community‘, was part of the inspiration that led me to start this blog around nine months ago.
I have written about my experience as a gay Christian, as part of the first same sex couple to register our civil partnership in a place of worship in the UK, and as a youth worker and volunteer for the LGBT community in Liverpool, knowing I have the ability to speak on these issues where many feel unheard.
But as the pace of life has changed, and I have taken on a new role as Development Worker for the Michael Causer Foundation, to provide accommodation and support for vulnerable LGBT young people, so I have fallen silent. Not because there is nothing to say – on the contrary, there is almost too much. In the last few months, the number of countries around the world which have achieved marriage equality for same-sex couples has risen rapidly to 14, not including other states whose regional government has also voted for it, including twelve states in the USA, an increase of one a month for the last six months. As the Youtube campaign to support vulnerable LGBT youth has said more than 50,000 times, It Gets Better.
But in the wake of progress the spotlight falls on how much more there is to do to eradicate the prejudice that permits discrimination and prejudice towards LGBT people to flourish.
While supporters burst into song when the New Zealand Parliament voted in favour in April:
within a week, French police clashed with anti-gay marriage protesters in Paris as their government voted for LGBT marriage and adoption:
The contrast couldn’t be much greater.
Two events have prompted me to write again.
The first was International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), which fell on Friday 17th May.
An annual event since 2004, celebrated in more than 100, countries, it marks the anniversary of the day in 1990 when the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of ‘mental disorders’. The scope of the event has widened to include transphobia as people who are transgender experience huge prejudice around the world, and are more likely to take their own lives if unsupported, or even be murdered because of their gender identity. The process of reclassifying ‘Gender Identity Disorder’ as ‘Gender Dysphoria’ (meaning distress) only began in the USA last year, a change which is not yet recognised by the World Health Organisation.
To its credit, the United Nations did issue a video highlighting concern for international LGBT rights:
But, as the latest report from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) shows, loving someone of the same sex is illegal in 78 countries, up to life imprisonment, and in seven countries the death penalty is still used to ‘punish’ homosexual relationships.
Meanwhile Trans Respect Versus Transphobia reported 78 murders of trans people across 13 countries in the first four months of 2013, and these are only those known about in countries which collect data on transphobic hate crime.
We may be better off in Europe than in other parts of the world, but there is no cause for complacency. The European Parliament’s Fundamental Rights Agency reports that, across 28 countries in the continent, almost one in two (47%) of LGBT people felt discriminated against or harassed in the last year because of homophobia or transphobia.
Why do I support LGBT equality?
Because my neighbour who feels unheard because of their sexual orientation or gender identity may be in my own family, school, workplace, place of worship or community; they may be across the border or across the world, but I believe if I don’t do all I can to speak up with them (and for them if they cannot), then I remain part of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture that allows fear and shame to rule our lives and, in too many cases, costs lives.
The second event that has spurred me to write is the return to House of Commons this month of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill to permit marriage to same sex couples in England and Wales.
(Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own powers to legislate – the Scottish Parilament has yet to publish the results if its public consultation on the issue, which ended in March. In the Northern Ireland Assembly, a motion in favour of same sex marriage was defeated last month.)
I am still amazed at how many people I speak to who assume that because a majority of MPs supported the bill’s second reading in February, that ‘gay marriage’ is now possible, or at least a foregone conclusion. We are now approaching the final stage in the House of Commons, four months after its first reading in Parliament. But then it must go through a similarly rigorous process in the House of Lords, where opposition is likely to be strong, outspoken, and widely reported with an air of credibility that is more than it deserves.
Take, for example, Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, who retains a seat in the House of Lords. In response to the Queen’s speech at the State Opening of Parliament earlier this month, Lord Carey claimed that the Government has painted opponents of marriage equality as a ‘strange breed of non-relevant dinosaurs’ while ignoring minority ethnic and religious communities. Lord Carey was not a great advocate for ecumenism or interfaith partnership while head of the Church of England, so it seems odd that in retirement he should seek allies among those of other denominations and faiths who share his desire to marginalise another minority, which is found even among their own members.
While some of the debate in Parliament and the media surrounding the proposed marriage bill has been positive and affirming, such as the powerful speech by David Lammy MP disputing the claim that civil partnerships are ‘separate but equal’ as a fraud, some of it has been ill-informed and damaging, such as MP John Pugh’s claims that enabling same sex couples to marry will lead to calls for state support for ‘other sexual configurations’ such as polygamy. Similar claims have been made equating same sex marriage with bestiality and paedophilia – rather than dispute them here, I recommend this handy summary 31 Arguments Against Gay Marriage (and why they’re all wrong).